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Visionaries

Revival of George Westinghouse’s theater space by a solar entrepreneur



Photos by Billy Keane, Portrait by Joanna Chattman

Despite its sorry state, it was the largeness of it all that drew Daniel Dus to the building in Lee known as “The Playhouse,” originally a theater space. “When you’re six-foot-three, you tend to want to have high ceilings, although this is probably a little higher than necessary,” he says.

And when he learned about its history, there was no going back. Dus, a solar-energy entrepreneur, felt a sense of connectivity with the original owner, George Westinghouse (the inventor and entrepreneur whose name is associated with kitchen appliances). So this large building, also a testing ground for electrical invention, is now a minimalist, contemporary refuge with a nod toward innovation and creativity. 

The Berkshire property where this building is located, once called Erskine Park, is graced with majestic pines, lagoons, and marble bridges. Westinghouse became interested in the area because his wife, Marguerite Erskine Westinghouse, suffered from respiratory issues from living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Doctors advised her to take in the country air. In 1887, they bought the Henry De Bois Schenck farm of 100 acres overlooking Laurel Lake, at the Lenox-Lee line.

By 1911, they had amassed 600 acres, according to Houses of the Berkshires 1870-1930,  written by Cornelia Brooke Gilder and Richard S. Jackson Jr. On the estate, Westinghouse built an electric plant that powered 1,700 lights and brought the first electricity to Lenox village.

“When you think of innovators at the time, you think of these huge egos,” says Dus. “But Westinghouse wasn’t. He was an engineer who was extraordinarily effective.”

After a two-year search with realtor/musician Billy Keane with Jan Perry Realty & Associates, Dus purchased The Playhouse in October 2014 for $340,000. An estimated six months and $350,000 in renovations turned into two years and $1 million. Born and raised in Richmond, Dus made the remodeling a family affair. The general contractor is his cousin; the plumber, his uncle; the electrician, his cousin; the painting contractor, his brother. The architect is Paul Privitera, whose father owns Steve’s Barbershop in Lee and cut Dus’s hair when he was a kid.

Dus gutted the building, leaving intact the impressive archways that weren’t intended to be the main structural support, but in fact kept the building from collapsing. “It’s amazing how ornate things were then, and the handiwork that was done,” he says. The biggest challenges were structural. The Playhouse’s two lofts were removed and their staircases salvaged; they now lead up to new lofts that are three times larger. To keep the space as open as possible, a contiguous steel beam runs the width of each end of the home to support the lofts, embedded in the walls and anchored in the ground, forming an H.

Then there are the aesthetics: Contemporary metal artist and longtime friend Kamil Peters from Holyoke crafted the large dining-room table. He also sculpted a stallion bust that is the home’s centerpiece. All vanities, 16-seat dining table, benches, kitchen shelving, and butcherblock are made of heartwood removed from decommissioned warehouses in Hadley and Northampton. 

Important pieces of history were retained in the home, including most of the fixtures installed by Westinghouse. Dus had them removed, rehabilitated, and rewired to code. Only four of the 52 weren’t salvageable. He becomes even more animated when he talks about the technology used in the home—the lighting, along with the HVAC system, TV, and speakers, are now web-enabled.  

 Dus is chief development officer at Dynamic Energy based in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and owner of Berkshire-based SunFutures. Eleven years ago, he entered the renewable-energy business, when talk of climate change was confined to environmental circles. “The only thing they had seen a solar cell in was a calculator,” says the 39-year-old. “They said you can’t produce electricity from thin air.” For a year and a half, he had no sales because people didn’t trust what he was saying was true. “When I sold my first project to the city of Santa Monica, California, I ran around my office screaming because I was about to run out of cash,” he says.

Dus has overseen solar-panel projects for public schools in California and Colorado, decreasing their annual energy costs by tens of thousands of dollars. Some 70 percent of the town buildings in Breckenridge, Colorado, is powered by his projects. In Berkshire County, he has worked with Guido’s in Great Barrington and is installing solar panels at Williams College. In Southbridge, he did one of the first utility-scale projects in the state, powering more than 30 percent of the township. It’s one of five similar projects he has built across Massachusetts. Although his focus is primarily solar energy, Dus’s portfolio is diverse. He once imported grand-prix horses from England, and he now has a medical device startup company based in the Berkshires.

The main reason he moved back here was to be close to his large family. His stepmother, Lisken Van Pelt Dus, teaches English at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, and his sister, Lisa Baldwin, is a science teacher there. He has 50 first-cousins who live within 15 minutes of town, and he’s expecting all to converge in his home for Thanksgiving. Engaged, he has plans to get married in the home.

