The root of matter
Like many urban couples, Eric and Holly Montgomery fantasized about leaving Los Angeles’s hard-charging life behind for the serenity and space of the country. Holly, an artist and former fashion stylist, imagined a studio where she could paint full time. Her husband, Eric, a biochemist who cofounded the OPI nail polish brand, envisioned a large home office and laboratory where he could work on his inventions. They would have lots of dogs, take hikes in the woods, and ride horses, as Holly had when growing up in England. “We were too tired to go to any more Oscar parties,” she says. “We wanted some peace and quiet.”
Determined to make the dream a reality, they spent a year driving up and down the East Coast. At last, they purchased a 50-acre rural spread in the Berkshires, in Massachusetts, with a picturesque creek running through it. That autumn, not long after they moved into one of the two stone cottages on the property, it began to snow. “At first we were in heaven,” says Holly. “We thought it was divine.” But it never stopped snowing and soon the snow was waist deep. They spent the next few months mostly homebound in their dark stone house, staring through a small window at the frozen creek and their icy dreamscape. “It was a shock,” she says.
Initially, the couple believed they had made a terrible mistake. “They would come back to visit L.A., where it was sunny and 80 degrees,” recalls their friend the interior designer Paul Fortune, “and be remorseful they ever left.” But when the snow melted the following spring, the landscape revived and the creek regained its babble.
Rather than bail on the rural life, they decided to make their quarters better fit their needs. They sketched out a 6,000-square-foot addition that would join the two cottages and bring in much-needed light and additional living space. “We toyed with the I. M. Pei glass-pyramid look,” Holly says, “but finally kept the original flavor of the house by sourcing old Fenestra windows and reclaimed timbers and using real lath and plaster for the walls.”
The original cottages were built almost entirely of a local stone called quartzite. “It’s an extremely hard rock that is almost impossi- ble to drill into—try hanging a picture,” Eric says. “But it has beautiful patterns. The masons were obviously very talented because they symmetrically matched the best pieces and even built small hiding chambers in the walls for storing valuables, as well as nesting places on the exterior for birds and bats.”
The rock had come from a nearby quarry that had closed in the 1940s. The couple found it two miles from their house in an over-grown section of forest with no road access. The owner of the land told them to take any stone they wanted. “We schlepped it out with our backpacks,” Holly says. But even after multiple trips through the brush, they had barely enough to work with. They then hired a geologist to track the rock’s vein through the Berkshires. In the end, Eric discovered a perfect match a few miles away where a site was being blasted for a new home. The builders gave them permission to cart away many tons of the discarded stone.
Today, the house is so seamless that it’s hard to tell where the original architecture stops and the new construction begins. One clue is scale: The soaring new living room, with its 21-foot-high timberedbeam ceiling and massive stone fireplace, is more King Arthur than Cotswold cottage in ambience. The other giveaway is the sunlight that pours into the new kitchen and dining room, as well as the spacious library and home office upstairs.
To decorate the house, they called on the help and advice of Fortune, who has known Holly since they both arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. The designer steered them toward a palette of earth tones that would resonate with the landscape. He also introduced the couple to John Danzer, whose company Munder-Skiles made all the garden furniture, and who in turn led them to the landscape architect Peter Cummin. Cummin’s master plan for the property included miles of stone walls, a riding arena, barn, pool, and pastures. “The latter project gave us new respect for the farmers who cleared this land in the 1700s,” says Holly, “with no ibuprofen or hot water.”
Winters in the Berkshires are still long but the Montgomerys manage to enjoy them, skiing and snowboarding, and horseback riding through the snow. Come spring, the apple trees burst into bloom in their orchard and flocks of red-winged blackbirds return from travels south. “That’s when I shed my bitter pioneer-woman thing,” jokes Holly, “and get into a dress. I remember I’ve got legs.”