In May of 2017 we moved from Philadelphia to Great Barrington, Massachusetts. We purchased a barn that had been renovated into a home forty years ago. Although the house needed work, our immediate need was to build a studio.
After interviewing several builders, we were dismayed to find the going building rate in the Berkshires was $350 a square foot. That price stopped us in our tracks.
We started to explore options on how to build an affordable studio structure. The research led us to a metal building that would be fabricated to our specifications. Then we settled down to design the studio.
Chris’s previous experience in the English building business guided us through the 101 details of the design process. The final design was an 1800 sq. ft building situated away from the house. In early August we ordered the metal building and assumed all would go smoothly – after all it was just a simple structure!
Unknown building regulations
Little did we know how specific the building regulations were in Massachusetts and Great Barrington; this was not South Philadelphia. A neighbor led us to Peter Donatelli, a contractor who could work with the local building inspector and get a building permit. We finally broke ground in late October 2017. Regulations required that the building’s footing extend below frost level, which is 48”.
Glacier rock in the Berkshires is called ledge and our property literally has tons of ledge. The first challenge was finding a huge impenetrable rock under the building site. A jackhammer didn’t begin to break the rock apart, which meant the studio site had to be moved. This led to more excavation. The foundation was finally poured by the end of November.
Luckily, we had a beautiful Indian summer that lasted into late November. But then the other ongoing obstacle arrived, winter.
The Berkshires experienced the worst winter in 100 years. From December until late April, the building crew experienced sub-zero temperatures with continual snow and high wind. The crew was only able to work four to five hours a day. It clearly wasn’t the best winter for a building project.
At some point, we got a commitment date of May 20th for the building to be finished. A two-day open studio event was planned for Memorial Day weekend. Cards were printed and we started promoting the event.
The building was finished just in the nick of time for the opening event – the plumbing, electricity, painting and sidewalk were all finished in the final week. It took a year, but the final building is just what we envisioned. We have great studios in an inspiring landscape.