Anne Fredericks’s home is custom-made, inside and out
Photos by Lisa Vollmer
A meadow, a wood, and a river provided the perfect setting for this Berkshire home. What kind of place would a New York sophisticate, international traveler, and a Midwesterner educated in art and architecture build? A unique space reflecting its owner with every detail thought out.
“The house was completed on time and under budget,” owner Anne Fredericks says. “That never happens.”
The unusual happened to Fredericks because she planned it. She was her own architect, and everything about this house reflects her ideas and ideals. “Houses today are designed from the outside in,” Fredericks explains.
She built hers from the inside out.
Fredericks asked herself what she wanted inside, and that dictated what the shell would be. She created a 2,800-square-foot house with two bedrooms and spaces for eating, entertaining, and just sitting and thinking. There are no hallways. Rooms simply open into one another. The design is called enfilade, and is informed by the best of traditional architecture.
“I grew up outside of Detroit in Bloomfield Hills,” Fredericks says. “It was an area with some of the best domestic architecture in the country.”
From a young age, Fredericks was exposed to and appreciated fine architecture. She looked and learned. Her degree is in art history, but her first job and the one after that was the preservation of architectural records, creating compendiums of the architects of New York City and New York State.
Fredericks knew how important positioning the house on the property was. She drove a camper onto the property and moved it around to different locations. She wanted to be sure her house, when built, had the best views. “It is the biggest investment any of us make,” she says. “We should do it right.”
She oriented the house so the windows face east and west. She watches the sun rise and set from those windows. She put small windows on the colder north face and large ones on the south to capture long views. “The whole is oriented to light and scenery,” she says. Fredericks believes that high ceilings encourage lofty thoughts and sunshine fosters happy ones.
From her windows, she sees domesticated animals, her Scottish Highland cattle, and her neighbor’s sheep. She watches the wild animals, including mountain lion, mink, and otter. There are views of the meadows, wetlands, and the Green River. And, she says, “the house is also oriented true-south, so it is perfect for solar.” In every respect, Fredericks built a green house. She did not want building her home to do damage to the environment, so she used durasol, a wood and paper-pulp product created in Switzerland during WWII. Hers is quite possibly the first house made of that material on the East Coast.
She used Otis granite and Goshen stone, and installed stone windowsills that did not require paint. She was inventive about the materials she selected and adamant about the materials she rejected. The house contains no formaldehyde, epoxy, or other toxic materials. Fredericks solved every problem related to the house with the same commitment. When her husband wanted a swimming pool, she designed one that stays clean by using reverse osmosis instead of chlorine.
Despite the use of practical and green materials, the house turned out to be surprisingly elegant—or perhaps not so surprising because Fredericks knows the elements of fine design. For example, she was sensitive to the relationship of the house and property. “Today, they site a house high on the property like placing a golf ball on a tee.” Fredericks did not want that. She wanted her house to tuck into the landscape, and it does.
She created beautiful, warm garden areas around the house with peach trees and other bird- and insect-attracting plants. The gardens are placed to protect them from early frost, and the house disappears behind the greenery of the hydrangeas and fruit trees. The whole home is sheltered and secluded, a retreat.
Fredericks also refused to orient the house to the street as modern builders do. “It is as if houses today are designed for cars not people,” she says. There is no garage attached to the house, and no driveway to the front door. The car is left behind as a visitor walks through an opening in a wall, through a small garden, and then to the house.
“What I wanted was the house to be a surprise,” Fredericks explains.
The unexpected approach reflects the unexpected personality and experience of the owner. Although Fredericks was educated as an art historian, and although her first jobs were as an architectural historian, she spent most of her professional life on Wall Street—a male bastion then, and quite possibly still. “I was one of three professional women in a room of 200 men.”
Nothing about her education or experience prepared her for her new career. She interviewed and was rejected multiple times until one day she arrived at Morgan Stanley. She was hired by a man who also held a degree in art history. He believed the skills she acquired were transferable; research was research, whether it was to find facts about art or about stocks.
However, he told her, “If you turn out to be no good, I will fire you in the first year. If you turn out to be good, you will be hired away by another firm in three years.”
Three years later, she was hired away by Goldman Sachs. She was the head of International Equity Sales in London at a time before the Internet. The work was both rewarding and demanding, perhaps even all-consuming. She slept three hours per night and worked seven days a week. In 1991, she quit and came to the Berkshires to rest and heal. She did not have a family, and she did not marry her husband Marc Fasteau until she was 50. Now they live happily together in this house that she built, where they both call home. After she designed her house, others saw it and asked her to design theirs. For Fredericks, moving to the Berkshires was “moving back to beauty and art.”