Back in the thick of things, at Peddler's Village

Posted: January 15, 2012

You could say that Alvin and Dorine Lerner met in the design business, but that's not exactly true. They first laid eyes on each other in the laundry room of an apartment building in Manhattan.

He owned a textile-printing company; she was a lingerie designer trained by a custom-clothier uncle. He was the funny boy from Brooklyn; she, the focused fashion designer from upstate Pennsylvania. They married 50 years ago.

Fifteen years after they said, "I do," Dorine opened her own studio and store in Millburn, N.J., and in 1976, the Dorine Lerner label earned its own space in Henri Bendel. Later, she made it into Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdales, where she hung with other young designers such as Bettina Reidel and Norma Kamali.

Dorine designed, and Alvin took care of the financial side. They raised two daughters, Tammy and Ilissa, in South Orange, N.J. But 20 years ago, after their first grandchild was born, they moved to Bucks County.

They built a home in Newtown. It wasn't just any house. "It was a copy of Giorgio Armani's St. Tropez house," says Dorine, except that cornfields and horse farms surrounded it. "When we would come home to that house after traveling, it felt like we were still on vacation."

For 16 years, they enjoyed that 3,000-square-foot house, but the city boy had had enough of the cornfields. Daughter Tammy, a Realtor, kept her eyes open for a place offering the same amount of space without the upkeep.

Thus, two years ago, they bought a carriage house in a development in the rolling hills of Lahaska. The open-plan home has four bedrooms and 31/2 baths and overlooks the carousel in Peddler's Village. In summer, they throw open the French doors and enjoy views of ponds and walking paths on the property.

With the eclectic array of furniture the Lerners collected over the years, they were able to make their new home resemble their last. To make the space appear more contemporary, Dorine stripped off most of the moldings; the ones she kept vanished under the same paint color used for the walls.

The kitchen stayed the same except for the backsplash tile a daughter and her boyfriend sanded down, removing a floral design. White carpeting was pulled up, and warm, wood flooring was installed.

Dorine mixed old with new, high with low, even in lighting. Large drum pendants hang in the kitchen, while more industrial-looking museum-style lights are in the foyer, where some of her artwork hangs. Both styles are from Ikea.

In the living room, the palette is monochromatic, except for animal-print chairs near the fireplace. "We couldn't change the kitchen, so I took the colors of the cabinets and worked from that in the nearby rooms," she says.

In the dining room, chairs are slipcovered a shade darker than the cabinets in a wheat-colored linen as if they were pieces of clothing, with large bound buttonholes and covered buttons. On the wall are two charcoals. Though the white walls and neutral furnishings provide the peacefulness, "the paintings add the excitement."

The paintings, it turns out, are by Dorine, colorful abstracts that delight the eye. "I started painting when my children were infants, running full cycle and returning to painting when I closed my business."

She has a large studio downstairs, where she is working on figures of dancers on oversized canvases. "I worked in acrylic in the '60s, then pastel, oil, and charcoal, and now I am back to acrylic."

After retiring from fashion, she took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She favors abstract landscapes but frequently slips back into figure drawing.

"I have always loved the human figure," says Dorine, 70, who still keeps a sewing room and an archive of old designs.

"I keep telling myself I am getting older, I should work on smaller canvases. They sell more easily and are much easier to cart around. But then there is no action. Sweeping a glop of paint across a large canvas or a giant piece of charcoal over some wonderful paper is just fabulous!"

When Dorine is painting (her adventure) or sewing (her therapy), Alvin spends time in his man cave, where there is an office, library, and TV room.

Though the Lerners don't live in an over-55 community, they enjoy the same type of camaraderie. "We have met terrific people here," says Alvin, who is the prep chef for their dinner parties.

The tradeoffs from old house to new were minimal, it seems.

"The big step in moving was giving up total control of our surroundings, especially coming from a home that sat out on a cornfield taking advantage of a 200- to 300- acre horse farm," explains Dorine.

"But the interior here rang the bell to our lifestyle, the grand expansive view tied the knot, and what's bad about professional fireworks with champagne every Fourth of July?"