By Clara Baldock
New England houses have seduced me for years with their rustic charm. Mine would be painted white with all the cliché trimmings; dark green shutters and a wraparound porch. I imagine big sash windows, tongue-and-groove wood panelling and a shaker kitchen where all the family can gather. So romantic in the depths of winter, a tradition of simple sophistication with a thousand quirks and variations.
Perhaps my dream is part nostalgia, remembering my grandmother’s little wooden, upstate New York house nestled in the snow, with its overflowing bookcases, a creaking staircase leading to old brass beds and the smell of eggnog simmering on the stove.
My wistful memories came to life with Greta Gerwig’s visually sumptuous and enchanting 2019 adaptation of Little Women. Based on Louisa May Alcott’s beloved coming-of-age novel, it follows the lives of the four March sisters (main picture, above) as they step into womanhood, navigate financial struggles and explore their passions.
The March family resides in Orchard House, a quintessential rural abode where Alcott wrote and set her classic novel. It gives a nod to the pastoral US life captured in an Andrew Wyeth painting, but with a warmer, folksy feel. The home in Concord, Massachusetts is now a museum. It was deemed too precious to film in so a full-scale replica was made for the movie two miles away.
The exterior of the fictional clapboard farmhouse is simple and sweet. “I wanted the outside to look like an old worn-out jewellery box that you found in your grandmother’s drawer”, said production designer Jess Gonchor in a 2019 interview with Architectural Digest. Inside is a treasure trove of antiques decorated with layers of colour, texture and patterns; rich velvets and faded chintz, worn needlepoint rugs, patchwork and quilts. There are nooks for curling up and reading, and an attic bathed in dusty light for writing.
Come Christmas, it is nothing short of magical. Every mantle and doorway is bedecked with pine garlands dotted with dried orange slices, while the open fire crackles and glows. It is deliciously cosy, luring you in with the promise of merriment and a welcoming armchair.
The quaint and eclectic furnishings reflect the whimsical characters who inhabit the rooms. The place is a hive of activity and creativity, which I find particularly appealing after a year of social deprivation. I like to keep a tidy house but I also find comfort in the chaos of it all, a much lived-in space that is so inviting.
Of course, the 19th-century interior could do with an update for modern living so this five-bedroom house in the Massachusetts town of Great Barrington would do nicely. The light-filled property, on the market for $1.2m, has five fireplaces, a conservatory and a garden, where I would spend many a long summer day with a good book.
For something distinctively more grand, I am drawn to this elegant, six-bedroom estate in the heart of Wellesley Farms, complete with a butler’s pantry, landscaped garden and pool. With generous proportions, the $7.5m house is ideal for entertaining — although I would first strip away the wallpaper and inject some colour and craft.
Soon, like the March household, it would be warmed by the flurries of everyday life.
Photographs: © CTMG Inc, all rights reserved; Getty Images; © Lei Xu via Dreamstime.com; Berkshire Hathaway Homeservice/Barnbrook Realty; Remark Visions