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This Old Schoolhouse, Part I

Christopher Riggleman and Jonathon Loy of Studio Riggleman repurpose a country house into a primary residence.

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My family has a long history in the Berkshires, beginning with Uncle Gene and Aunt Shirley Talbot putting down roots in the mid-1950s. Since then, each generation of family has enjoyed summers in the Berkshires. When I introduced my husband, Christopher Riggleman, to the Berkshires, he fell in love with this magical place, as all of us do. We planned one day to buy a country house here while maintaining our full-time residence in New York City, where we had built great careers and friendships.

Rear of the house, before the work began. Because the flagstone patio was above grade, it contributed to sill rot.

After saving for years, the time finally came to purchase our dream country house in Monterey, just outside of Great Barrington. What really swept us off of our feet was the fact that it was the original schoolhouse to the second town center of Monterey, dating from 1780. That is charm that cannot be built today. We certainly realized the amount of work that would be required to maintain such an “historic” house. With all that in mind, we closed on November 8, 2019; we didn’t know then that we had superb timing…

Above: A sketch by Marshall Spring Bidwell, Jr., 1857, from Monterey:A Local History 1847 to 1997. Our house is located behind the white house on the left. Below: A blown-up view showing our house.

We knew the house needed work, but we figured it could be done while we were in New York City and we could manage it from afar. After all, Chris is an interior designer, who at the time was working for an ‘Architectural Digest Top 100’ interior design firm. We knew we could deliver the drawings, manage the construction and provide the vision.

The entire back exterior of the house was excavated to lower the grade, replace the rotted sill and clapboarding and put in proper drainage.

Well, 2020 had other plans for us, and for the rest of the world. I am an operatic stage director who had spent the last 11 seasons as a Guest Director and part of the Staging Staff at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. I co-founded the Berkshire Opera Festival, and I freelance direct nationally and internationally. Needless to say, I worked in one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic. Chris was working remotely for his firm, but as the months progressed, we started to discuss with seriousness the question that we had always spoken about in jest, “What if we just left New York City and lived in the country…?”

The freshly finished backyard with a new fence, blue stone pavers/tiles at the back door, neutral-colored pea stone gravel and built-in composite benches with blue stone bases. Still to come: landscaping and lighting.

On September 18, 2020, we gave notice to our New York City landlord that we would not renew our lease and began the necessary steps to become Berkshirites. Mostly, this meant turning a country house, with no closets or storage of any kind, a heating system only meant to warm through the late fall, a fireplace that needed to be rebuilt, you get the idea, into a full-time residence.

Amidst all the chaos of the world, including my career coming to a crashing halt and Chris’s desire to go out on his own, we decided to take this as an opportunity to start our own interior design studio. With the housing market booming in the Berkshires, Chris’s years of experience in the luxury design world, my entrepreneurial experience combined with 20+ years of stage design know-how and our house acting as our first project, Studio Riggleman was born.

We reclaimed space in order to build a primary walk-in closet with a custom-made barn door to maximize storage.

While creating and designing for our current clients, we hope to have our house, and now office, completed by the autumn of 2021.

Before: A light box blocked the view from the kitchen to the living room.

 

We opened up the kitchen pass-through and removed the old hood vent, which was filled with squirrel nests. Here’s a picture taken during the construction. We will keep the old hand-painted tile backsplash.

 

After: Now that the pass-through is completed, we have a clear view from the kitchen to the fireplace.

Here’s what we have completed so far, with the prodigious guidance and workmanship of our contractor Matt Sermini of Sermini & Sons Carpentry and Excavation, millworkers Portner and Phillips, and landscape designer Karen Shreefter:

  • Regraded the backyard with terraced levels, and created a seating area with pea stone surfaces and built-in benches;
  • Replaced all the rotted areas of the sill and clapboarding;
  • Turned re-claimed space into a new walk-in closet;
  • Retiled the primary shower;
  • Added new windows;
  • Converted one of two garage stalls into a laundry room with finished floors and cabinetry for optimal storage;
We replaced the old manual garage door on the left with a new insulated electric garage door.

 

We removed the second garage door on the right and replaced it with a new wall and window to make way for a new interior laundry room. We then walled off the second garage stall.

 

Inside, here are in the process of building a wall between the two original garage bays to create a finished basement and laundry room. Stay tuned for photos of the completed basement.
  • Removed two defunct woodburning stoves and their respective chimneys;
  • Created wall-to-wall dining buffet built-ins with floating shelves and a Bardiglio marble countertop;
  • Buried a 1000-gallon propane tank for all gas appliances and removed the old oil tank and its corresponding furnace;
  • Installed a new HVAC – high-efficiency propane furnace, central AC and mini-splits for the upstairs (unable to run duct work to second floor), new insulated duct work and re-venting for the basement and first floor;
  • Demolished the front porch roof and its foundation (The collapsing roof and crumbling foundation made this necessary);
  • Re-poured new sun room foundation, built new roof and prep for all glass enclosure to open on all sides.
Foundation and framing for a new sun room.

 

Early stages of the new sun room from a different angle. The room will have a gabled entryway, glass transoms, and a skylight to maximize its southern exposure.

And here is what is still left to be done:

  • Complete the sunroom/new entry to the house;
  • Add a dormer on the second floor guest bathroom;
  • Finish the electrical work, including upgrading to 200-amp service to sustain new systems;
  • Install a whole-house propane generator with auto-transfer;
  • Add a new metal roof with standing seams plus insulation;
  • Install a built-in pantry and bar with matching Bardiglio marble countertop for the kitchen area;
  • Paint the house dark gray with black window trim.

The idea behind all this work is not only to turn our house into a comfortable full-time residence, but also to use it as inspiration for our clients — an investment in our future, for sure.

Here’s how the interior looked on move-in day, November 8, 2019.

 

And here’s the same space on Christmas 2020, just over one year later.

We’re excited to return soon to The Edge with Part II of this story, and to share the finished product with you. In the meantime, please follow Studio Riggleman and our progress on Instagram, @studioriggleman, and visit us at www.studioriggleman.com.

New elements for the built-in pantry, with pocket doors and pull-out shelving, are coming together at the Portner and Phillips’s workshop in Glendale, Mass. Photo: John Humes, Portner and Phillips.

 

And Che is wondering when all the renovations will be done…

 

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