The Folly at Field Farm: A midcentury modern masterpiece
At first glance, The Folly, looks to be nothing more than a small, tan-colored shingled house sitting on a hill above a pond.
Look again, and you might recognize the "youngest house museum in New England" as a modernist masterpiece by acclaimed architect and Williams College alumnus Ulrich Franzen.
Then again, maybe you won't recognize it, as it isn't his traditional fortress-like building in the Brutalist style. But The Folly's design, which is often referred to as pinwheel-esque in shape, may pique your interest. And if you're a fan of mid-century modern design, viewing the interior is well worth your time.
"It's one of our youngest houses, but it's the best preserved," said Mark Wilson, curator of collections and cultural resources manager for The Trustees of Reservations.
The Folly at Field Farm is one of four properties in Western Massachusetts that The Trustees will open to the public for free, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 18, as part of "Home Sweet Home: Makers, Masters and Craftsmen." Guided tours of The Folly will be offered for free. In addition to The Folly, The Trustees will offer free admission to Naumkeag and Mission House, in Stockbridge, and the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington. Four other properties — Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, The Old Manse, The Stevens-Coolidge Place and the Fruitlands Museum — will also have free admission that day.
Designed and built by Franzen in 1965 as a guest house for Lawrence and Eleanore Bloedel, The Folly, sits below the late couple's International Style home on Field Farm. The main house, now known as The Guest House at Field Farm (designed by Edwin Goodell in 1948), is one of two bed-and-breakfasts operated by The Trustees.
"Ulrich Franzen had an amazing career, building homes throughout the country, designing homes, buildings for schools. New York University is one that comes to mind," Wilson said. "But here, he built something that reflects on farm structure, silos and shingles. When you get inside, the rooms are just so well placed ... It was meant to be a place for guests with skating parties out on the pond. People could come in, have some cocoa, warm up and go back out."
Franzen, he said, had open reins on the design.
"There are certain things, we understand from interviews with him, that he didn't tell the clients about, so they were truly surprises," he said. "The built-in furniture, with its under lighting, as well as the drum tables and the dining room table, were designed or chosen by the architect for the house."
The architect chose to build a central room, in a central silo, and branch curved rooms off of it. Unfinished wood, shingles of cedar and redwood, line the interior walls, bringing in the farm structure aesthetic, but also reflecting the history of the owners. Lawrence Bloedel, the librarian at Williams College, was heir to a Northwest timber fortune, Wilson said, and the wood for the shingles came from the company's holdings.
Inside, the house, which appears as it did in the mid-1960s, is filled with the original mid-century modern furnishings. Orange built-in couches curve with the walls and circle the wooden "drum" tables. Metal cabinets and appliances, in soft yellow, line a narrow kitchen, where a built-in hot plate and blender are part of the design. There, light filters in through one of Franzen's "surprises" — a vertical eyebrow dormer that offers both privacy and lighting. Light filters in through the window, which from the outside is almost invisible, except for a protruding burl-like shape.
"There are fairly small, intimate spaces within the house," Wilson said. "The fireplace room is inward looking, with no windows, built-in furniture, an amazing sculpture [hanging from the ceiling] by George Rickey, which was commissioned for the house."
In another area of the house, the built-in couches face a plate glass window, that runs from floor to ceiling. A similar window is found in the master bedroom.
"Everything in this house, and the main house, were built with a focus on Mount Greylock," he said. "The trees around the property have grown in, but you can still see it and the veterans memorial tower atop the mountain from here ... Its design, it's all about nature and natural form."
During the summer months, the former guest house hosts select pieces from the Bloedels' art collection.
"After World War II, Mr. Bloedel put together an amazing art collection. When he died, he left half the collection to Williams College Museum of Art," he said. "WCMA loans pieces back to us. We have a good working relationship with Williams."
The other half of the collection was left to the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Folly became a house museum when Field Farm was donated to The Trustees in 1984, following the death of Eleanore Bloedel. While the main house is now a bed-and-breakfast, the rest of the property's 316 acres, which includes 4.5 miles of trails, are free and open to the public. The Folly is open for free guided tours, for members, June through October. Tours for non-members are $10.
"It's a hidden gem. We love having people come see it," Wilson said.
Jennifer Huberdeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 413-496-6229 and on Twitter at @BE_DigitalJen.
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