The handoff — the moment a designer presents a completed project to the client — is often as staged as a Broadway show. The doors fling open wide, and ta-da! Everything from teaspoons to tissues is in place, ready for the drama of life to begin. But when designer Sarah Zames passed along a project in the Catskills to its owner, actress Amanda Seyfried, the transition was altogether different. Yes, the 1920s house was inhabitable, but it was not “done” in the ordinary sense of the word. Indeed, it was barely furnished, and half the work had not even begun. Which is exactly how everyone wanted it.

Stephen Kent Johnson

The living area in the barn that now serves as guest quarters at actress Amanda Seyfried’s weekend retreat in the Catskills region of New York. The sofa is by West Elm, the wool rug is by Restoration Hardware, the flooring is reclaimed oak, and the wall is painted in Benjamin Moore’s White Dove; the photograph is by Sarah Bailey.

Seyfried had previously collaborated with a soup-to-nuts interior designer on residences in Manhattan and Los Angeles, but she craved a different experience here. “I wanted to see what it would be like to add to the house slowly,” she says. “Sarah’s eye lends itself to that: It’s easy for me to layer on top of what she’s done.” And layer Seyfried does, from textiles, art, and found objects to items she knits or crochets herself.

Stephen Kent Johnson

The master bath’s custom vanity has fittings by Waterworks, the sconce is from Design Within Reach, the floor tile is by Heath Ceramics, and the beadboard is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Dimpse.

Nor are her additions limited to inanimate details. She adopts rescue animals, welcoming them into her menagerie of horses, goats, chickens, cats, and a dog. Not incidentally, she also acquired a husband recently, actor Thomas Sadoski, and gave birth this past spring to their baby daughter.

“Every time I visit, Amanda has added something,” says Zames, founder and principal of the Brooklyn-based firm General Assembly. “The project takes on warmth really well.” Warmth wasn’t a catchword of Zames’s early career. Trained as an architect, she worked for cutting-edge modernist giants such as Rafael Viñoly and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. But big, corporate projects didn’t inspire her. “A connection to home is the reason a lot of people go into architecture in the first place,” she says. Still, she brings an architect’s sense of balance and alignment to every aspect of her work. “I’m always thinking about the overall space and the light,” she says, “and how materials and patterns will enhance them.” The result is a kind of cozy modernism: clean, simple planes composed with evocative, handmade, and rustic materials.

Stephen Kent Johnson

The kitchen’s range and hood are by Wolf, the Whitehaus sink is fitted with a Kallista faucet, and the backsplash is of tiles by Heath Ceramics; the island has a countertop of Caesarstone, the pairs of pendant lights are by Tom Dixon, and the cabinets are painted in Aganthus Green by Benjamin Moore.

For this assignment, she applied her sensibility to two separate structures: a stone house and a barn. Zames tackled the house first, adapting her approach to each of the floors. “Downstairs was thick walls and defined spaces,” she says, “so we weren’t able to alter the footprint.” Instead, she aimed to make the rooms brighter, cleaner, and more efficient, adding built-ins and refinishing all the surfaces. The upstairs, by contrast, was completely gutted. Three bedrooms became two, the ceilings were opened to the rafters, and the walls were pushed out into the eaves. Yet the resulting rooms are hardly grand. “Amanda cares more about the character of a space than its size,” says Zames.

Stephen Kent Johnson

Seyfried’s dog, Finn, relaxes in the master bedroom, where the bed is by Restoration Hardware, the bench is from Gilt, and the rug is from ABC Carpet & Home; the pendant light is by &tradition;, and the beadboard walls are painted in Ammonite by Farrow & Ball.

It’s an attitude that freed Zames to focus on subtle, graceful details, like shiplap that carries from a sunroom into a bedroom; deep, angled bookshelves that echo the window openings; and a custom bathroom vanity whose midnight-blue steel legs match the refinished tub. It also allowed her to introduce handmade tile, a favorite material. “I love using it to define and contain a space,” she says. Guest beds rest atop radiant-heated tile “rugs” set within wood floors. A swath of hexagonal tiles wraps around a wood-burning stove, and a band of graphic tiles adds a pop of energy to the tiny kitchen.

For Zames, the renovation of the barn was a dream project. “I’ve always been drawn to barns,” she says. “Every detail serves only the exact purpose the farm needs. And once that’s over, barns take on a different life—the wood splits, and you get slivers of sun; the form changes and degrades. Architecture is always about this idea of permanence. Barns are the opposite.”

Stephen Kent Johnson

In the guest barn, the kitchen island is framed in concrete, with a base painted in Overcoat by Benjamin Moore; the pendant lights are a custom design, and sliding doors repurposed from the original horse stalls lead to the guest rooms.

Stephen Kent Johnson

In the barn’s living area, an original wood-burning stove is backed by a wall of custom concrete tiles; the chair is vintage.

Of course, since it now serves as a guesthouse, Seyfried’s barn needed to prolong its hold on permanence. Zames shored up the structure, then gave the interior new life. The living area was encircled with a band of white wall, to contrast with the rough wood floors and ceiling. A pair of former foaling stalls was transformed into guest rooms. A whole side of the barn was opened to the rolling, wooded landscape with glass doors that fold flat, accordion-style.

Stephen Kent Johnson

In a guest room, cement tiles by Commune are set into reclaimed-oak flooring, the chair is vintage, and the walls are painted in White Dove by Benjamin Moore.

That landscape is what drew Seyfried to the property in the first place. “Before I even went inside the house, I knew I wanted it,” she says. Although family and work keep her in California — currently the series "Twin Peaks" plus films "The Clapper" and "First Reformed" and — she considers her Catskills property home. “I always want to come back here,” she says.

Not surprisingly for a project that omitted the dramatic unveiling, Zames, too, keeps coming back. She appreciates the opportunity “to experience the peace of the house now that construction is done,” she says. But she’s also drawn by another compulsion: her designer’s instinct for perfection. “There’s always some little detail that isn’t exactly right,” she says. “Some drawer pull, some tile...” With any luck, there always will be.

Stephen Kent Johnson

The dining table in the main house is from Culture+Commerce Project, the side chairs are by Ton, and the side table is antique; the sconce is from Etsy, the pendant lights are from ABC Carpet & Home, the artwork is vintage, and the walls are painted in Pavilion Gray by Farrow & Ball.

This story was originally published in the July/August 2017 issue of ELLE DECOR.