Local Talent for World-Class Design: The Canyon Ranch Lenox Dining Room

You can find world class craftspeople right here in the Berkshires. Designer William Caligari did just that when he renovated the dining room at Canyon Ranch in Lenox.

For interior designers, contractors and architects in the Berkshires, the local talent available to us is world class — and sometimes under the radar. Let me share these local resources with you through the story of a fascinating high-profile project: the dining room at Canyon Ranch Lenox.

The refurbished dining room in Canyon Ranch Lenox. Photo: Kevin Sprague

We originally designed the main dining room at Canyon Ranch Lenox in 2003 — it was a great interior, and well received. By 2014, it was time for an update, and we were hired again for the project. We decided to create an interior with aspects of the original 19th century Bellefontaine “cottage,” built in 1899 by Giraud Foster. We wanted the space to be light, bright and progressive, containing counterpoint accents of 21st century design and style, while being truly authentic upon close inspection. For this, we required skilled craftspeople who could deliver 19th century workmanship, and what follows is a breakdown of how local talent made this possible from quality and expense perspectives.

Stone base, casings and passages

Before the 20th century, in “great estates” like Bellefontaine, stone was used as we use paint grade trim today; you didn’t think twice about it, you just used it! The question today is, can you afford and find the craftsmanship for this type of stonework? How do I get real stone today to match the weathered stone that was quarried in Lee, back in the day? Jay Swift of Bedrock design was our guy. Jay, located in Middlefield, has a state-of-the-art stone fabrication shop with computer-operated Italian fabrication equipment the size of my garage. The key to Jay is that he is also a stone sculptor and knows how to finesse stone as only a sculptor can. We developed sketches and elevations and sent them to Jay for budgeting. Soon, we were in business with massive acid-washed stone elements throughout, which matched the original stone on the façade and grounds. That component grounded our new interior in the past — we had 90% of our budget remaining!

We began our dining room design with sketches of design concepts. Below, from top to bottom: Overall dining room design; stone pass-through concept; trellis presentation; circular trellis detail concept; and concept sketch for circular trellis insert.

For the dining room pass-throughs, we were determined to build stone passages. The ceilings of the big pass-throughs had to be stone, to complete the effect I was looking for. I ran into a snag, though, because we could not just glue 200-pound slabs to the ceilings and feel safe. There had to be a mechanical connection, and that would require metal fabrication and something to tie the rods into. It would be expensive, complicated and hidden. Joel Haynes was the solution: he created “faux” ceiling elements that are completely indistinguishable from the real thing — I had to point this out to the owners. The complexity was that the Joel’s faux panels would abut the real acid-washed stone installed by Jay. No worries: Joel is a true master, trained at The Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla. We have worked with Joel on dozens of projects over the years. He lives right here in Great Barrington.

The stone pass-through, with real stone in the verticals and faux stone above in the casement and ceiling. A perfect match. Photo: Kevin Sprague

Garden room trellis

Part of the dining room is a garden room and, yes, we wanted one of those authentic stick-built garden rooms you find in Newport — one actually existed in Bellefontaine prior to the fire in 1949. This had to be the right scale and dimension; all terminations had to resolve cleanly into something slightly larger, with curves and circles. Lucky for us, Cullen Grace Joinery is here in Becket; Ken Smith and Steve Petrie took the drawings you see above and turned the room into what you see in the photographs that follow. Had we used finish carpenters, they would have labored for months building this on-site at great expense and, in that scenario, the dining room would have been closed for months. We had time and budget constraints that Cullen Grace met by fabricating all the components in their shop, allowing for an installation that took less than a week. Notice in the photos how it’s all fabricated in separate components to facilitate the expedited installation.

The Garden Room, which is part of the dining room. Photo: Kevin Sprague

We wanted sculptural elements in the trellis circles, and also sitting on some cantilevered shelves. They needed to play a finely detailed supporting role, which was executed by ceramicist Stephanie Boyd from Williamstown, Mass. Stephanie worked closely with me to fabricate working finish and materials samples based on our sketches and specifications. This is one of the fine details that complete the space, created by a gifted local artist.

Sculptural elements. Photos: Kevin Sprague


Meet Bob Kelly: Bob lives in Lee, right in the neighborhood, and he is one of the top wallpaper hangers in the world. Did you know that when wallpaper needed to be hung in the White House, Bob was the go-to expert on various occasions? He handles delicate antique papers for museums, and the most complex of installations for the top firms. Bob is one of the top wallpaper hangers in the world — and that’s no exaggeration. He is a true professional and an absolute pleasure to work with. Bob handles the majority of our installations in the same manner that he installed the wallpaper in the circles of the ceiling of the garden room: no questions or comments. He just shows up, installs it perfectly, and soon after, it’s done. This is just how Bob worked in the Canyon Ranch Lenox dining room.

Wall paper and lamp shades in the ceiling of the garden room. Photo: Kevin Sprague

Lighting and art

The grand lamp shades hanging in the garden room–the center one is five feet in diameter– were made here on Main Street in Great Barrington, in our own drapery workroom.

The array of colorful abstract expressionist paintings on the end wall, or the orange gouche color study; were painted by our team, also here in Great Barrington.

The abstract expressionist paintings. Photo: Kevin Sprague.
The orange gouache. Photo: Kevin Sprague

Design ideas are the seeds of a project. But it’s the team that makes it happen — starting with the client. The team needs to work harmoniously in coordination and with mutual support — as did the Canyon Ranch Lenox dining room team. We are particularly fortunate in the Berkshires to have exceptionally talented local professionals, whose work is now on display for an international audience at this destination spa. I can attribute many of our design successes to that group of skilled artisans who consistently raise the level of our work.