This renovated barn in Sheffield is the quintessential Berkshire retreat. Photo: Jess Cooney

A designer’s advice for buying a second home in the Berkshires

Thinking of buying a second home in the Berkshires? Study these guidelines first.

Something has drawn you and your family to the Berkshires over and over.

You have stayed in our lovely inns or rented a home in the hills with your family many a summer. Maybe you went in on a ski rental with a group of friends for a few winters. Maybe you attended summer camp by one of our beautiful lakes and the nostalgia is still sitting with you.

Now, you are ready to take the next step and buy a home here. One that will truly be your home away from home.

You’ll join the ranks of poets and writers and actors that have come to the Berkshires and fallen in love with the dramatic seasonal landscape, the people and the culinary scene. You love the coziness of the small town with an influence of the big city in the arts and theater and mix of people that have settled here over the years.

So what’s next? How do you go about finding the perfect home for your family? How do you purchase, build or renovate something to have it be perfect for you and all your needs? This can be a daunting experience for many people. Our firm, Jess Cooney Interiors in Great Barrington, has been guiding clients through this process for the last 15 years. What follows is advice we give clients to help them along the way.

We hope this advice for all soon-to-be second homeowners will maximize your investment and avoid the pitfalls that can sometimes come with owning a second home.

After looking for their dream home, these clients decided to build their own on a lake in Becket. Photo: Jess Cooney
After looking for their dream home, these clients decided to build their own on a lake in Becket. Photo: Jess Cooney

Start with a good realtor. This sounds obvious, but having a person who takes the time to get to know you and your family’s needs is very important. We have several good agencies here, ranging from small to international.

Location, location, location. We have great towns here, but also glorious bucolic countryside. You will have to decide how you’ll position yourself here. Over the years, I have heard people lamenting the fact that they had bought a home in the outskirts of town with lots of land and trees, but now found themselves driving too much. This is especially true for moms with young families. They wished they had more neighborhood and community and less commute. I have also heard over the years from people who bought on the Hill in Great Barrington or close to a town and who now wish they had more space for the kids or horses or gardens. It’s a trade-off that is unique to everyone.

Water vs. nature. Many second homeowners would like to be near or on some type of water. A lake, a river, a backyard pool. Decide if this is a priority for you and, if so, how high a priority. Or instead, is having access to hiking trails maybe a higher priority? How much do you truly want to embrace nature? Are you a nature lover from afar or are you the type to jump right in?

Barn board mixed with walnut flooring creates a rustic modern mix in this renovated second home. Photo: Jess Cooney
Barn board mixed with walnut flooring creates a rustic modern mix in this renovated second home. Photo: Jess Cooney

Be ready to renovate (or build new). Many people from the city come to the Berkshires and want to find something move-in ready. I have a little news for you. Rarely does this exist! But, the good news is, this is part of the charm of the Berkshires. You have to embrace that and get over your fear of renovating or building a new home to your exact liking. There are many amazing professionals here who can make this process less daunting and help you truly realize your “wish list” for your home.

This brings us to your Wish List. It is crucial that you know how your family lives in your primary home and how they are likely to live in your second home. Helping you figure this out happens to be a specialty of our firm. When we do a client intake, these are the questions that guide us the most, and they need to be central on your radar: How old are your children? How should we plan for them as they grow in the home? Pets? Grandparents visiting? All of these things will guide the purchase and possibly the renovation of that home, to make it truly a restorative place for you and your friends and family.

Choice of materials in your home. Once you have purchased your home, your next steps are to renovate and/or furnish it. If it’s to be your second home, you may want very different materials from what you have in your primary home. We have found ways over the years to create a beautiful durable home while also minimizing the toxins in the materials you use. Knowing when it’s smart to use fabrics that are stain and fade resistant, and when it’s best to go with a green option, is important. Reclaimed wood, metal, stone and wool are all great natural materials that wear well over time and also remain timeless in their beauty.

CAPTION: Bedroom -GB, MA Cozy Berkshire Bedroom with reclaimed wood wall, sitting area and fireplace for those cool nights. Photo: Jess Cooney
A cozy Berkshire bedroom with reclaimed wood wall, sitting area and fireplace is perfect for those cool nights. Photo: Jess Cooney

Storage. This last item is the one most likely to be overlooked when purchasing a second home. Storage is not a sexy word but many a woman’s heart has melted at the sight of a beautiful functional mudroom or a well thought out kitchen pantry. A second home may have very different storage needs from a primary home. Storage for skis, bikes, pool towels, hiking gear may all be things you wouldn’t store in a Manhattan apartment, but they may require storage solutions in your new home. With smart planning, all of this can be taken care of in the early stages of planning and leave you time to relax and enjoy your new space for many years to come!

So when the time comes that you feel the need to nest in the Berkshires, hopefully this process can be a fun and rewarding one for you and your family. With the right planning and the right know-how, you can find the perfect Berkshire home to fit you individually.