Massachusetts Gothic

Text by Paula M. Bodah Photography by Kevin Sprague

 

Carole and Gordon Hyatt have an adventurous streak. Their careers—his as a documentary filmmaker and hers as an expert on career building and author of several best-selling books on the subject—have taken them all over the world. Combine that peripatetic life with a natural interest in art, architecture and design and boundless curiosity about history, and it’s no surprise the couple divide their time between two entirely different but equally fascinating homes.

In New York City they live in what Carole describes as “a wonderful 1960s space,” filled with pop art. When they come to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as they often do, they travel even further back in time, living in a stately old Federal-style house built 1826.

The Hyatts have had fun decorating their house over the years. Because, as Carole notes, the 1820s ushered in an architectural period where revivals of all sorts were popular, it suited the couple’s wide-ranging tastes to do up the rooms in a variety of styles, from Shaker to Victorian to Egyptian Revival. It seemed to suit the house, too. “The Federal style marries well with other styles,” says Carole, thanks to its balance, symmetry and lack of fussy detail.

It was hardly a stretch, then, when the couple decided Gothic Revival would be a perfect look for the conservatory they wanted to add on to the house. Although they had put a sizable clapboard-clad addition onto the brick house back in the 1980s, they wanted a larger space for entertaining and for the career-building seminars Carole runs.

Figuring out just how to design a Gothic-style addition that would complement the home fell to Kristine Sprague, an architect based in Lenox, Massachusetts. Sprague came up with the clever idea of an octagon that extends off the wooden addition’s living room. As they worked out the architectural details of the space, architect and clients spent time driving through New York’s Hudson Valley, looking for inspiration in the elaborate mansions built there in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Inspired, indeed, is the result—a sweet confection with arched windows, a series of ornate columns and a copper-topped octagonal cupola, all painted an eye-popping salmon hue with teal trim that matches the wooden part of the house.

The convincingly old-looking octagon was built with the same care and attention to detail as it would have been back in the 1800s, but with one decidedly modern twist. West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, woodworker Michael Costerisan cut and milled more than a thousand pieces to fashion the elaborate trim, but only some of it is wood. The columns and arches are mahogany, while the diamonds and circles that adorn them are made of PVC. “It takes paint very well,” Sprague says, “and it’s very durable.”

Costerisan is also responsible for the remarkable millwork inside, including a grand Gothic-style walnut bookcase the he designed in collaboration with Carl Sprague, a neighbor and longtime friend of the Hyatts as well as Kristine Sprague’s brother-in-law. Carl, a set designer, jokes that the bookcase is the first thing he’s ever designed that isn’t going to be dismantled once the show is over.

Carole and Gordon looked to a favorite place—Strawberry Hill, the Gothic Revival home Horace Walpole, the fourth Earl of Orford, built in the late 1700s in the English countryside—when they turned their attention to the interior design. “We knew Strawberry Hill had a blue ceiling with gold stars,” Gordon says. Here, panels of gilded stars on a field of deep blue form an octagon with an opening in the middle that looks up into the cupola. Hand-painted flocks of birds adorn the area at the base of each panel.

A friend of Gordon’s whose family owns quarries in Italy made the couple a gift of three tons of travertine for the floor. Hand-struck tiles add color to the floor in the form of a border and an elaborate medallion that anchors a sitting area and echoes the blue and gold of the ceiling.

The walls are no less stunning, covered in canvas and faux-painted by New York muralist Richard Haas, another friend of the Hyatts.

It took the team close to three years to design and build the conservatory, but the results leave no doubt the time and effort were well worth it. Whether the Hyatts fill the space with happy partygoers or earnest seminar attendees or just enjoy a quiet moment by themselves, the conservatory exudes a magical vibe that can’t help but make everyone feel good. •

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