Edith Wharton has provided me with a glorious part-time office for nine summers. I’m also grateful to Andrew Carnegie, Joseph Choate, and a host of others who, from the 1730s through the Gilded Age and into today, designed, built, or donated their homes or their funds, to create exceptional, and exceptionally beautiful, accessible spaces that can be used by anyone seeking a remote work spot in the Berkshires. For free, or at most, for the price of an iced coffee.
Edith Wharton isn’t going to offer you a room on the third floor of The Mount, but the view of her Italianate gardens and distant misty mountains from a table on the long, elegant terrace, is sublime. Stockbridge Library’s reading room, with its wall tapestries, formal portraits, fireplace, and high arched windows, is inspired. The view of red barns and green hills from Tyringham Cobble, or rolling gardens and mountains from Naumkeag, Joseph Choate’s estate above Stockbridge, provide far more incentive to sit down and get to work than my usual view of my neighbor’s garage.
I count myself as very fortunate. For nearly a decade of summers, I’ve shuttled my son back and forth from a family home in Chatham, N.Y., to the drama program at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox. During those two or three weeks, while he’s memorizing iambic pentameter, I stay in Massachusetts for six hours each weekday and fall into a blissful routine. I start with an early hike, then take my sweaty self to work. Those days hold their own kind of poetry and rhythm.
The Berkshires, especially in summer, is a land full of creatives laboring at their crafts — dancers, musicians, actors, directors, writers — with professional performance and workspaces scattered across the hills. But I’m an outlier, a creative vagabond during those idyllic summer weeks, with no set workspace. Instead, I determine where to settle with my laptop each morning, based on availability, weather, and whim, as I roam from desk to table to patio, across the green hills of western Massachusetts.
A curated selection of Berkshire “remote offices” includes:
Historic: Lenox Library
The Lenox Library was incorporated in 1856, and moved into the former Berkshire County Courthouse in 1874, where it remains. In 1940, at the request of Maestro Serge Koussevitzky, the library music department was created. It’s a homey, charming place, with a little dust here and there and a few nonworking electrical outlets, but upstairs, the wide library tables and painted domed ceiling — a holdover from the courthouse — provide a serene space that’s quiet and looks out tall windows onto a lovely garden. On sunny days, the library garden, as well as Lilac Park across the street, are excellent places to work at picnic tables with a computer, a book, and your face toward the sun.
Opulent: The Mount, Lenox
The “spacious and dignified” 1902 estate and gardens that Edith Wharton designed for herself and then-husband Teddy, is a stately, lush piece of European grandeur in Western Massachusetts. I may be divulging a secret, but while there’s a fee for touring the house, visitors can walk the gardens and wooded paths, view the site-specific sculptures, or relax at the terrace cafe for free. I often arrive when the cafe opens, order an iced coffee, open my laptop, and gaze at the view until I remember that a deadline looms. My iced coffees can last three hours. The cafe also sells boxed lunches, snacks, and drinks, including wine and beer, for those who’d like to enhance their creative output.
Studious: Stockbridge Library
The Stockbridge Library, first chartered in 1789, also holds a museum and local archive. The high-ceilinged reading room with glossy dark wood tables, deep armchairs, and an air of serious contemplation, is a remote working paradise. The room is refined and hushed, Adirondack chairs are available on the lawn for taking phone calls, there are benches in the landscaped garden, and the downstairs gallery and archives offer glimpses into the region’s past.
Breezy: Naumkeag, Stockbridge
Naumkeag is a 44-room shingle home designed by Gilded Age architects McKim, Mead, and White for attorney and ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Choate. It was donated by his daughter to The Trustees in 1958. Naumkeag sits on a hill above town, and commands a view over terraced gardens off into the mountains. A small cafe with umbrella tables and a short menu offers a space for work and reflection amid the rarified air of the Choate family summer home and gardens.
Private: Great Barrington Library
The Great Barrington Library is compact and comfortable, with one element that stands out from other places on this list: Privacy. The two quiet study rooms can be reserved, and are legitimate rooms, not cubbies, with paintings on the walls, eyebrow windows, and large round tables. This is the best place if a work day includes phone calls, or meeting with a client. Or an indoor nap.
Filling: Great Barrington Food Co-Op
The Great Barrington Food Co-Op has grown exponentially in the decades since I started shopping there. Now, with a spacious inside eating area as well as an outdoor patio, you can enjoy your grilled marinated tofu sandwich, sushi box, a curated coffee, or a chocolate focaccia (a family favorite), while getting work done. The selection is excellent, the takeaway foods extensive, the tables are big enough to spread out, and you can feel virtuous by supporting a co-op.
Restorative: Tyringham Cobble
Tyringham Cobble is a Trustees’ property. A two-mile loop trail crosses fields, blackberry patches, the Appalachian Trail, and an unexpected towering rock formation. If you start walking to the south, there’s a picnic table about a half mile up, with a panorama overlooking Tyringham village and the mountains. If you’re willing to carry your work with you, and be without Wi-Fi, this is a beautiful spot to sit for a while with a book, a snack, and some time.
The Berkshires are beautiful, inside and out. The summer weeks I’ve spent in those villages, working in libraries and on patios and picnic tables, are also summers I’ve spent hiking, swimming, strolling, listening to music, visiting farm stands, looking, breathing, and smiling. “Work” can be defined in many ways — and accomplished in many places.