Take A Tour Of This Gilded Age Manor In New Marlborough Before It Becomes Affordable Housing

By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle — May 29, 2024

John Lennon and Yoko Ono once brought their young son Sean to Cassilis Farm.

The estate, once known as Brookmead, also hosted Jersey cows, prize-winning Hackney ponies, and maintained a blacksmith and a dog hospital. Later, an artist colony would begin to take root — that’s when John and Yoko went — before Jane Carpenter turned it into a residence for children with disabilities.

That’s just some of the history of the Georgian Revival estate, built in 1890, then rebuilt after a fire over a decade later.

Next chapter for the farm? Affordable housing by early 2026. But before that, it’s a showcase of sorts.

Right now, in pre-construction glory, each room at the 27-acre Cassilis Farm holds a vision of more than a dozen Berkshires designers.

These somewhat buyable installations — a “Designer Showhouse” on the theme of “Nature in the Berkshires” — will remain throughout June as a self-guided tour fundraiser for Construct Inc.’s project to transform the buildings into 11 apartments for local families and workers who qualify.

Each tour ticket is $40, and all proceeds go to the Cassilis Farm overhaul. Attendees can also learn where to buy the furnishings from the showhouse, and also purchase artworks on display. Tickets can be purchased on Construct’s website.

It’s also a last look at a Gilded Age estate before construction begins, since the work — with constraints tied to government funding — will not preserve all the architectural details. A state architect will oversee that aspect, said Construct Executive Director Jane Ralph.

Construct Designer Showhouse

The designers and the affordable housing nonprofit are partnering up to support the initiative, which began when Construct bought the estate at auction in 2022, planning to turn it into desperately needed housing here.

As of now, $2.5 million is coming from the Federal Home Loan Bank Boston’s Affordable Housing Competitive Funding Program and Rural Community Development Initiative Grants, Ralph said.

Greylock Federal Credit Union is another partner, as are a slew of individual donors and a host of others. All told, the project will run around $7 million, Ralph said.

“Virtually all the money for acquiring this was raised in New Marlborough,” Ralph added, “so the community support is overwhelming.”

It is also a “model,” Ralph said, of “how smaller towns, without the infrastructure, can still provide affordable housing.”

And now, the rooms are supermodels.

Construct Designer Showhouse

“I wanted to reimagine the strawberries in a kind-of more modern way,” said Patrick McBride, of PM Design, of the “timeless” pattern refashioned. “So we printed them on a pearlized metallic paper.”

McBride along with colleague Harry Heissmann designed the “Strawberry Fields” dining room as a nod to John Lennon, “who stayed here for a minute,” McBride said.

Formerly the longtime creative director of Tillet Textile in Sheffield, McBride also hand-stripped the fabric with the same purple-pink palette on the window seat cushion.

Construct Designer Showhouse

There is art throughout the estate. Hanging on McBride’s strawberry wallpaper are portraits by West Stockbridge painter Vivian Outlaw.

Berkshire artist Maurice “Pops” Peterson has two of his new works — featuring local landscapes rather than his reimagined Norman Rockwells — hanging in one of the halls.

Dana Simpson, designer and owner of Hammertown Barn, had stumbled upon an antique marbleized paper ledger in one of her stores recently and had a photo of the cover copied onto wallpaper sheets.

She and two colleagues spent eight hours pasting more than 500 sheets to the ceiling in one of the estate’s lower rooms, which she also decorated with Hammertown furnishings.

“We did the whole ceiling for less than $500,” Simpson said, “plus elbow grease. It was a labor of love.”

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