Water and weather color this jewelry artist’s designs and home
Photographs by John Gruen
Water is an important element in jewelry designer Margo Morrison’s life. In New York City, her apartment is a block away from the Hudson River, and she can view the water from her 17th-floor showroom in Midtown. In Sandisfield, her weekend home sits on what once was farmland and overlooks Ida’s Pond. She even has a working dam. “The water allows my imagination to run wild,” she says. “When I look at the water, I can breathe. I can move. I can think and I can dream.”
The original landowners, the Annecharico family, well known in Sandisfield, created the pond and the dam, and Morrison shares the beauty of the waterfront with a handful of other homes.
It all started seven years ago, when she started looking in the Berkshires for a place. She had already bought land in nearby Austerlitz, New York, and her plan had been to design a prefab house. Then the market crashed, and that allowed her to afford a home that was already complete.
Leslie Kamanoff, a bodywork specialist whose practice is in New York City and who had a home in Great Barrington, had told her about this area. He would come to the Berkshires on the weekends and rave about it. Then another friend, actress/director Karen Allen, who lives in neighboring Monterey, showed her the house in Sandisfield.
“I sort of pretended to look at other houses, but I fell in love with this house,” Morrison (pictured left) says. “I wanted the house before I walked in. I saw the vision of what it could be.”
What appealed to her was the location and the home’s layout, although the house itself needed a major overhaul. It was a cabin, with knotty pine, and inside it smelled of chlorine from a massive hot tub. One bathroom had an avocado-green tub and lime-green toilet, fiberglass shower, linoleum flooring. It was dark, carpeted, with peeling wallpaper, and just about everything needed to be stripped.
Morrison was up for the challenge. Her vision called for a minimalist’s perspective and a palette of neutrals, blues, and greens. She bleached the original wood floors a milky white and has placed on them beautifully patterned rugs from ABC Carpet. She didn’t have a plan—putting together the home was an organic process. She shopped in Hudson and Brimfield, Great Barrington, and New York City. The artwork in her home was found locally and beyond, and furniture as well as fixtures were from places like Restoration Hardware and online catalogs.
“I don’t want it to be too serious here,” she says. “I want people to come to my home and not feel overpowered.” She spent $250,000 to complete the home and can now say that she is done as of this spring, when she doubled the size of the terrace, replacing wood slats with pavers.
Surprisingly, only a year ago, she wanted to sell the house and move to the Hamptons. Within two weeks of putting her home on the market, she received a full-price offer. Then she thought more about it. The equivalent of what she had in Sandisfield would cost $4 million in the Hamptons, she says, to say nothing of the accompanying noise and traffic—not a place to relax. “I said, what the hell am I doing? I think I’m making a huge mistake,” she recalls.
That being said, the Berkshires is not the Hamptons. Morrison has to make her own fun and be proactive about a social life. But she has also taken stock of the fact that where she lives is a culturally rich area and has begun appreciating what is going on here.
Most importantly, every Thursday afternoon, when she makes the 2.5-hour drive from Manhattan to Sandisfield, she feels the tension start to drain. By the time she reaches Route 8, her breathing deepens, colors become more vivid, and the reality of a relaxing weekend sinks in. She starts thinking about what she will do—like grocery shop at Guidos—and her biggest concerns become getting fresh flowers and what steaks to grill.
A classical pianist—she has an 88-key electric piano upstairs in her home—Morrison takes pleasure in the various venues that showcase that style of music, such as the new Saint James Place in Great Barrington, the Mahaiwe, and the Norfolk Music Festival, which is the summer home of the Yale School of Music (and only 35 minutes from Sandisfield). Then there’s Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Tanglewood in Stockbridge, and the various art openings throughout the region.
What made her house even more special, though, was her beloved dog, Ella, an Italian greyhound. People recognized Ella before they did Morrison, and her companion went with her everywhere. She also consumed a large part of Morrison’s time. Ella was blind for the last four years of her life. Even so, she knew her way around her Sandisfield home.
“She loved eating dried, dead crickets in the backyard. She loved walks. She loved classical music. She loved the air here, the Norman Rockwell Museum grounds. I lived for that dog,” says Morrison.
Ella died last year, on December 29, from kidney failure. Photos, drawings, and statues in the home are reminders of Ella, and Morrison still becomes teary when she thinks of her. There’s a different energy in the house now, which Morrison is still getting used to. Yet there is almost a sense of freedom when she can sit for long stretches of time, daydreaming and reaching into herself.
Her home faces west, and the sunsets are spectacular. She finds herself rediscovering nature, with the littlest things becoming the most profound. She does Tai Chi at home, and Vinyasa yoga at Lifeworks in Great Barrington. She likes simply driving around and exploring local towns, sometimes venturing a bit farther to Hudson and Chatham, discovering stores that have just opened.
And it’s through these explorations and reawakenings, both in her home and in the area, that she finds inspiration for her jewelry designs, a profession she fell into in 2001 when she saw a knotted necklace, with stones spaced just so. She connected it with visual music. “It was like notes on a staff,” she says. “I had this epiphany. I went home and started making jewelry.”
At the time, Morrison had a variety of interests decorating her past. She studied classical piano from the age of seven, attending the Cleveland Institute and studied one summer at the Aspen Music Festival. She finished her undergraduate studies at the University of Florida and majored in journalism, with minors in music and speech pathology.
She started Miami’s Guide to the Arts, which she later sold, and covered the art world there. Then she moved to New York City, acted in TV commercials, temped at a music label, and became a professional organizer. On a visit to see her mother in Miami, she saw the necklace that would be the catalyst for the next phase of her life. “It was as if it spoke to me,” she says.
She went back to New York and bought a bunch of stones and silk cord. Then she sat on the couch and started arranging. “It started to sing—the shapes, the sizes, the scale just makes sense to me,” she says.
She tested the pieces at a high-end salon in NYC, personally selling it to women with foil in their hair. Morrison was then accepted to a juried trade show, where she listened, learned, and watched. She worked out of her New York City apartment for five years, using her credit cards to grow the business.
And she enjoys working with natural gemstones and pearls. It’s affordable and appealing to women who usually buy fine and fancy jewels. Sixteen years on, she now has several employees, a Midtown Manhattan showroom, and her pieces sell for $400 apiece on average. (You can find them in the Berkshires at the Clark, Canyon Ranch, and Local.)
For her jewelry, like her home, it’s all about design, about organic shapes, about movement. Her customers include Blake Lively, Debra Messing, Julia Roberts, Judy Collins, and Ina Garten.
And it all comes back to the water. “Jewelry is like movement. It should speak to you,” Morrison says. “I find inspiration here. The colors. I look at color. I’m completely seduced by color. I love driving up during different times of year to see different shades of green, different shades of brown.” Then she pauses, and listens.
“Do you hear the wind? I cannot get tired of this house.”