We never wanted a second home—it seemed like such a stretch, a commitment that we didn’t always want to be tied to. And we didn’t want to abandon New York. But after 9/11, we pulled it together. Having four small kids and living very close to Ground Zero, we felt like, “Oh my goodness, if we could ever have a place to run to from time to time, how great would that be?” We wanted something affordable that we could use year-round, a place where we would really be escaping—not running with the same crowd or bumping into people we knew from the city.
But we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. It couldn’t be too aspirational, or too much to hold on to. Just enough to have a sense of balance and escape.
A girlfriend introduced me to this area near the border of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. We bought in a small town called Great Barrington, where we could walk to our country market or call and get a pizza delivered if we drove up from the city. But it’s also rural. Our neighbors have chickens and cows. When my little kids first saw chipmunks, they called them rats. So I knew that the best decision we ever made was to get away from the concrete of the city every now and then and come up here.
When I drove by this house, I knew it was something special. Because we’re designers, and because we sell and flip houses, we tend to think, The worse shape, the better. The house wasn’t too daunting for us, but for the average person it was—so we got a good price. It was built in 1917, and the elderly guy who owned it had turned half of it into an antiques store before he passed away. It was pretty dark and musty, and all wall-to-wall carpet. We were able to keep the old pedestal sinks, but otherwise it was a total gut renovation.
The nice thing about it was that it had this “grand-mini” scale that I knew our family could grow into: small enough that we could afford to fix it up, but with really high ceilings and spacious rooms. There are beautiful old farmhouses up here, but sometimes when you get upstairs the ceilings are quite low, and my husband is six foot four. It’s not a massive property, but the house sits at the very center of a very flat acre with 100-year-old trees. And that you really can’t find.
The day Robert and I bought it, we started ripping up the carpet. We pulled down things that were boarded up and found a window in the staircase that we didn’t even know existed. We took down the entrance sign off the side of the house where it had been a store. We took down a couple of walls and some built-in cabinetry that was making the rooms smaller, and brightened everything by painting the old floors white—in fact, the whole downstairs white. Then we allowed the children to pick pops of color (even Breaker, our fourth child, who was just a baby). We had fun with it all.
If you come to New England, you very seldom see a superbright color—maybe on a front door, but that’s about it. A lot of the homes have this Little Women type of feel. We just wanted to do something different and mix it up.
For our bedroom, Robert and I chose a bright orange—we’ve had it that color for 19 years. It’s pretty funny because we’ve loaned the house to friends, and people either love it or hate it. And through the years we’ve painted our shutters different colors. My son was dropped off from a playdate one day, and the mother said, “I’ve always loved this house, but I hate the color your mom chose to paint the shutters.” I thought, Well, that’s pretty honest of her. But my son has a sense of humor and knows his parents and he goes, “Well, if you wait long enough, they’ll paint them another color next year.”
But we have a whole wall in the kitchen that we’ll never paint, where we measure the kids’ heights. To the side of it, we have all the local phone numbers—the bowling alley, the movie theater—just written on the wall. Things like that will never change. This house is not precious. We had a skunk inside once, and there are lots of ladybugs in our sinks all the time—that’s country life. We have really contemporary art, but the windows are crooked. It’s kind of nice. Every now and then my kids will slam a door while they’re arguing and the old glass hardware falls off. If we all shower at the same time it can be…tricky. But those little hiccups are what make it fun.
When we got this house we had only four children; now we have seven. As our lives grow, everything spills into it. I imagine one day I’ll have some grandkids’ toys spilling onto the floor. We put it to use after 9/11, we fled here after Hurricane Sandy, and now we’re here waiting out COVID-19. We are so fortunate. It has been such a sanctuary. We celebrate Christmas here, and all of our seven kids learned to ski here. Maybe one of them even had their first kiss in the backyard on the trampoline? My husband and I have owned 13 homes, and this one has been with us the longest. One day it’ll be for my kids to decide, but hopefully we’ll be able to keep it forever. Life is so crazy sometimes, but we cherish our time here.
For their own bedroom, Cortney and Robert chose an admittedly polarizing orange paint (by Crayola; the line is now discontinued) and rainbow-inspired accents. Pendant: Kartell. Art: Anne Collier. Bed and table lamps: Novogratz. Table: vintage. Bag: purchased in Brazil.
The family’s 19-year-old son Breaker is a singer, composer, and piano player. “He performs and has sing-alongs there all the time for family and friends,” says his dad, Robert. Mirror: 1800s Italian. Piano: Samick. Chairs: vintage Swedish. Ottoman and record holder: vintage American. Rug: Novogratz. Paint: White White (floors) and Linen White, Benjamin Moore.
After searching for a light for this room for years, Cortney finally found this ship-shaped chandelier in a shop in Austin—but then, “they kept it an additional three years to repair it.” Daybed and rug: ABC Carpet & Home. Fabrics: vintage.
The kids, who were all allowed to choose their room colors, selected punchy tones too: Tallulah (pictured) and her sister Bellamy were five when they went with Violet by Crayola (discontinued). Chandelier: ABC Carpet & Home. Bed and table lamp: Novogratz. Bedding and all art: vintage.
All the bedrooms are relatively compact, so the colors reverberate. Wolfgang and Breaker selected Red by Crayola (discontinued) for their walls. Art: vintage, Surfing Cowboys. Bed: Novogratz. Bedding and nightstand: vintage.
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