DOWN A ROAD barely wide enough for a single vehicle, Hillside’s farmhouse comes into view: a 1,500-square-foot two-story buff-colored stone building with small windows and a chimney at each end of a red-tiled roof. With the help of the London-based architect Adam Khan, the late 18th-century house, its plain facade set off by espaliered Comice pears, has been turned into a spartan lair where raw textures — stone, wood, concrete — prevail over minimal vintage furnishings.
No matter the weather, much of the activity takes place on the open-sided wooden porch sheltered by sheets of corrugated cement board. There is a deep sink in which to rinse and prepare vegetables from the garden and fruits from the orchard (pears, quince, crab apples and plums). Near an oak plank dining table and a stove top with a cluster of espresso makers are weathered Adirondack chairs flanking a reclaimed metal barrel that gathers rain from the roof. Inside, down a hallway-cum-mudroom, one of Morgan’s sculptural black stoneware bowls sits alongside vintage pieces on a 1950s ebonized wood credenza; nearby hang hand-woven baskets that Pearson has picked up on his travels. In the airy modern kitchen with counters of Welsh slate, Morgan makes fruit jams and compotes with produce picked from the trees, and when the weather turns colder, the couple takes toast and tea in the winter room, which has a fireplace at one end and a wood stove at the other. A guest bedroom — outfitted with little more than a single bed with an embroidered suzani, a nightstand and a reading lamp — is paneled in dark-stained pine. “With so much going on outside,” says Morgan, “we wanted calm and quiet. Somber interiors make the light streaming in more interesting.”
Pearson leads us outside to experience that light, which is vivid and unfiltered. We walk past the terraced orchard and into a young stand of hazelnut trees, which he planted in 2012. “It’s important to plant trees as soon as possible because they map time,” he says. Once we pass the converted barn where Pearson spends each Friday writing at an oval Eames-designed wood-and-metal desk, we are surrounded by wildflower meadows, 14 acres in total; he considers their establishment among his greatest accomplishments at Hillside. The fields had been grazed into near nonexistence for decades, so to revive them, he oversowed with a local seed containing yellow rattle, a semiparasitic plant that over eight years weakened the grass, allowing wild geraniums, wild oregano and bedstraw to flourish. He bends to examine a low cluster of flowers at our feet: wild orchids with their violet petals and mauve spikes. A Gunnera manicata — giant rhubarb from Brazil — sits halfway down the hill next to a natural spring, its display of massive lobed leaves as shocking as a sculpture in the rough. Farther in is what Pearson calls his “Japanese moment”: a bridge-crossing in a wild environment of moss-covered rocks and various types of ferns, yellow daisies and late-blooming water irises, their delicately ruffled amethyst petals like tissue paper. Japan has been on his mind of late: He travels there every year to consult with the head gardener of the Tokachi Millennium Forest on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, where, between 2004 and 2008, Pearson created a series of gardens with the local landscape architect Fumiaki Takano. The 600-acre expanse, featuring undulating hills and native perennials like Lilium auratum and Aralia elata, was commissioned by the publisher Mitsushige Hayashi to offset the carbon footprint of his newspaper business.