Dus offers short-term rental of The Playhouse through HomeAway. Visitors can take in the view across the street of High Lawn Farm, once part of the Vanderbilt estate. And every time Dus steps into his home, he is reminded of its history—the entry staircase is made of Italian marble slabs, imported by the Westinghouses. More modern touches are coming: solar panels with 10 kilowatts of power that he will place them on the south-facing roof, toward the road, visible to passersby. And that visual doesn’t bother him in the least. “I like the look of panels,” he says. “They look like intelligent technology.”


A Modern Perspective  It took Daniel Dus two years to renovate The Playhouse in Lee. Its ten-inch exterior envelope is the maximum amount of space that can be insulated, so Dus ended up buying an insulation company to curb that cost when he filled it with bio-based spray foam. Renovations cost $1 million, with original lighting fixtures and beams intact. Artistry of Holyoke-based Kamil Peters is found throughout, such as a horse sculpture and chandelier creations.

 

Dreamscape  The Playhouse was part of an estate created by George and Marguerite Westinghouse, and after his death, his son sold it to the Vanderbilt family. It subsequently was a girls school (Foxhollow), yoga center (Kripalu), and a nonprofit spiritual spot (EnlightenNext). Daniel Dus bought The Playhouse in 2014. One of his dreams was to wake up under the cupola, so he had his master bedroom, above, built in a loft. The Lee home can accommodate Dus and his many family members.

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Sponsor: Sandisfield Arts Center
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More information

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Cost: $18

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The Washington Art Association & Gallery is pleased to present State of Abstraction, an exhibition of contemporary abstract art by Connecticut artists from May 5 - June 16, 2018. Co-Curated...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Washington Art Association & Gallery
4 Bryan Hall Plaza
P.O. Box 173
Washington Depot, CT  06794
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Sponsor: Washington Art Association & Gallery
Telephone: 860-868-2878
Contact Name: Barbara von Schreiber
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Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
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This hilltop paradise, now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of the guided...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
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KMR Arts is proud to present MAYDAY, an exhibition of new photographs by Barbara Vaughn. Please join us for the opening reception with the artist on June 2, 2018, from 3-7pm, 2 Titus Road,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
KMR Arts
2 Titus Road
Washington Depot , CT  06794
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Architect and designer, Osvaldo Borsani (1911-1985), was a giant of Italian modern design and co-founder of Tecno. George Champion Modern Shop will celebrate...

Cost: free

Where:
George Champion Modern Shop
442 Main St. South
Woodbury, CT  06798
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Sponsor: George Champion Modern Shop
Telephone: 203-263-8442
Contact Name: George Champion
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SilverSource – the leading resource for older adults and their families– announced today that it is now accepting nominations for the 2018 SilverSource Awards.  The awards...

Cost: FREE

Where:
SilverSource, Inc.
2009 Summer Street, 3rd Floor
2949 Long Ridge Rd
Stamford, CT  06905
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Sponsor: SilverSource, Inc.
Telephone: 203-324-6584
Contact Name: Kathleen Bordelon
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Opening Reception: Apr 28 at 2:00 PM Date of Show : Apr 28 - May 27  See the artists website at www.erikacrofut.com Each month the Sandisfield Arts Center proudly...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sandisfield Arts Center
5 Hammertown Rd.
Sandisfield, MA  01255
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Sponsor: Sandisfield Arts Center
Telephone: 413-258-4100
Contact Name: Marcella Smith
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West Stockbridge Chamber Players’ Spring Benefit Concert   On Friday, May 25th at 6 p.m., Boston Symphony Orchestra members Sheila Fiekowsky, violin, Daniel Getz, viola, Oliver...

Cost: 35.00 per ticket

Where:
Old Town Hall
9 Main Street
West Stockbridge, MA  01266
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Sponsor: West Stockbridge Historical Society
Telephone: 413-232-5055
Contact Name: Carol Kuller
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Kick off your Memorial Day weekend with family fun under the stars with a FREE showing of the animated movie “Ferdinand” (rated PG) on Friday, May 25th at Jesse Lee Memorial United...

Cost: Free movie, food is for purchase

Where:
Jesse Lee Church
207 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 120-343-85992
Contact Name: Jen Mulhern
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The event, L.O.L. Love of Languages, will be a celebration of world languages and culture, and will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Foran High School cafeteria and courtyard. Teachers Pam...

Cost: Free

Where:
Foran High School
80 Foran Rd
Milford, CT  06460
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Peter and the Starcatcher is a play based on the 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, adapted for the stage by Rick Elice. The play provides a backstory for the...

