Vintage variety: FRANK MUYTJENS at home by J. CREW

After making the two-and-a-half-hour drive north from Manhattan, visitors to Frank Muytjens’s weekend house in Hillsdale, New York, are often surprised at just how unplugged his rural getaway is. “Friends always panic when they find out I have no high-speed Internet connection and barely any cell phone service,” says Muytjens, the head of men’s design at J. Crew. “But I like the idea of it.”

Muytjens frequently entertains guests who work in the worlds of fashion and advertising, and it’s understandable that some might be distraught upon leaving the city’s always-on energy and arriving in a lush, rolling landscape where birdsong replaces honking horns and sirens. His strategy is to distract their attention from inactive smartphones. “We make plans for dinner,” he says. “We cook and go antiquing. Or we hike—there are great nature trails around here.”

The snug, two-bedroom house, which measures only slightly larger than 600 square feet, is something of a home away from home for the Dutch-born Muytjens, who grew up in the sleepy village of Sint-Michielsgestel in the southern Netherlands. “When I’m upstate and hear those same kinds of bird sounds amid the quietness, I’m reminded of that village,” he says. Despite his Dutch education, Muytjens has long been passionate about American art and design. “I was always inspired by everything that came out of America, from the photos of Dorothea Lange, to the Empire State Building, to the history of the Western gold rush,” he says, his impeccable English accented with only the slightest Dutch clip. In 1994, he moved from Amsterdam to New York, where he went to work for Polo Ralph Lauren and received what he calls “a crash course in Americana.” Ten years later, he joined J. Crew, where he and his design team have helped shift the company’s reputation from a preppy also-ran to a sought-after label for everything from slimly tailored suits to rugged casual clothing inspired by early-20th-century work wear.

Personally and professionally, vintage shopping is an important part of Muytjens’s life. At J. Crew, he and his team look for inspiration in such classic garments as World War II military uniforms and well-worn denims. For his home in upstate New York, as well as his urban apartment in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, he has collected a motley assortment of objects and furniture, chosen for their timeworn patina and aesthetic appeal: beat-up industrial metal stools, clean-lined Marcel Breuer armchairs, and mementos of the natural world, including turtle shells, antlers, and vases of dried allium. At home and work, he says, “I look at different time periods, and the mix of high and low, and rough and smooth. Can I call it interior design? For me, it’s just about being attracted to stuff and knowing intuitively what will work.”

He first fell for Hillsdale, a small rural town just across the state border from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the early 2000s, while helping renovate a friend’s house. Seven years later, when another pair of friends were preparing to sell a house on the same road, he bought it before they could even put it on the market. “Being in the city and in the maelstrom of everything, I felt like I needed a place where I could just kick back and do everything—or nothing,” says Muytjens, who spends nearly every weekend upstate with Dutch, his two-year-old vizsla. There are plenty of other picturesque areas in this part of the country, but he was drawn to this particular spot because of its neighborly spirit. “It’s a small stretch of road,” he says. “There are only ten houses here, so we have potluck dinners together. It’s very social, but at the same time, we each like our privacy, and everyone respects that.”

Although the house was originally built in the 1980s, the former owners, a talented cabinetmaker and a landscape designer, had completed extensive renovations. Today, it looks more like a meticulously maintained cottage from the early 20th century, thanks to the addition of details like cedar shingles on the exterior and wide-plank wood floors inside. Both former owners still work on the house—she has redesigned the gardens, while he has installed additional shelving to contain Muytjens’s ever-expanding book collection. “In my mind, I’m always trying to figure out which is a city book and which is a country book,” explains Muytjens. Many volumes have made the journey between his two residences more than once: “I still go back and forth.”

That’s the paradox of his country escape. Even though it’s technologically cut off from the city, Muytjens is surrounded by the things that inspire his work. His guest bedroom is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Gargoyle, a moody gray that he has used as a background color for in-house presentations at J. Crew; the master bedroom’s open closet puts his country wardrobe plainly on display; and all the curious little objects clustered together on tabletops are fodder for inspiration boards. “Whatever I have here is related to what I do at work as well,” he says. “It’s all one vision.”

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