Nearly all 12 of Bobby Houston’s renovation projects started with a scenic drive along winding country backroads. Says the writer/director-turned-designer: “You’re driving along, minding your own business, and then you come upon an old home with a ‘For Sale’ sign,” he says. “Next thing you know, you’re finding excuses to peek in the windows, hoping it’s in such bad shape that no one else will want it.” That’s exactly how things unfolded when Bobby and partner Eric Shamie fell in love with an old farmhouse in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
The 250-year-old home was both showing its age and reeling from bad additions and upgrades. “In the 18th century, people had a pattern for building: little house, big house, then a barn, and so on,” says Bobby. “The little house was built in the 1780s, and then the family got prosperous and added on a bigger house in the 1800s. By the time we got here, there were weird transitions, lots of pink floral wallpaper, and multiple wet bars to contend with,” he says.
But Bobby was undeterred. He hired a contractor and took the house down to the studs, filling 15 dumpsters with past-its-prime plaster, rotted wood, and a “few miles” of defunct wiring and cast-iron piping. After stripping it down, he put it all back together, reconfiguring the home’s entire layout along the way. Here’s a look at his fittingly winding, not-always-scenic path to completion.
A bright front door () pops against vertical clapboard siding and a sleek metal roof. “It’s always a stretch to afford metal roofing, but it’s so crisp. It’s like putting a frame on a picture,” says Bobby.
The ceiling on the original “little” part of the house was a wreck, says Bobby, who managed to salvage the timbers and use them as beams. He also saved the early glass in the windows. “It’s wavy and creates kind of a magic effect when you look out,” he says.
The couple's bauerware collection adds pops of color to one side of the living room.
While this room may resemble a formal dining room, Bobby says they don’t really do formal dining, so it’s become an open and airy workroom. Inspired by the pickled spruce floors, he and Eric added an antique farm table and chairs by Børge Mogensen for a comfortable work space. A map of Berkshire County pays tribute to the home’s location.
The original white kitchen lacked both charm and square footage.
And after 10 years of renovations, Bobby has honed his kitchen philosophy: “Make the kitchen bigger. And bigger.” He converted the property’s old barn into a dream space—now one-third of the entire house footprint—boasting custom white ash cabinets, white Carrara marble, heated concrete floors, and a fireplace, all beneath a timberframe ceiling. “The idea of a ‘great room’ focused on a television is so wrong. Everybody knows you should focus on the stove,” he says.
The home’s original kitchen became a charming master bath.
The renovated washroom features a soaking tub alongside the original fireplace. “Our excitement over a bathroom with a working fireplace dictated many of our subsequent layout decisions,” says Bobby.
The 1800s portion of the house above the dining room/workroom has three bedrooms, including this guest room, which was originally dark and dingy. Bobby added more windows and then brought in his signature white staples, including a painted iron bed, antique coverlet, distressed dresser, and peg rail-lined walls.
At one point, neighbors called the house “Lonely Chimneys,” as two of the five were left standing alone while the rooms around them were rebuilt.
Now, a slim addition to the home’s original footprint provides more storage inside while doubling as a handsome firewood bay outside (which dog Bode finds quite fetching).
One thing Bobby learned about rebuilding from the ground up? “Choose a contractor who listens to bluegrass. I pay close attention to a contractor’s choice in music. You’re around it a good deal, and it tells you a lot about a person. Bluegrass is best because the songs are generally witty, wise, and the opposite of angry."