I always wonder, when it comes to older homes, what the original owners would think of the present-day families living inside. I imagine some of them would be surprised to see how we live and decorate today, but when it comes to
this beautiful stone house in Western Massachusetts, I feel confident that the original owners would be thrilled to know who is living there now.
Emily Billings and software engineer Max Shay recently moved from a small, fifth-floor apartment in Boston to the tiny town of Cummington, MA (population 800), where they now rent an incredible home with a rich artistic history. Their new house used to be the home of The Cummington Press (an influential literary printing company) and the Cummington School of the Arts, which housed artists like Diane Arbus, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning from the 1930s until the 1990s. The basement still holds the remnants of a darkroom and the main house originally held both a printing press and a photo studio. The barn next to the house dates back to the 1800s and once held the school’s painting studios and wood shop and a tiny building deep in the property’s woods was once devoted entirely to sculpting. The home’s history of such incredible creative energy and talent makes it the perfect place for a young, artistic couple to work and live.
Emily and Max are taking their time decorating their space and are excited to let their home evolve as they live there. Their goal is to fill their space enough to make it welcoming and comfortable, but not too much to distract from the architectural details and history of the home. I can only imagine how inspiring those views are for both Emily and Max’s work and I’m thrilled that we get to take a peek inside such a special place today.
Photographs by Max Shay
Emily and Max fell in love with their home's exterior right away. "Set on top (of) a hill, it's a great place to watch the seasons change." To the left of the house is a barn, built in the 1800s, and to the right are a series of garden beds and a path that leads to a cow pasture and forest trails.
The home's woodwork has been restored and kept in pristine condition. The entryway rug picks up on the warmth in the natural wood.
The home's "great room" was originally the home of an influential literary hand-printing company, The Cummington Press. The room was also featured in a WWII propaganda film, "The Cummington Story." Many years later, it serves as the couple's living room and provides amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
Emily and Max don't own a television, so they oriented the room's furniture to face the wood-burning stove and the French doors.
Emily and Max were inspired by the living room's 20-foot ceilings (!) and chose to keep the layout open and airy. The chandeliers were original to the home, as is the baby grand in the back corner of the room. Emily and Max lucked out when the previous owners decided to leave the piano when they moved.
Max and Emily explained that art was a big part of their decorating process. "Our house did not truly feel like home until we finally hung art on the walls. After an exhausting six-hour trip to IKEA, and a day spent matting, framing, and hanging, our walls were no longer bare. Our friend Linzi Clary screenprinted "Hug Your Mom/Hug Your Dad," and local artist Ashley of Secret Holiday Co. made the banner." Max drew the hands in college and it is Emily's favorite piece they framed.
Emily and Max restock the old fireplace once a week to keep things toasty. In the winter, they keep a fire constantly burning. To the right of the stove is the entryway to the pantry and a diptych painted by Linzi Clary.
The kitchen's pantry is bigger than Max and Emily's former Boston kitchen. Originally maroon, they painted the space white and renovated the shelves to lighten the space. The chalkboard in the pantry was Max's grandmother's. The piece of paper glued to the corner contains his grandparents' neighborhood contacts from Southport Island, Maine (including Max's family's carphone from the 90s).
The home's spacious kitchen originally served as the dining room for the Cummington School of the Arts. Max and Emily love the large gas range and separate convection oven - they're a cook's dream.
Both the butcher block table and the architect's blueprints are original to the house. Emily drove to Portland, Maine to buy the Umanoff chairs, which are perfect for playing cards around the table or watching Max cook dinner.
The home's downstairs guest room is Snowboots' favorite spot to sunbathe. The dresser came from Max's mother's house.
An acrylic painting by Max's grandfather, Richard Johnson, hangs above the guest bed. Emily and Max love the cool colors and the Maine imagery it brings to the space.
The downstairs guest bathroom was recently renovated just before Max and Emily moved in. The biggest luxury is the heated floors, which make the winter showers much more bearable.
The home's staircase leads to the master bedroom, bathroom and Max and Emily's studio. The secretary in the entryway was Max's grandmother's, and the couple stores all of their cold weather gear in the drawers.
Originally another guest room, Max and Emily converted this space into Emily's art studio. The even, daytime light makes it a nice space to paint, carve and draw. The rug once lived in Max's grandparents' living room, where young Max enjoyed ginger-ale and popcorn during happy hour. The Eames-style Plycraft chair was an eBay find Max took the time to refinish, and the painting is from Emily's thesis show (and is still a work in progress).
Emily hangs prints and postcards from her travels with binder clips so she can change out the images on a whim. The mudcloth was brought back from a shop in Cambridge, MA to reupholster pillows, but Snowboots quickly claimed it as her own.
The master bathroom was also recently renovated. It is a luxury to have so much natural sunlight in a bathroom and Emily and Max hope to fill it with plants once summer comes around.
The bed and nightstands in the master bedroom are the only pieces of furniture Emily and Max purchased new. They love their mid-century feel and how it compliments their beloved vintage dresser from Boston (next picture).
Emily and Max's mid-century dresser, found on Craigslist, is one of their favorite pieces and has been lugged up and down countless flights of stairs as they've moved over the years.
The wood burl lamp in the bedroom is from a vintage shop in Beverly, MA. Emily and Max have had a tough time finding table lamps, but they're especially happy with this one.
The master bedroom is so much larger than Emily and Max are used to in Boston that they created a small sitting area for board games and reading before bed. The sofa is from IKEA and the couple added wooden legs to compliment their mid-century bedroom furniture.
The backyard wood pile. Max and Emily's landlord told them, "you can tell if someone is retired by how well they stack their wood." Max and Emily both work, but they're proud that they've perfected their wood pile all the same.