This Our Life
A decorator and an investor find love—on the rocks
Photos by John Gruen
I live in a house with a message. I am reminded each day as I pass through my living room that there is “good in everything.” Indeed, there is.
Our house was built in 1900 by Henry Farnam Jr., a professor of economics and a Shakespearean scholar at Yale University. The first time I set foot in Boulderwood, the name Farnam gave his home, it was for a prospective decorating job for Jim Finnerty, who had purchased the house in August 1999. The house was knee-deep in sawdust and construction debris, as it was undergoing a transformation back to its former glory, with improvements that included new plumbing, electric, a modern kitchen, and heat.
For me, it was love at first sight. The bones of Boulderwood are magnificent, to say nothing of the cyprus-paneled living room, leaded-glass windows, giant Dutch doors, and bedroom after bedroom. And then there is the Shakespearean quote carved into a cornice of the living room: “And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, good in everything.” I aptly named my decorating proposal to Jim, “As You Like It.”
In fact, the house told me how it should be decorated: comfortable, on the masculine side, no museum-style rooms. It wanted to be lived in. Though this is clearly a home that straddles the Victorian and Arts & Crafts styles, it also has a European vibe with an aesthetic similar to the great designer-thinker of the late-19th century, William Morris. The house is steeped in nature, situated perfectly southwest facing such that on the summer solstice, the sun streams through it from west to east, as it does at Stonehenge.
The unexpected twist of fate for me was falling in love with Jim and eventually moving to Stockbridge from Boston. I felt for the first time that I had found the place where I belonged—surrounded by beauty, inside and out—in a house that communes with nature and automatically makes any visitor feel comfortable, relaxed, and “exempt from public haunt.”
As I began to build my life here some 14 years ago, Jim and I found ourselves exploring the B&B world. We so wanted to share this precious gem of a home, and I had a deep yearning to share my entertaining and culinary style. While the B&B experiment didn’t last long, my interest in cooking and sharing became stronger.
The new kitchen—originally in the basement with a small, dark, prep kitchen on the first floor—was designed to take in the view. It was the only real architectural change that was made to the house. A giant steel beam was installed to provide an open expanse that incorporates the outside porch—now the dining area—and a stunning view of Monument Mountain.
The kitchen allows me to hold court in a space that has inadvertently become my demo area, a place where guests can hang out and watch while I whip up a meal. The newest addition to that space is my 1908, Queen Atlantic, wood-burning cook stove. While on an annual junket to the Brimfield Antique Show, Jim and I stumbled upon a booth with reconditioned antique stoves—mostly converted to gas. We told the seller we wanted a word-burning one to serve as both heat source and auxiliary cook stove. So we trekked to his warehouse in Littleton, and in a far corner we spotted the perfect-size stove—but it was a rusted mess. A few months later, Jim surprised me with the refurbished Queen Atlantic for my birthday. It is the perfect addition and a welcome cook top and oven for our giant Thanksgiving feast and other such gatherings.
So how does a girl from Pelham Manor, New York, adapt to the country? Jim is a Stockbridge native, so I credit his local know-how and connection to the land for bringing me along. I always loved the outdoors, hiking, and nature as a kid, but I never expected to live my dream in a fabulous house in the country with chickens, horses, and cows.
We have raised meat chickens and have had a flock of laying hens for over ten years. I bought Jim three Scottish Highland cattle about five years ago with the intention of harvesting our own grass-fed beef, but they remain alive and well, earning their keep as part of the lawn-maintenance team while decorating the landscape. And I have become a mad canner of sorts, from salsa and sauerkraut to peach jam. Dehydrating herbs is another favorite pastime. The connection to the land and our food is the centerpiece of our life.
While I enjoy the pleasures of cooking, Jim takes to the land, lovingly and carefully studying our property to decide which trees can be removed to enhance the overall feel of our “estate.” We have copies of old photos from the early 1900s and can see that there was more meadow back then. Jim has uncovered many boulders—glacial errata—removing years of overgrowth to display their beauty and claiming this workout is better than a gym’s. (The house is made from the indigenous stone and wood—hence the name Boulderwood.) And if he is having a bad day in the stock market, he jumps on his tractor for therapy.
Living at Boulderwood has taught me how to create a life. While I brought my decorating skills with me, I also embraced new ones. There is no greater joy than cooking from the heart for family and friends, and this passion evolved into my creating Heirloom Meals—a storytelling platform to share people’s connections to their family food memories and traditions. I record a weekly radio show for Robinhood Radio from Boulderwood, and we have filmed two PBS specials, “Heirloom Meals Thanksgiving” and “Heirloom Meals Christmas,” which will re-air this season.
Boulderwood has spoken to me—sometimes in whispers, other times in more emphatic tones. I have heeded her call and found my love, my passion, and good in everything.