The Filomena–The devil (and the beauty) is in the detail of an Italianate mansion
On the day that Nick Spain and Michael Bolognino began restoring an aging, magnificent house, they didn’t think about how daunting the job would be. They just kept going. In the span of more than two years, they were learning about themselves—individually and as partners—as well as forming and strengthening ties within their new community of West Stockbridge.
The couple, who split their time between Brooklyn and the Berkshires, began looking for a home back in 2015. What they had in mind was to buy a quaint, little house on a big piece of land. Instead, they purchased a 4,500-square-foot fixer-upper on 1.1 acres, last owned by a family with 12 children.
“It was way too big for us, way too expensive,” muses Michael. But there was something about this home on Albany Road that they couldn’t shake. As they looked closer, the 1850s Italianate mansion started revealing itself more and more—in the details of the baseboards and the cornice mouldings, the 12-foot ceilings, the tall windows, the latches, the doorknobs. On July 1, 2016, they were handed the keys, and the couple soon christened the two-story house “The Filomena,” named after Michael’s paternal grandmother.
They took their time planning the layout. “We wanted each room to be what it was originally meant to be, for the most part,” says Nick, who took the design lead. The home’s restoration has been a mixture of high end and affordable, classical and modern, sexy and unsexy. They found ways to save with the materials they bought and the work they did themselves, such as removing layers upon layers of carpeting and wallpaper, thousands of staples from the floor—seven dumpsters worth of trash. It cost them about $62 per square foot in renovations.
And through all this, the old gal made it a point to remind them of her history, in objects found like a typewritten recipe for cherry blossom cheese tarts; a Super 8 camera; an 1897 dime; a 1942 Bells of Saint Anne (North Dakota) newspaper; a 1966 postage stamp of Frank Lloyd Wright; a Catholic school quiz from 1968 (that Ed flunked); a sock; some underwear.
On a recent winter’s day, at the end of touring this beloved home, we end where we began, in the kitchen nicknamed “The Playroom” because, well, that was what it once was. A playroom.
Nick and Michael hop up onto the white marble counter, and we all look around. It seems like everywhere our gazes touch, there is a story—behind this piece of furniture, that wall, this plant, that door. The couple could go on for hours in detail about all the items in this home, like a tin retablo of the Virgin de Guadalupe they found in Mexico City that rests up high on a kitchen shelf, in honor of The Filomena’s past as the town’s Catholic rectory. Its seductive counterpoint sits across the room, a painting of a woman with a flower in her hair, bought here in town.
The most significant transformation was the old kitchen, now the sunroom and full bath. The biggest expense was replacing the roof and rewiring the home. (They didn’t want to ruin the walls, so Nick cut channels through the house for the electrician.) Water-efficient toilets, energy star-certified water heater and appliances were installed. MassSave funded half the insulation cost. Nick’s inspiration for colors in all the rooms was the shades of the sky. He kept certain original colors, such as the ceiling on the back porch, a haint blue that once upon a time in the Deep South (and apparently in the North, too) many people used to ward off evil spirits, or “haints.” Or so someone’s story goes.
They kept the home’s expansive large hallways neutral, allowing each room to be a story unto itself. From a distance, every room is framed by a doorway, and your eye is drawn to what appears to be this life-sized painting, just waiting for you to step into.
Michael and Nick have shopped at antique malls and online sites, yard sales and estate sales, auctions and even a Paris flea market. West Stockbridge’s Sandy Klempner @ Home had a six-foot-by-six-foot 19th-century oil painting of peacocks by a river, a perfect fit between two large window in the dining room. Nick transformed a table from the barn into a 12-½-foot dining table with chairs they collected randomly. The wall color is called “black ink.” (Benjamin Moore paint is used throughout the home.) This dark, masculine room plays well against the pink-painted living room across the hallway—what they named the “Ladies Who Lunch” room, after a Stephen Sondheim tune.
In what is now called the “Media Room,” rumor has it that the nine-foot-tall window was where caskets entered the rectory for services. It also was the site of weddings in the ’40s and ’50s. The home’s past blends with the new owners’ histories, such as a Schefflera plant that Michael’s maternal grandmother gave him in 2001 when he moved to Seattle, and a silk scarf with a pattern of cigarette boxes that was worn by Nick’s maternal grandmother. There’s a pair of reading glasses that once belonged to Nick’s paternal grandmother, and so many more meaningful items.
Nick and Michael were married at nearby TurnPark Art Space in September 2018, in a stone-carved amphitheater with a reception at The Filomena. The villagers couldn’t have been more supportive. The couple’s neighbor is now a good friend. The folks at A.W. Baldwin Hardware are always available for questions. Nick and Michael became close with Lisa and Flavio at Six Depot, and learned about Airbnb from Lois, who rents her place on Main Street.
The Filomena also is available on alternate weekends through Airbnb. That helps to pay for all the work that’s been done—and still to be done: the driveway, the basement, the windows, the barn. Nick wants to extend the shade beds out front, including a big bed of dahlias. He already has three raised beds for cut flowers, and Michael, who loves to cook, has his vegetable garden.
Nick’s garden-design business, Arthur’s (arthursdesign.space), based in New York City, has expanded to include interiors. And Michael is a product marketing and storytelling guru at Google, and also a certified life coach as of last year. “This home taught me to take more risks,” says Michael, “and to trust myself.”