As founder of the New York cooking school Haven’s Kitchen and mother to five children, Alison Cayne could be described as an ultimate working mom. After deciding to move closer to her downtown school, she snapped up a West Village townhouse that is the stuff of real-estate dreams: five stories with original turn-of-the-century details and lots of garden space. Far from intimidated, Alison decorated the home top to bottom, guided only by her own instincts, a serious Pinterest habit, and her beloved palette of grays, blacks, whites, and the occasional gold-mustard tone. The result is a pitch-perfect space that’s both a creative sanctuary for Alison and an idyllic childhood home, where her kids have sprawling family dinners every night and regular sleepovers with friends. We stopped by to hear how this überaccomplished entrepreneur lives, works, and of course, daydreams.
Acting on Instinct
Perhaps most notable upon entering Alison’s home is the pared-down palette. But rather than being overly studied, it’s the result of pure instinct. “I actually love color,” she says. “I have these dreams of red, blue, pink rooms, yet somehow I never go down the color road.” The one exception is gold-mustard, which was inspired by an image Alison clipped from a magazine years ago. “Oddly I realized it’s a color that I grew up with in the 1970s, and here I am, with these yellowy mustardy sofas. It’s totally subconscious.”
Alison takes a decidedly egalitarian approach to design. “There’s this idea that only these specially trained people can design and decorate a home in this proper way. But actually I think decorating is a lot like cooking—you just have to learn what you really like and how to get that effect.” She’s been able to hone her own unique tastes thanks to fresh visuals from World of Interiors and, of course, Pinterest. “I realized this doesn’t have to be anyone else’s favorite place. It just has to be my favorite place.”
Fine Family Dining
As a leader in the movement for a healthy, grounded relationship to food, Alison practices what she preaches. Her whole crew—her children range in age from 9 to 17—know to be home by 6:30 p.m. for dinner. All friends are welcome thanks to a dining table that easily expands with an added leaf. “Dinner is 100% cell-phone free. It’s the one moment we can all connect. I like to hear about everyone’s day.” After dinner, the table goes back to being the homework station.
All of this happens against the backdrop of a serious art collection. Alison loves “quiet but bold” art, gravitating to the Minimalism of the 1960s and ’70s, and her taste for restraint is evident. The pieces range from a black line drawing by Alberto Giacometti to a giant white Robert Ryman piece.
Dinner is 100% cell-phone free. It’s the one moment we can all connect.
Starting the Day Right
From dawn until bedtime, life really revolves around the kitchen. For the space Alison chose marble countertops and gray-blue cabinets, finished off with classic brass bin pulls. Most mornings Alison does short-order cooking for breakfast, coffee in hand. One daughter loves avocado toast, while another always wants eggs, and everyone eats on the stools along the kitchen island. She does the school drop-off before heading to work. “There are mornings where I think of myself as like Mother Nature, like I should be on Oprah,” says Alison. ” And then other mornings I think, I should never talk about how to parent, ever!” She gets a second cup of coffee—her own special blend of La Colombe—on arrival at Haven’s Kitchen.
When asked why she landed on “Haven’s Kitchen,” Alison says, “My impression of the kitchen was always the hearth, the happy place, the yummy smells, where friends and family gather. But I realized people had so much fear, about what to cook for their kids, about recipes not working, about nutrition. I wanted to bring back that concept that the kitchen should be the haven.”
My impression of the kitchen was always the hearth, the happy place, the yummy smells, where friends and family gather.
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A Room of Her Own
With her days spent between children’s activities, Haven’s Kitchen, board meetings, and teaching and speaking events, Alison’s office becomes a sort of getaway zone. When she embarked on decorating her special space, she was reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and that helped shape her thinking, freeing her to create a dreamy space for working. “Woolf was so ahead of her time in knowing that women really needed things and space,” Alison says. “I realized it’s not being selfish or being a bad mother to have those boundaries—they make for better relationships and happier environments. This house is sleepover central, everyone’s running around. But when my door is closed, everyone’s clear that it’s my time.”
This house is sleepover central, everyone’s running around. But when my door is closed, everyone’s clear that it’s my time.
A Personal Haven
For her own room, Alison layered luxurious textures, from the Moroccan rug to the fur blanket. It’s a zone of total peace, and it’s where her children love to stay when they’re under the weather. Cayne, who’s divorced, once again sought to please only herself with the decor. “I’d been married since I was 22. I’d liked making joint decisions in the past, but the idea of completely choosing everything and not running it by anyone felt like a treat. I realized I could paint my bedroom black if I wanted to!” And that’s what she did.
As you can imagine, downtime is rare. “I love going from working at the cash register to designing the website to a fun interview. But there are times when I need to decompress. I love Friday-night dinners with my family and then quiet weekends where we stay in.”
I think there’s something decidedly feminine about the whole house, but it’s not froufrou feminine.
I feel like I chose brass fixtures before it became everywhere, and yet I’m sure they were in the air before; it was in my psyche somewhere. I love a chunky fixture.