Raising kids and pups in the heart of Bedford
Photographs by Jeff McNamara
Puppies, in some ways, are like chocolate. They make people happy, and two or three are better than just one. But imagine 17 warm, fluffy bundles with waggle-y tails and kisses to spare. This joyfully decadent experience—give or take a few bundles—happens twice a year at Bedford’s Via Bella Farm. You know the place—a golden-retriever mailbox marks the entrance on Guard Hill Road, and if you slow a bit as you’re passing by, you’ll see the prize-winning mamas and papas romping in the former horse paddocks by the dog barn.
Lisa Smith, owner of Goodtime Golden Retrievers, and her husband, Adam Henrich, bought the 1907 farmstead in 2005 while living in Pound Ridge. They hired architect Joel Trace to help them design a complete renovation.
“My mom named the farm Via Bella for my two older daughters, Olivia and Isabella. Adam was working in the construction industry in the city previously for many years, and Via Bella Farm became our first project—so to speak—and his company, Via Bella Ventures, was born,” says Smith. “We finished the house in 2007 and the landscaping and outbuildings in 2008.”
The old rambling house had been updated throughout the 20th century by previous owners, but Smith wanted to take it back to its Victorian roots while up grading its functionality for 21st-century family living. In addition to Olivia and Isabella, she and Henrich have daughter, Lily, age four.
During the planning phase, Smith collected photos of her inspirations in leather-bound notebooks—paint colors from a farmhouse in New Canaan, vintage double doors she admired on a neighbor’s house, and a library with red bookshelves that she spotted in a magazine.
She pasted in business cards of artisans and carpet makers and flooring suppliers and marble dealers, personally choosing and sourcing every detail down to the last hinge.
Originally built in 1907, Via Bella Farm was renamed and renovated a
century later. Smith and Henrich integrated original elements, like the ironwork on the front porch, above left, whenever possible. The dogs love to go for walks on the old farm road with the family.
When rebuilding the front porch, Henrich’s team was able to integrate the original stone elements and ironwork into the new configuration, and Wes Sunderland, a master woodworker from Maine, recreated those double-entry doors that Smith photographed down the street.
Inside, the original hallway was widened by moving a wall, and period-appropriate millwork was meticulously crafted and installed by Cosimo Tripi. Smith had Sunderland rebuild the stairway and asked that some reclaimed French-oak floorboards she found be re-cut, re-planed, and laid in a herringbone pattern. She sourced the hand-painted Chinese wall covering from Stark in Manhattan.
Leaded-glass doors were custom-built to enclose the library on the north side of the house where Sunderland built the red lacquered bookshelves inspired by that photo torn from a magazine years before. Smith chose the striking black and white carpet at Stark, and the French-marble fireplace surround via a source in Virginia.
The living room, across the hall, was decorated with a blend of family heirlooms and furnishings Smith found at estate sales that she and her mother like to frequent. “This was my grandmother’s, “ she says of the ornate baby-grand piano. “I had it brought here from California. It’s out of tune, but the kids play it and don’t mind.”
The adjacent dining room features red Venetian plaster walls, an antique mantel, and a hunt painting that Smith purchased at a resale store in Palm Springs. “The size of the dining room was important to me because I have a big family. All the aunts and uncles can come for holiday dinners. The table expands, and there’s room for everyone,” she explains.
Just beyond the butler’s pantry is the kitchen that opens to a family room. Smith wanted the workspace to have a French-country feel, and the living space to be comfortable—and most important, dog- and kid-friendly. This is the heart of the house where everyone likes to relax, and when there are litters of puppies, this is where they are corralled.
A short flight of stairs leads past the bird cage—where Simon, the family’s very vocal pet macaw, makes his presence known—to a wing over the garage that houses a gym, Henrich’s office, and a guest suite. The master suite, playroom, and family bedrooms are located upstairs with views of the swimming pool, pool house, tree house, paddocks, and chicken coop.
Smith has an office next to the kitchen, but the hands-on work with her champions takes place in the dog barn next door. Not only does she breed golden retrievers but she also trains and shows them. Her most successful competitor to date is Casey, who became the fifth-top producer in the breed.
The dogs live in the barn while they’re training, showing, and being bred, and the family spends a lot of time with them. “They’re bred to be show dogs first, then breeders,” explains Smith. “Then, when they are six, they’re done with their work lives, and they either move in with us or I place them with families.”
Smith’s mother is also a breeder and, in fact, is the one who got Smith started with her career. “I was a student in Manhattan, and my mom gave me a dog to keep me company. I decided I wanted to show him and started going to handling classes—I didn’t want to hire a handler; I wanted to do it myself,” she says. “So, I had one dog, and then two, and then three, and finally I said, ‘We need to move out of the city,’ and that’s when we came up here.”
“Before kids, I’d have seven to eight dogs hanging out in the TV room with me, but after kids, it was a bit much,” she says with a laugh as BB, the lone German short-haired pointer, and Rhumba, a retired champion golden sidle up for some attention. “We’re lucky, the girls are all very much at home with the dogs,” Smith says. “Having lots of dogs around is just part our lives.”