Cost: $20 admission; $15 for seniors; $10 for kids

Where:
Western CT State University
Visual Performing Arts Center
Danbury, CT  06811
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With his unique blend of Blues and Americana, Keb Mo has garnered four Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Blues and Best Country/Acoustic Blues Albums plus five more nominations for Blues,...

Cost: $48-$88

Where:
Tarrytown Music Hall
13 Main Street
Tarrytown, NY  10591
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A community-based, family-oriented event with dance performances, professional dance instruction, bands, DJs, and social dancing for youths and adults.​ We are thrilled to continue our...

Where:
Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center
1 First Stamford Place
Stamford, CT
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Website »

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The big glitzy musical Sister Act fared better than the original movie. It received four Olivier Award nominations for its original stage production at London’s West End Theatre. It...

Cost: $59-$89

Where:
Westchester Broadway Theatre
One Broadway Plaza
Elmsford, NY
View map »


Website »

More information

The Pirelli World Challenge series serves up races from all 7 car classes from the Big Dogs (Cadillacs, Bentley’s, Lomborghinis & Porches) to the TC class of Mustangs and BMW 228is, and...

Cost: $60

Where:
Lime Rock Park
60 White Hollow Rd
Lakeville , CT
View map »


Website »

More information

See the majestic beauty of the Hudson River on this 2-hour narrated river adventure from Newburgh to West Point taking in the sights of Washington’s Headquarters, World’s End, Mt....

Cost: $22

Where:
Blu Pointe Landing
100 Front Street
Newburgh, NY
View map »


Website »

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Are you just dying to get some dirt under your fingernails this season? Come to Back 40 Farm for Friday Field Days and help us out with weeding, transplanting, hoeing, harvesting, and more! Who:...

Where:
Back 40 Farm
Washington Depot, CT


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Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to present “Melissa Meyer: Hitting the Right Notes,” her first solo exhibition with the gallery.  The show will open with a public reception...

Cost: Free

Where:
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840


Sponsor: heathergaudiofineart.com
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
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Join the Litchfield Historical Society for a Saturday walking tour on May 26 at 10 a.m. Explore some of the sites related to the famous Beecher family, residents of Litchfield from 1810 to 1826....

Cost: Free for members; $5 non-members

Where:
Litchfield History Museum
7 South Street
Litchfield, CT  06759
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Sponsor: Litchfield Historical Society
Telephone: 860-567-4501
Contact Name: Litchfield Historical Society
Website »

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The Washington Art Association & Gallery is pleased to present State of Abstraction, an exhibition of contemporary abstract art by Connecticut artists from May 5 - June 16, 2018. Co-Curated...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Washington Art Association & Gallery
4 Bryan Hall Plaza
P.O. Box 173
Washington Depot, CT  06794
View map »


Sponsor: Washington Art Association & Gallery
Telephone: 860-868-2878
Contact Name: Barbara von Schreiber
Website »

More information

The US any Blue Angels headline the Jones Beach 15th Annual Memorial Day Weekend Air Show. Plus The Royal Canadian Air Force Snow Birds, the F22 Raptor the Air Force’s newest fighter...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jones Beach
895 Bay Pkwy
Wantagh, NY  11793
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a one-hour guided tour of the historic Lyndhurst mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The Gothic Revival mansion has been used as a movie set for six major motion pictures...

Cost: $18

Where:
Lyndhurst
635 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

This hilltop paradise, now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Read our review of the guided...

Cost: $25

Where:
Kykuit
381 N. Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY  10591
View map »


Website »

More information

KMR Arts is proud to present MAYDAY, an exhibition of new photographs by Barbara Vaughn. Please join us for the opening reception with the artist on June 2, 2018, from 3-7pm, 2 Titus Road,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
KMR Arts
2 Titus Road
Washington Depot , CT  06794
View map »


Website »

More information

The first Litchfield County Zine Fest (and the first zine fest in Connecticut) is coming to Kent, CT! The fest is a free, all-ages, public arts event where self-publishers of all stripes will...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kent Community House
93 North Main Street
Kent, CT  06757
View map »


Website »

More information

Architect and designer, Osvaldo Borsani (1911-1985), was a giant of Italian modern design and co-founder of Tecno. George Champion Modern Shop will celebrate...

Cost: free

Where:
George Champion Modern Shop
442 Main St. South
Woodbury, CT  06798
View map »


Sponsor: George Champion Modern Shop
Telephone: 203-263-8442
Contact Name: George Champion
Website »

More information

SilverSource – the leading resource for older adults and their families– announced today that it is now accepting nominations for the 2018 SilverSource Awards.  The awards...

