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Cabin in the Woods – A Becket renovation filled with love, creativity, and a lot of sweat

When I arrive at Nathan Hanford’s cabin in North Becket, he is outside, dressed in well-worn work pants, work boots, and an old shirt, all speckled with paint. He is standing on a ladder, staining the wide pine boards that cover the exterior of the house. Nothing would be unusual about this scene except that the stain he is using is midnight black—a shade of black that’s so dark it’s almost purple.

“It’s black,” I say. Nathan smiles broadly, continues with his staining, and replies, “I know. The neighbors think I’m nuts.” 

Hanford is the first to admit that his decade-long restoration of this 1960s cabin is kind of nuts—everything about the project is unconventional. For example, he bought the cabin sight unseen. Most of the work has been done not by contractors but by Hanford himself, with the help of friends and family, using mainly recycled materials. The interior of the cabin is designed around a dining table. And the walls—inside and outside—are black. Not your conventional renovation.

Hanford grew up in Becket, and his parents and sister still live there. He moved away from the Berkshires in the mid-1990s to take on a series of different jobs—working for the clothing retailer Anthropologie in San Francisco, producing music videos, working as a dancer, starting a hand embroidery business, a stint at an investment company, and he planned events for the Red Lion Inn, Porches, and MASS MoCA.

Hanford also lived in London for a while. He moved there in 2006, and shortly thereafter decided to seek property in Becket, where he could stay during his trips to visit his parents. Watching the real estate listings, he learned about a 790-square-foot camp cabin—originally part of a defunct summer camp—that was for sale not far from his parents’ house. Having always had a fascination with cabins, he bought it in 2007.

He knew the cabin needed a good deal of work. But coming from a family of builders (his father a welder and engineer, and various uncles stonemasons and plasterers), he welcomed the challenge. “I thought it was going to be cut and dry and not too much work.” He began the renovation in 2008.

It wasn’t long before Hanford began discovering problems. As he stripped the walls and the floors, he found rot in the beams and joists. He found that there was no sill plate, which is the part of a house that connects the house to the foundation. He found carpenter ants. He found an infestation of red squirrels living in the cabin.

He wondered at this point whether it would be best simply to demolish the building and start from scratch. But already he had a vision of renovating a cabin and bringing it back to life. “I wanted it to be what it had always been, a camp cabin,” Hanford says, “I wanted to prove it could be done.” So he put the house up on Lally columns and installed the missing sill plate. All the interior walls came down. Working with his father, many rotten joists, beams, and columns were replaced. The ants were eradicated and he persuaded the squirrels to relocate.

Once the interior space was open, Hanford could stand back and see what he had to work with. He wasn’t sure where to start. Then one day he spied a ten-foot-long factory table sitting outside the Berkshire County Used Furniture. It was beaten up and covered in linoleum, but Hanford recognized it immediately as the signature feature of his cabin. He bought the table, stripped it down to its original white pine, refinished it, and placed it in the center of the cabin. The vision of the interior, as an eloquent but homey place to entertain friends and family, was born.

Then came a series of floor-to-ceiling windows recovered from a local building company. Hanford found his new interior wall boards at Berkshire Habitat ReStore in Pittsfield, which deals in salvaged building materials. A new floor was milled by LP Adams in Dalton. Hanford did most of the work on the cabin himself, but it was a genuine group effort. Friends and relatives helped out. His father welded the sink and many of the kitchen fixtures, and his mom helped with assembling furniture. A surprising but important source of support came from the followers on Hanford’s Instagram page (@sapandsteam), where he has documented the renovation of the cabin. “So many people have been along for the ride with me,” he says, “and complete strangers have lifted me up when I needed it.”

Work on the cabin accelerated in 2013, when Hanford divorced his husband and returned from London to the Berkshires. At that point, the cabin stopped being the place where Hanford would stay when he visited his parents, and became the home he would live in. And it was more than that: “The renovation became my way of bouncing back from heartbreak.”

Hanford met Jed Thompson in 2015, and the cabin became the place Thompson would live, too.  Two years later, they opened Township Four Floristry & Home on North Street in Pittsfield.  And that was about the same time that the long renovation was beginning to end and the two began rounding out the interior, which is filled with products from the Berkshires.

Finally, in April 2019, Hanford, Thompson, and their two whippets Rio and Roscoe moved into the cabin—more than ten years after the renovation began. More work lies ahead: Thompson and Hanford are considering extending the cabin’s sleeping porch into another wing. But for now, it’s home, and sitting on the sofa, watching the beech and birch trees swaying outside the tall windows and the light playing on the cabin’s dark walls, it is clear that the work that went into the renovation was completely worthwhile. “Most people would have demolished the house,” Hanford says, “because they come with their own dreams and don’t really look at the space or what the dreams of the space are. I wanted to honor the past of this place and the woods and animals around it. That was my dream.”

 

 

 

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