A couple with opposite tastes concoct their own “Cocktail Shaker Village”
Photos by Lisa Vollmer
Ken De Loreto is somewhat of a clairvoyant. Years ago, he had visions of a simple village house with a wrap-around porch, columns, and two maple trees in the front yard. So, he was hardly surprised when that very house presented itself to him and his partner, Ritch Holben, two decades ago.
For this couple, whose serendipitous meeting was suggested by a mutual friend, their relationship has been the celebration of all things quintessentially opposite. This contrast and synergy that come from the marriage of inherent opposites is reflected in the couple’s New England farmhouse, dating back to 1907, that is at once both practical and aesthetic.
The theme of juxtaposition, which resonates in both the home and its owners, is immediately evident. Holben, a farm kid from Pennsylvania, is a Capricorn; he is best described as “very, very grounded,” according to his husband. Not to mention pragmatic and realistic. De Loreto, on the other hand, is a product of suburban rearing, hailing from Revere, Massachusetts; he is a Pisces, admittedly “prone to fits of fantasy—emotional and empathetic—and floating around. All water.”
The couple, who in their house-hunting process couldn’t find something to meet both of their needs, quite literally stumbled upon their Southfield home on their very first trip to the Berkshires. They saw it on what De Loreto recalls as “a seductive early May day,” after driving from Boston to see a former client of Holben’s.
Despite purchasing what was a dreary residence—replete with peeling wallpaper and ancient appliances—the couple has cultivated much contentment “finding what was cool about the house and letting it reveal itself to us over time,” according to Holben, architect and owner of RhDesign. They blindly purchased their second home in 1998 and began the transformational process of uncovering the secrets of their new home, which they cleverly dubbed “Cocktail Shaker Village.”
Holben recalls his first visit to Hancock Shaker Village as inspiring, deeming “the bleak honesty of the kitchen building,” in particular in particular, his favorite architectural element in the Berkshires. “I found that perfection,” he says. Its simplicity set the tone for a thoughtful approach to renovation, one aimed at accepting the home and its strong, simple bones, careful not to strip all of its charm. The result is a farmhouse with an eclectic, industrial flair—one whose success is grounded in the sturdy structure and punctuated by mid-century modern furnishings.
A stainless-steel child’s gurney, topped with a marble slab, is the kitchen counter; a vegetable prep sink, which puts the kitchen’s originalplumbing to use, is made from an old high-school lab sink mounted on an enamel and steel base; the spigot, nicknamed “spitting bull,” was fashioned out of a vintage find from Hudson, New York, that was drilled to accommodate copper pipes; and a soffit technique, employed in both the dining and living room ceilings, utilizes white bead board for a super-clean look around the edges while exposing the home’s original chestnut beams.
In that same vein, the couple’s home has become a laboratory where techniques are tested before Holben implements them in clients’ homes. One such example is the copper counters in the pantry adjacent to the kitchen, at first dictated by budget but now loved for their natural antibacterial quality and durability; or the interchangeable glass and screen panels that line the year-round porch and can be switched out based on the weather.
The property, tucked behind the old Buggy Whip Factory (which produced rawhide whip cores beginning in 1790) and nestled beneath the looming steeple of the United Church of New Marlborough, enjoys unexpected privacy despite its location on the edge of the former town green in Southfield, one of New Marlborough’s five villages. The perimeter, spilling forth with hydrangea, Sweet Autumn Clematis, Dutchman’s pipe, and five-leaf akebia, serves as a natural boundary for the living spaces, which consist of a 1,600-square-foot main house and a 1,400-square-foot carriage house with gardens in the middle.
De Loreto and Holben turned tragedy into opportunity when a century-old willow tree crushed what had been a former three-stall horse barn on the property. For the structure’s renovation, the first stall was turned into a bathroom with large, square, slate tiles that line the floor and back wall of the shower. White glass tile on the backsplash offsets the rustic wood structure.
The sink, fashioned from a galvanized metal pail once worn by grape-pickers via leather straps on their backs, is mounted on a 1960s coffee table. A medicine cabinet, cleverly made from a printer’s typesetting drawer, echoes the square tiles. A toilet-paper holder, made from an old horse bit suspended by leather bridle straps, is a nod to the room’s original purpose; and a giant steel door, claimed from the dump at the Buggy Whip Factory, hangs on a rolling track and puts a mason’s trowel to use as a handle.
In what they call the “breakfast kitchen,” this potentially discordant dialogue continues. A largely stainless-steel galley kitchen stands opposite an original heart-pine wall. The second story, accessible by original hayloft stairs, reveals the master bedroom and the offices for RhDesign. Where dark diagonal barnboard once dominated, four skylights and a pair of French doors capitalize on natural light and brighten the functional office space.
Expansive shed dormers, opposite one another, connect the master bedroom to the outdoorswith sweeping views of the lush gardens and pond. And so, a little slice of heaven is just off the beaten path.
De Loreto ends with one of his characteristic effusive, emotion-packed statements: “Earth can make nothing grow without water,” he explains. “This is what happens when we work together.” He then makes a sweeping statement, whether about the house or the husband or both: “It’s everything I’d always imagined—but could never articulate.”