EMERSON AND RYAN FRY ARE THE SORT of people you should avoid if you are the envious type.
They look like J.Crew models (circa the early ’00s — before the brand began to favor lank-haired, unsmiling hipsters). They’re high school sweethearts who still seem adorably, ridiculously in love after seven years of marriage. They run a thriving business that combines creativity and a lot of old-fashioned, honest hard work. They wake up at 5 a.m. every day to run together for an hour.
And after a decade of living in New York City, they actually took every New Yorker’s escapist fantasy and made it a reality: Ryan and Emerson picked up and moved to a 19th-century farmhouse on 100 acres outside Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where they run a certified-organic farm filled with ducks
Easy to resent, right? Well, there’s just one problem: Ryan and Emerson are rather delightful.
As the owners of EmersonMade, the online clothing and accessories line that became a runaway success thanks to whimsical photo shoots starring the couple and their chickens, Emerson and Ryan oversee a burgeoning lifestyle empire based on the appealingly simple — yet undoubtedly stylish — way they live their lives.
They bought the farmhouse in 2007, after Ryan stumbled upon the property near a favorite vacation spot. Up until that point, the couple had been happily ensconced in a tiny New York apartment. Emerson, a classically trained painter, worked mostly in oils and occasionally veered into clothing design, while Ryan ran several technology companies.
“He called me right away, and something in his voice told me, This is home,” Emerson recalls. “I came up to see it and that was that — there was sunset through the grass and stillness in the sky.”
Despite nearly losing their nerve at the last minute (they eventually heard “the ducks and chickens of our future calling to us”), in 2008 Emerson and Ryan moved in and quickly settled into what can only be described as Martha Stewart meets Willa Cather.
In early 2009 the duo launched the website EmersonMade (emersonmade.com), where they sold the distinctive flower pins that passersby were always trying to buy off Emerson on Manhattan streets. Measuring up to nine inches in diameter, Emerson’s bright linen brooches were an immediate online hit with the bridal set and those looking to enliven wool overcoats.
Since then the company has expanded to a clothing and housewares line that aesthetically marries J.Crew, L. L. Bean, and the British retailer Boden. Classic pleated skirts, nautical striped shirts, and tweed jackets are augmented by patent-leather pumps, skinny belts, men’s ties, and now, linen table runners. The best part? Everything is manufactured in the U.S.
“EmersonMade was born from the belief in the beauty of everyday life,” Emerson says. “I think it’s all linked: the way you wear your clothes, the way you set a table, the way you live. It’s the things you value that excite you.”
Emerson and Ryan set about creating their own home at the same time they were refining the EmersonMade concept. As they built their website, hired a staff of 10, and established operations in an old Portsmouth mill, they also began to renovate the farmhouse.
Built in the 1870s, the property had most recently served as a hostel and thus “was littered with mattresses and piles of laundry,” Emerson says. “And about 100 refrigerators,” Ryan adds. Though the original home was in excellent structural
shape, the pine floors had been covered with nonslip commercial paint, and the interior was oddly divided into multiple kitchens. There was also a 20-year-old addition that Emerson calls, simply, “a hell trap.”
The couple decided that while the main house required only a basic facelift, the addition needed to be leveled. They initially hired an architect, but “[we] quickly realized all we needed was a draftsman who could implement our ideas,” says Emerson.
They spent eight months working with Durham, New Hampshire–based Chinburg Builders to return the space to its original, simple glory.
Then the real fun began. “Always pull over when you see an old, rundown antiques shop!” Emerson says. “Sometimes it’s a bunch of junk, but sometimes it’s a real treasure”like the antique blue velvet chair she once found.
These days, Ryan and Emerson work dawn to dusk. Emerson oversees product design and creation, adding new pieces to the clothing line every few weeks, while Ryan handles the commercial operations. They recently added some pigs and cows to their menagerie of chickens and ducks; there’s also a nascent orchard that will soon be home, Ryan says, to “just about any tree I can think of.”
Despite 15-hour days, the couple makes a conscious effort to enjoy the pleasures of home. They use their fireplaces nearly every day, take time to watch fireflies from the screened-in porch, and spend Saturday nights playing cards under the big beaded chandelier in the library.
And though they still commute to New York once a week to meet with their manufacturing team, Ryan and Emerson can’t imagine life anywhere else. “The quiet is so quiet, you can hear it. That took some getting used to,” says Emerson. “But in New York I never saw the stars.”
Photographs by Jörg Meyer