It was the old-fashioned details that hooked me when I first spotted Bovina Farm & Fermentory on Instagram: a hanging Shaker basket, tall beeswax tapers, handwritten menus, and stenciled motifs on the walls.
What I didn’t yet realize is that these were only the (spot-on) finishing touches of a ground-up project by the farm’s owners, Elizabeth Starks and Jacob Sackett. Not a rambling old barn and homestead, as I assumed, the property was designed and built by the pair to serve as their home and as a communal gathering space of sorts. “The vision was a homestead that would serve us as a living space, a working space for growing food and raising animals, and a space to welcome in visitors,” Elizabeth writes. “We saw old farms that functioned in this way while living abroad in the Czech Republic for a school semester and just fell in love with that version of home.”
The project was a homecoming for the couple: “Jake is a Catskills native; his family dates back to the early 1800s in the neighboring town of Bloomville,” writes Elizabeth. She herself is from the Hudson Valley, and the two met during their first year at Cornell. “We actually glazed over this parcel for a long time before we decided to drive over and check it out,” Elizabeth adds. “We hiked up the hill along an old rock-wall bordering the cow pasture and found a large flat area at the top with a natural spring running through the woods. We saw the views running down the valley in both directions. I think we made an offer later that week.”
Elizabeth’s father (who had built his own house 30 years prior) “dusted off the architecture books,” as Elizabeth says, to help create blueprints from ideas they’d collected over the years. “A builder on the other side of the mountain constructed our timber-frame barn and the house structure,” says Elizabeth, “and we finished the interior ourselves.” The couple has also “added a root cellar into one of the smaller hills, started an orchard behind the house with eleven fruit trees, built a chicken coop and duck house with a pond, and are planning for the addition of dairy sheep this fall.
“We hadn’t done any of this before, so it was a lot of figuring it out as we went,” adds Elizabeth. “Neither of us have backgrounds in cooking or design, which perhaps is where our very simple approach to both comes from. We both spent our childhoods playing out in the garden or in the woods. We developed a true appreciation for that first garden snap pea each year, the wild raspberry patches, roadside wildflowers, fish from the backyard stream, and luckily had parents who fostered an eye for seeing the beauty in these simple, good things.”
Now, the homestead houses a newly opened dining area and a small market and is open to passersby for a slices of pie or a house-made beer, brewed in the barn. Upstairs are the couple’s own living spaces and—soon—an inn.
Join us for a look at some of our favorite details.
1. Choose folding pieces.Above: “A lot of the furniture is folding (chairs, tables, wall-mounted desks) so that it can be stashed away for ease of cleaning or making more space,” says Elizabeth, as in the simple, open dining area on the first floor, open to all who drop in. Above: The couple by the bar.
2. Think simple + useful.Above: “We knew that we wanted to build a lot of our own furniture and finish out the interiors ourselves, so we looked to Shaker design for ideas on how to build simple but beautiful and useful interior elements,” says Elizabeth. “We used raw, natural materials that make durable workspaces and chose a few, solid, multi-use pieces that can endure many years of homestead living. “My father built the long bench that runs beneath the windows in the dining area downstairs, and then we built the two trestle tables to match it.”
Because there’s no attic and no basement, there’s little spare storage space. “Living with all of your things out around you as part of your space translates into utilitarian furniture and decor that is both beautiful and useful. Of course we do also have special keepsakes and heirlooms stashed around the house purely for the joy they bring.”
3. Use evocative neutrals.Above: “Farrow & Ball’s Schoolhouse White is the main color running throughout all woodwork downstairs and in the bedrooms upstairs,” says Elizabeth. “Wimborne White is the complementary wall and ceiling color. Oxford Stone is on the trim and shelves in the upstairs kitchen.”
4. Add tiny notes of summer.Above: Details we like: checked napkins and a handful of wildflowers.
5. Rethink stencils.Above: Time to bring back stenciled walls. The motif in the downstairs kitchen is “a vintage design that we reworked and then had made into a custom rubber stamp by a vendor on Etsy,” says Elizabeth. The same stencil appears in a guest bedroom. “I keep playing with the idea of a full stenciled ‘wallpaper’ in a bedroom one day,” she adds.
6. Leave floors bare.Above: “We chose to leave our flooring raw,” says Elizabeth. “We love the idea of the house developing age and patina with use and all of the nicks and scratches becoming a part of the home.” This is the market area, with farm goods available to go.
7. Bring back vintage wallpaper.Above: A downstairs bath is papered in a yellow flowered print. “It’s a vintage paper I found several years ago and kept stored under our bed until I finally put it up this spring,” says Elizabeth. “I have one extra roll that went back into storage for safekeeping for now.”
8. Sleuth for Shaker finds.Above: “All of our baskets, drying racks, stools, candlesticks, etc., are vintage pieces that we found on Etsy or elsewhere online or from Jake’s grandparents’ old farm,” writes Elizabeth. “The peg rails were custom made by Ed at Peg and Rail USA and make an appearance in almost every room of the house for hanging hats, coats, kitchen brushes, bath towels, and even spare chairs.”
Pictured is the couple’s private kitchen, upstairs. “The cabinets are from deVol’s Shaker range, painted in their Mushroom color,” Elizabeth says. “The sink is a Villeroy & Boch farmhouse sink with deVol’s Brass Mayan Taps. We cut a small piece of marble and fit it under the taps for extra durability in the wet area around the sink and built the shelving ourselves, mixing peg rails with corbels and a plate rack to maximize dish storage. And we found white oak butcher block countertops and left them mostly raw—there is one coat of a natural matte finish from Vermont Natural Coatings.”
9. Embrace yellow.Above: The Shakers added doses of yellow to their interiors to help capture light (read more about that here). In that spirit, “we added a sunny yellow paint color in the house,” says Elizabeth. “We decided to use Farrow & Ball’s India Yellow in a bedroom closet, and it really is a bit of sunshine every time the door is opened, especially during our long, grey winters.” (More instances of yellow: the vintage wallpaper, beeswax tapers here and there.)
10. Hang it up.Above: Lights, workspaces, and drying racks that hang from the wall save space and allow for easy communal living—in Shaker villages and in this public-meets-private farm. There are examples throughout the homestead, like this collapsible wall-mounted laundry rack, positioned in a sunny window for quicker drying.
11. Give shades a makeover.Above: Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the roller shade: not as bland, bit as a blank canvas. We like the stencil-style ones in this guest bedroom, sourced from Melton Workroom.
Another wall-mounted foldaway: “The Danish scissor/accordion wall lamp in the bedroom is a vintage fixture from Etsy,” says Elizabeth. “We also have a similar fixture downstairs in an office/library room. We love that it can be extended outwards or folded away, just like the wall-mounted folding desk that it hangs above.”
12. Nothing beats rocking chairs.Above: Guests are invited to gather on the front porch. “Grab a chair from the wooden peg and have a seat on the porch or by the wood stove,” reads the Bovina Farm & Fermentory site. “We’ll lend you an ear and have a cold one ready for you.”
13. Install screen doors.Above: The sounds of summer: “Is there anything better than the sound of a slamming screen door by day and rain pounding on a metal porch roof in the evening?” the Bovina team wrote on their Instagram a while back. “This summer has been chock full of both, and we think not.”
14. Unplug.Above: Perhaps the best detail, according to the Bovina website? “Leave the phone behind (there’s no service).”
N.B.: “Currently, friends and family have a hold on the guest room,” notes Elizabeth, “but the plan was always to offer the house as a place to stay in addition to opening the downstairs with homemade food and drink. We’ll be opening the second floor to the public in the near future.” Keep an eye out.
And for more in the Catskills, see: