Going, Going…Still Going
Christine Baranski leads the HVA Auction
Photo by Douglas Foulke
Christine Baranski sits in a white Adirondack chair overlooking the glistening Lake Waramaug. “This lake is part of the Housatonic Valley. All of this gorgeous land and water that we revere around here, it’s all part of the corridor that we need to work harder than ever to protect,” Baranski says.
Svelte and energetic at 63, wearing her signature Ducati baseball cap and only coral-colored lipstick for makeup, Baranski takes her year-old grandson Max by the hand and he sits on her lap on a swing by the dock. She and her late husband, the actor Matthew Cowles, raised their two daughters in the Cowles’ family farmhouse in Bethlehem and bought this shingle-style Washington lakehouse in 2000, always reveling in the outdoors. “There is no greater gift you can give to your children than an appreciation of our natural world,” she says.
Baranski is the Emmy-winning actress who costars in CBS’s “The Good Wife.” She and some three dozen A-listers—Anderson Cooper, Diane von Furstenberg, Seth Meyers, Mia Farrow, and Meryl Streep, among them— have homes in Litchfield and Berkshire Counties and are signed on as co-chairs for the Housatonic Valley Association’s 25th annual auction, to be held November 8 at the Washington Primary School in Washington Depot. “I do this for Max, I do this for our future generations,” says Baraanski, who is chairing the auction for the fifth year, and rhapsodizes about her reasons for supporting HVA.
By “this,” she means her generous work for the Cornwall-based HVA, a group founded 74 years ago, that has preserved thousands of acres of watershed land, protected irreplaceable wildlife habitats, and taught schoolchildren about the beauty and fragility of nature. The watershed actually extends well beyond the 150-mile-long Housatonic River, which starts in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and ends at the Long Island Sound in Stratford.
“The river valley is not just long. It’s also pretty fat,” says HVA executive director Lynn Werner, adding that it covers 2,000 square miles across 82 towns in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut.
The association has worked with numerous land trusts and the EPA to craft a proper plan for the cleanup of toxic PCBs, which were dumped into the Housatonic by General Electric from 1932 to 1977. (The top two miles of the river near Pittsfield have been cleaned, and negotiations are underway for the rest of the river.) It’s also “a constant battle” to protect all the water bodies in the Housatonic Valley from sewage waste and pollutants running off from developments, parking lots, and roads, Werner says.
Over the past 25 years, HVA auctions have raised close to $2 million, staring with the first, initiated by the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. “Diane has always been a huge champion of the environment,” Werner says of the designer who was also a key warrior in the fight to stop a giant garbage recycling facility, a megawatt power plant and the Iroquois pipeline from coming to New Milford.
“I thought of doing the auction because I wanted to get as many people as possible involved with saving our environment,” von Furstenberg tells me from Cloudwalk Farm, her estate in New Milford, where she lives part-time with her husband, Barry Diller.
She bought the 165-year-old farmhouse on 58 acres as a birthday present to herself in the 1970s, and raised her two children there. Now they and her four grandchildren come often to Cloudwalk from L.A., she says, “because of the great beauty you don’t find anywhere else. I’ve traveled the world, and this is the most beautiful place I’ve been.”
One of the Housatonic River’s tributaries, the West Aspetuck River, runs through von Furstenberg’s property, and inspires her designs. The river’s ripples, the ancient stones that gleam through clear gurgling water: “It’s the source of my creativity,” she says.
Von Furstenberg will be honored at the auction for her quarter-century of service. But again, she will be giving. As in years past, she’s donating a tour of the DVF studio in Manhattan, plus lunch for two at Standard Grill, and a $1,000 gift certificate to shop her line of clothing that includes her timeless, iconic wrap dresses. She’s also throwing in something new this year: Four-night stay in her apartment in Paris, and apple picking for 12 at Cloudwalk Farm.
Other items to be auctioned include: a week’s stay for six people at a gated resort in the Dominican Republic; a vacation in a five-bedroom, 12th-century limestone village home with an extensive wine cellar in southwest France; a trip to a charming cottage in County Cork, Ireland; a $500 gift certificate from Manolo Blahnik USA; a bourbon tasting party for 25 people at the Litchfield Distillery; four tickets to see the last Connecticut performance of Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion at the Palace Theater, with dinner afterward; Connecticut U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal have donated a “meet and greet” with them in Washington, D.C., for four people that incudes lunch and a tour of the U.S. Capitol.
This year, Baranski is donating two things: a visit to the set of “The Good Wife,” complete with scripts signed by the cast; and a dinner for four with her at her lake house. She has also recruited some new big names to serve as co-chairs, including CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and his partner, Benjamin Maisani, who bought a mansion in Bantam last year. “It’s exciting to have all these bold-faced names involved,” Baranski says. “But, that said, this is not a fussy event. It’s a laid back, say hello, have fun event. We all live in this beautiful place together. Let’s work together to keep it beautiful.”
Ticket prices start at $75 for the auction (with HGTV’s Tim Luke and Greg Strahm), lunch, and an open bar. For $150, you can include dinner with the stars afterward at G.W. Tavern in Washington. And for a grand, you can attend a special reception before the auction at the home of designer Linda Allard.