Cost: FREE

Where:
SilverSource, Inc.
2009 Summer Street, 3rd Floor
2949 Long Ridge Rd
Stamford, CT  06905
View map »


Sponsor: SilverSource, Inc.
Telephone: 203-324-6584
Contact Name: Kathleen Bordelon
Website »

More information

Opening Reception: Apr 28 at 2:00 PM Date of Show : Apr 28 - May 27  See the artists website at www.erikacrofut.com Each month the Sandisfield Arts Center proudly...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sandisfield Arts Center
5 Hammertown Rd.
Sandisfield, MA  01255
View map »


Sponsor: Sandisfield Arts Center
Telephone: 413-258-4100
Contact Name: Marcella Smith
Website »

More information

Ridgefield Guild of Artists’ eighth annual Juried Member Show opens Saturday, May 26th, with a reception scheduled for Saturday, June 2nd from 4-6pm (due to the Memorial Day...

Cost: Free

Where:
Ridgefield Guild of Artists
34 Halpin Lane
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Website »

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Oil paintings by Carol Brightman Johnson will be on display at the Smithy Store Loft Gallery from May 25 to July 7. Hours: daily from 10:00 to 5:30 Subjects include horses, dogs, orchids,...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Smithy Store Loft Gallery
10 Main St.
New Preston, CT  06777
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Sponsor: The Smithy Store Loft Gallery
Telephone: 860-868-9003
Contact Name: Susan Newbury
Website »

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A Benefit For Veterans Featuring exclusive footage of edisun on tour with US Armed Forces. 2005-2018 6PM doors 7PM Film and Musical Performance

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Wall Street Theater
71 Wall Street
Norwalk, CT  06850
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Sponsor: Wall Street Theater
Telephone: 203-283-5290
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
Website »

More information

Peter and the Starcatcher is a play based on the 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, adapted for the stage by Rick Elice. The play provides a backstory for the...

Cost: $20 admission; $15 for seniors; $10 for kids

Where:
Western CT State University
Visual Performing Arts Center
Danbury, CT  06811
View map »


Website »

More information

Music: Boris Asafiev Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky, after Vasily Vainonen Cast The Bolshoi Principals, Soloists and Corps de Ballet In the era of the French Revolution, Jeanne and...

Cost: $25

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge Road
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Website »

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An evening of ribald, one-man comedy with Wet Hot American Summer actor and stand-up sensation Michael Ian Black. Fans of sketch comedy might know Black’s work from such seminal television...

Cost: $29

Where:
Fairfield Theatre Company StageOne
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Website »

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“Country Music’s Newest Star”, Jessica Lynn who has been called “Shania’s Successor” is coming to ChappPac. A Lakeland HS and Pace University grad, she...

Cost: $35

Where:
The Chappaqua Performing Arts Center
480 Bedford Road
Chappaqua, NY  10514
View map »


Website »

More information

A community-based, family-oriented event with dance performances, professional dance instruction, bands, DJs, and social dancing for youths and adults.​ We are thrilled to continue our...

Where:
Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center
1 First Stamford Place
Stamford, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

The big glitzy musical Sister Act fared better than the original movie. It received four Olivier Award nominations for its original stage production at London’s West End Theatre. It...

Cost: $59-$89

Where:
Westchester Broadway Theatre
One Broadway Plaza
Elmsford, NY
View map »


Website »

More information

The Pirelli World Challenge series serves up races from all 7 car classes from the Big Dogs (Cadillacs, Bentley’s, Lomborghinis & Porches) to the TC class of Mustangs and BMW 228is, and...

Cost: $60

Where:
Lime Rock Park
60 White Hollow Rd
Lakeville , CT
View map »


Website »

More information

See the majestic beauty of the Hudson River on this 2-hour narrated river adventure from Newburgh to West Point taking in the sights of Washington’s Headquarters, World’s End, Mt....

Cost: $22

Where:
Blu Pointe Landing
100 Front Street
Newburgh, NY
View map »


Website »

More information

The Loft Gallery will open an exhibit of fine paintings by Carol Brightman Johnson. Ms. Johnson's show opens on Saturday, May 26 and run through Sunday, July 8, and will feature...

Cost: free

Where:
Loft Gallery at The Smithy
10 Main Street
New Preston, CT  06777
View map »


Sponsor: Loft Gallery at The Smithy
Telephone: (860)868-9003
Contact Name: Susan
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to present “Melissa Meyer: Hitting the Right Notes,” her first solo exhibition with the gallery.  The show will open with a public reception...

Cost: Free

Where:
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840


Sponsor: heathergaudiofineart.com
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Do you wish you could read great literature but fear you just can't fit it in? Do you join book clubs only to find yourself not having enough time to read through the entire book? Do you love a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Danbury Library- Lower Level Meeting Room
170 Main St
Danbury, CT  06810
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