Take a tour of the Center House at Berkshire Botanical Garden
Once the renovation and expansion to the historical Center House are completed in December, those traveling to the Stockbridge institution during the warmer months will be able to browse galleries and a few other spaces inside. Major donors will get the first glimpse at the finished product, according to Berkshire Botanical Garden Board Chairman Matt Larkin, but attendees of this weekend's Harvest Festival will get an earlier peek at the galleries and a classroom. The idea behind the project, Larkin said, was to remain within the 18th century building's original footprint while extending the organization's influence in the county, becoming a year-round destination that attracts more visitors, including celebrity chefs, to the site.
Larkin led The Eagle on a tour of the entire facility about a week before the Harvest Festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and features, among other offerings, a farmers market, tag sale and live music. On both days, guests can view "Wonder World: Three Artists Define Nature's Magic," a show in the Leonhardt Galleries that includes paintings by Susan Merrill and photographs by Jane McWhorter and John MacGruer. The works will fill the refurbished wing of the old farmhouse, which was more challenging to renovate than Larkin and others had anticipated when the project began in October of 2016. They kept the building's original gray exterior, but "everything else was very derelict," Larkin said, gazing at the structure from afar as workers milled about the grounds.
For example, they had to reframe the roof and strip off all the siding, ensuring that the building was up to the latest codes and insulating it from cold gusts.
"The wind used to blow through this place," Larkin said while traversing the interior.
The three rooms were coated with a mordant to simulate the original wood's wear, and Larkin instructed carpenters to follow the slanted contours of some doors rather than leveling them off.
"We want to make sure the spirit of the 18th century building is in evidence," Larkin said.
An ell that once linked the house to a barn now connects the galleries to a modern, expanded area, which is where visitors will normally enter.
"It's as if we're walking through one century back into two more," Larkin said, looking back at the door that leads into the galleries.
In the modern space, a living wall welcomes guests, with plants hanging from two sections of the room.
"This is the only one in Berkshire County," Larkin said.
Mark Prescott of Spencertown, N.Y., installed the living wall. He did the same for South Beach and Central Park locations of the 1 Hotel chain, among other projects.
Larkin said the plants will remove toxins from the air and require two hours of maintenance per month.
As guests proceed forward in the new space, they'll be walking on porcelain tiles that many will confuse with wood planks. The original brick floor plan was scrapped for this more rustic feel, though bricks bearing donors' names line the walls leading to a members-only botanical library. The space was still very much under construction during this reporter's visit, but vintage and contemporary architectural, botanical and garden design books will eventually fill shelves atop a paneled base of indigenous regional woods.
Continuing down the hall, a pantry room will allow the organization to host major events. Next to it, a teaching kitchen will serve two purposes. The first is to expand the organization's educational offerings. In addition to providing instruction about growing, the institution can now focus on food preparation and nutrition.
"It's been kind of a missing element in our curriculum," Larkin said.
The second reason for the space is to appeal to celebrity chefs and TV executives, specifically because of a camera on the ventilation hood above the kitchen island.
"We fully expect to sell a cooking show to the Food Network," Larkin said.
Beside the kitchen is a multi-use space that will host the Harvest Festival's silent auction. It will primarily be a classroom, with a projector and a sliding door separating the kitchen from the area. A porch overlooking the 1937 herb garden will allow art students to continue working when it rains.
"We've had a huge uptick in our botanical illustration and our plein-air," Larkin said.
Upstairs, new offices will give employees much-needed room to work.
"We had people stuck in greenhouses," Larkin said.
Downstairs will be storage space.
Larkin, an interior designer who spearheaded the project, stressed that its contractors — all locals — have impressed him.
"There's a tremendous amount of talent in Berkshire County," he said.
Greg Schnopp of A.J. Schnopp, Jr. Construction Inc. said the feeling was mutual.
"His color schemes are phenomenal," Schnopp said of Larkin.
The relationship between designer and lead contractor isn't always so sunny. Larkin, for one, knows he can be demanding.
"As a designer, I'm pretty exacting about how I want things done," Larkin said.
Still, there has never been a lingering problem between Schnopp and Larkin throughout the construction process, according to both of them.
"The two of us really seem to work well together," Schnopp said.
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