Riffs & Revels
This home is for friends, family, and trips to Tanglewood
Photos by Michael Lavin Flower
It’s been 17 years since Joel and Susan Cartun moved into their home in West Stockbridge, and many years more since they devoted their summers to the Berkshires and one of their greatest cultural loves, Tanglewood. It’s not just about being here, it’s about sharing their Berkshire experience with friends and family in a home specifically designed to house a number of guests at one time.
The Cartuns had previously lived in Livingston, New Jersey, where Susan was an interior designer in the corporate world and Joel had been CEO at Vestcom. They are now retired, splitting their year between Manhattan and their West Stockbridge home throughout the year.
According to architect Ann McCallum, fun is the operative word in the Cartuns’ home design, which embraces inviting, bright colors on the inside and playful curves on the outside. The house is arranged for guests to be comfortable and gatherings to be the focus. A huge, open living room is at the center, with expansive windows revealing a northwest view that overlooks the pool area, and a white Yamaha piano sitting ready to be played. Susan points out that there is purposefully no television here. The focus is on people.
“We just had four couples this past weekend from where we lived in Livingston,” Susan says. “They have come up every summer and it’s a great group. It’s wonderful to share with old friends.”
The Cartuns enjoy a modern style that sometimes pulls from old-fashioned influences. They also didn’t want a plain wood floor. The custom-designed wood floor takes its cues from castles in Italy and Russia that Susan recalled from her travels, and McCallum devised a pattern of two types of wood that offers both the historical elegance and modern edge that Susan sought.
“What we did to make that unique is took pieces of ebony wood, about 1½ inches long, and inserted them randomly,” says McCallum. The pieces make spots on the floors and on the wood-paneled walls. That was fun for us because we’d never done that before.” The rest of the wood, on both the floor and wall paneling, is maple. Susan chose shades of orange around the house to complement the wood.
“My grandchildren like to tease me: this is the orange house,” says Susan. “I picked the orange because I liked it with wood tones. We were doing so much wood.” There is plenty of art around the rest of the house, too, most notably a three-dimensional painting near the staircase by Bruce Wall and an enormous, streaming wall hanging in the ground floor master bedroom by Dorothy Gillespie.
Adjacent to the living room is a kitchen that the couple expanded as their family grew, replacing an eating counter with a more useful and inclusive ThinkGlass table. “When you have a lot of mommies feeding a lot of children, the original kitchen was just too small,” says Susan.
To one side of the kitchen is the entrance to a spacious pantry, which features a shelving unit designed specifically to hold a cooler and other necessary picnic items for Tanglewood jaunts. Among their favorite details in the home are the living-room coffee tables and dinner table, custom made from polyurethane, offering a sleek, colorful, translucent effect with the bonus of durability.
The material is typically used in restaurants and bars, and the makers were tracked down by Joel after he saw a picture of one of their tables at the Brasserie restaurant in New York magazine. The trail led to a workshop half a block from the Lincoln Tunnel, which worked in conjunction with a steelmaker in the Berkshires to fashion the frames from the table-top specifications. “We love it because it has an importance in its own right and it doesn’t conflict with anything else that is beautiful,” says Susan.
Dividing the living room from the other main-floor spaces is a long planter, originally containing dracaena, which grew to the ceiling and was replaced with a rock garden topped with plants of a more manageable height. The planter doubles as a diversion for the grandchildren.
“There’s nothing like playing hide and go seek with a two-year-old around the planter when they’re crawling,” Susan says.
The rest of the house is laid out in wings for guests, with a bathroom and multiple bedrooms on the second and ground floors. The ground floor also features a playroom for the grandchildren and direct access to the pool.
“It was really designed for guests, not permanent living,” Susan says. It’s as guests that the Cartuns came to know the Berkshires. Susan was introduced to the area as a kid, when her mother would hitch a ride with her from camp to attend Leonard Bernstein concerts at Tanglewood. From the 1980s to the mid-1990s, Susan would visit a friend in Becket, while their children attended Camp Watitoh. The Cartuns began renting a different vacation home each year in the 1990s, with no intention of buying one, but soon changed their minds.
They tore down a sportsman’s cabin that originally inhabited the property and was featured in Life magazine in 1959. The couple had hoped to use the structure as a guesthouse, but that wasn’t feasible. Originally, the only access to the house was down a driveway, through an adjacent plot of land, and across a small suspension bridge. The adjacent land across the bridge became a multi-use family site, with a playground for the grandchildren, a garden for flower picking, and a lake with koi fish. A more direct driveway was builtto the new house.
The home is a dream come true for the Cartuns, the best feature being its proximity to Tanglewood and the opportunity each summer to focus on the venue’s season, complete with regular summer picnics there. This is the fulfillment of a long-term goal for them, something they are happy to share or to keep intimate, depending on what Tanglewood has in store.