Making A Seen
Artistic couple opts for views like no other
Photos by Steve Bronstein and Scott Barrow
Tucked away at the end of a gravel drive in Great Barrington sits a hunter-green clapboard house that looks as if it sprouted directly out of the gently rolling knolls that cradle it. The couple who live there did not grow up in these hills—they came as visitors, fell in love with the Berkshires, and proceeded to put down roots. New York natives Steve and Amy Bronstein left the city in 2008 as empty-nesters and first moved to Stowe, Vermont. Despite the beauty of that state, they realized after five years there that they were just a little too far away from things.
“We were always captive to flight schedules in Vermont,” Steve explains.
So, the couple pulled up stakes again and headed south to the Berkshires in 2016. They rented a house in West Stockbridge for a year to determine whether the area would be a good fit with their lifestyle, their work (she is an illustrator and printmaker; he is a photographer), and within comfortable travel distance to New York.
And it was. The Bronsteins got serious about the kind of house they wanted and began to interview architects. They found Burr and McCallum of Williamstown. “When we had come here before, we stayed at the Porches Inn and found out that [Andy Burr and Ann McCallum] had done the design and renovation, so we were predisposed to them,” Amy says. “They just stood out. We could see our sensibilities would be a good match. We visited houses they had done and looked at a lot of pictures. We just admired so many of them, it was an easy call.”
Andy Burr describes the process he used with the Bronsteins. “The very first thing we ask clients to do is to write a program for us which will describe how many rooms they want, how they live in those rooms, who goes in those rooms, which rooms should be light and airy and which should be dark and cozy. We ask them to visit online sites such as Pinterest and put together a file of photos of rooms they like so we might have a vague idea of how the house is going to look. We have to see how they fit together, their relationship to the view and to the sun. Once that is done, we look at the three-dimensional aspects.”
Then Andy and Ann’s design perspective comes into play. “We always draw on images of farms and small industrial buildings of the 19th century,” says Andy. “They are our inspiration and that’s the direction that this house went.”
The overall vision was to have a modern farmhouse with plenty of light and to go small. The Bronsteins liked their home in Vermont and had a good experience building it—but not at 3,500 square feet. One aspect of the house design did remain large, though, and that is the oversized windows, which provide wide pastoral views and lots of light. Enhancing the farmhouse aesthetic are rough-hewn granite columns, like those seen at Hancock Shaker Village, at both front and back entrances. Wall pegs for hanging clothes and a stack of bentwood boxes are other Shaker accents throughout the house.
While the design is simple, the house has some unique and intriguing features. Steel trusses in the kitchen/great room ceiling were designed and made by builder Eric Zahn. And aleaded glass window the Bronsteins found and restored sits in a wall directly opposite the front door, leading the eye straight through to the den where Amy keeps her drawing desk. At it, she creates designs for small-scale relief, letterpress printmaking, and watercolor painting.
A more practical matter is the siding, made of Hardie board, a fiber and cement composite. According to Andy, the product was developed about 60 years ago to prevent wood rot in the damp southern climate. Although it looks identical to clapboard, it won’t need to be painted for 15 to 20 years.
Also practical is Steve’s commute. Mere steps from the house is his fully equipped two-story atelier, where the veteran advertising photographer produces pictures such as the iconic Absolut Vodka images, among scores of other freeze-action shots. A steel staircase, also custom-built by Zahn, leads to the second-floor office.
While deciding how they wanted the house and studio to look, the Bronsteins had to choose the right site on which to build. For sale along the same road were two parcels with different charms.
“There was another lot tucked back from this one, further up in the woods, without views, and for considerably less money, and we were kind of leaning that way,” says Steve. “Our Vermont house had a pretty drop-dead view. We said let’s not even go for a view because we’ll just be disappointed.”
But the architects convinced the Bronsteins to take the lot with the view. “What they said was that this lot looks like the Berkshires. You have a sense of place. With the other lot, you could be on Cape Cod—anywhere, anyplace. They made a good case,” says Amy.
Indeed. The lot they chose provides a landscape just as inviting as the interior of the home. Backed by a screen of white birch, the hilltop property looks out over a scene of meadow, trees, and rolling hills beyond. And the centerpiece is a large stone patio complete with firepit, where the family and their guests can enjoy a glass of wine while taking in the waning days of summer, well into the fall.