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Arthur Dunnam Finds Folk Art and More in the Massachusetts CountrysideText by Amanda Vaill/Photography by Billy Cinningham
The Massachusetts Berkshires are blessed with a landscape not unlike that of England’s Cotswolds: a country of rolling hills, patched with tilled fields and pastures and crisscrossed by stone walls, that tempt travelers to linger and visitors to stay. There are picturesque villages to look at, full of white clapboard houses clustered around church steeples, and summertime, in particular, offers a progressive fete champetre of diversions. Choices range from the established festivals of Tanglewood (music), Jacob’s Pillow (dance) and Williamstown (theatre), to museums like MASS MoCA and the Clark Art Institute, to historic sites such as Edith Wharton’s estate The Mount and the Hancock Shaker Village. Add to that the two-and-a half hour driving from either New York City or Boston, and you have a nearly irresistible weekend destination – as Arthur Dunnam, design director of Jed Johnson Associates, can attest.
With good friends living on the edges of the Berkshires, Dunnam is a frequent visitor to the area; and he’s living proof that, while you can take the boy out of the showroom, you can’t take the showroom out of the boy. The designer, who has built a reputation for the sensitive handling of period furnishings, often mingled with art or crafts, finds his trips to the Berkshires are all the more enjoyable when he can prowl through the region’s remarkably eclectic collection of antiques shops and decorative dealers. “The unexpected thing about shopping in the Berkshires is that the range of objects is so diverse,” he says. “It’s not just folk art or American antiques.”
On Route 7, south of Great Barrington, just outside the village of Sheffield, is where, he says, Susan Silver Antiques carries “unexpected things in high style.” The charming clapboard house is “literally packed to the rafters,” as Dunnam describes it, with 18th and 19th-century furniture, objects and light fixtures. Finds include giltwood Regency bull’s-eye mirrors, Imari jars (They’d make beautiful lamps,” he says), French botanical and bird prints, chairs, chests and armoires. Dunnam’s favorite item is a spectacular Swedish Empire mirror with a Garden of Eden motif carved into its over-panel, but he also likes the English slate obelisk, with its faux-porphyry panels, on the table beneath it. “I’ve bought some wonderful chinoiserie lacquered tables here, and beautiful porcelain lamps,” says the designer.