Interiorssneak peeks

A Stone Farmhouse With Room to Roam

by Grace Bonney

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.

Artist 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. xo, grace

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.

Suggested For You


  • Wow. What a stunning house. I’m obsessed with those windows and doors. Perfect setting for a haunted house film though ;)

  • Wonderful place, sensitively decorated. Gorgeous wood, white, and natural light, but what stands out for me is the collection of handsome, colorful rugs.

  • It is truly a beautiful house you rent! The people who still own it have put a lot of love and care into the home and redid the kitchen, the ceiling, the new bathroom and more. Emily and Max, welcome to the hilltowns. I’m glad you love it here.

  • Emily and Max have an amazing home, going to stay with them for a weekend is the best kind of mini vacation. I’m so honored that they hang my artwork in their place!

  • Thank you so much for the feature, Grace!

    Leslie, the homeowners really put their heart and soul into the home and we are so happy to have found it. Stop by and say hello anytime, we would love to meet you!

  • Wow, this is my dream home. Absolutely love everything about this home. So much love put into it.

  • I have just been writing about some Cummington Press editions of poems by Wallace Stevens, including the 1942 Notes towards a Supreme Fiction, and the 1945 Esthetique du Mal, both of which my father bought when he got back to New York after World War II. I learned from this article that the Cummington School of the Arts had a number of very distinguished artists as well as writers at its sessions. I am going to try and find out more about the history of the Cummington School of the Arts, and would appreciate any information about how I might learn more.
    A beautiful house and a wonderful tradition of hand-press publication.

  • It was also the home of the Cummington Community of the Arts, a short lived artists’ colony in the 1970s. Writers, poets, visual artists spent summers there. It was a brief taste of Paradise.

  • not so short lived, really. the school dates back to the 1920s. i ate meals in that dining room and put in hours cooking in the kitchen, weeding in the garden, walking in the woods, etc., like all the other residents, for several months in 1979 and again in 1989. the last gasp of the hippies and the unfortunate apex of me-too. strongest memory from 1989: sobbing while listening to the radio–students being slaughtered in Tiananmen Square. the community closed in the 1990s. i shall never forget the place.

  • I was an artist in residence here in the summer of 1973. It is a gorgeous setting and a magical place.