A blissful romance is now happening hot and furious, but it was not love at first sight between Jessica Marbain and the Oliver Goodrich House. The interior designer from Pennsylvania preferred expansive space, long views, and lots of glass. On the other hand, the First Period Byfield house provided the exact opposite format. Tiny windows, cozy rooms, and weathered natural clapboards were pretty much the picture at the Oliver Goodrich house. But the historic home did claim two very critical features that won the designer’s heart. The house is sixty seconds away from her daughter’s Byfield home, plus it has an incredible garden.
The Byfield house has roots reaching to 1700 when it was built by Oliver Goodrich, who enlisted as a patriot after the Battle of Lexington and became one of General George Washington’s body guards. Mercifully, the structure remained pretty much unchanged until 1954 when an ell was added. Currently with several outbuildings, it stands as a stellar tribute to this country’s history, skirted by stone walls and set on a modest parcel of land just shy of an acre.
The garden was actually close to perfection when Marbain purchased the property in 2014. And what struck her immediately was the unique configuration that came with the place. This isn’t your typical Colonial garden.
The previous owners—Alan Collachicco and Bill Towne—were insightful gardeners and good friends of local landscape designer Ann Uppington who frequently consulted on the garden. She offered advice and inspiration, but they did the bulk of the labor.
Their original goal was to link with the agricultural history of Byfield. That initiative translated into a mini pocket orchard of fruit trees as well as a stone wall with a vintage corn grinding wheel set into its face to memorialize the local millers. Siberian iris faces the street where daylilies once reigned (although the daylilies were banished, they were not wasted—in good frugal Yankee spirit, they were shared with the next door neighbor).
Also, to soften the house, trumpet vines were trained on wires to grow up the front. Climbing hydrangeas camouflage walls, a series of hornbeams form an arched tunnel to link with the barn, and an added two-bay garage with wisteria draped over its sides was given a whimsical custom trompe l’oeil mural of the couple’s Corgi accomplished by local artist Julia Purinton.
But the truly unique factor was the boxwood maze that was planted, sequestered from the street. (Actually, the maze shrewdly covers the home’s septic tank, serving as a creative way to dissuade anyone from driving over that tender part of the yard.) Although nothing is new about the liaison between boxwood hedges and Colonial homes, the maze is certainly a unique spin on the tradition. Ann Uppington adapted the design from a 17th-century maze from Chantilly, France. The maze is composed of swirling lines radiating from a central boxwood circle hemming an armillary sphere set on an ornate plinth. Lovingly maintained over the years, it is in lush, vibrant, and pristine shape.
The scene was so perfect upon purchase that it has remained 95 percent untouched. The brick and fieldstone terrace was expanded in the intimate backyard snuggled close to the labyrinth. Hydrangeas were added across the front of the house and brighten it with pillows of blossoms late in the season. A pair of generous planters spill over with annuals selected to extend the season as long as possible. A tree peony was transplanted as a tribute to honor Marbain’s mother, who was an avid gardener. And dahlias (grown from tubers stored indoors over the winter) form a kickline to feed into the owner’s love for flower arranging. In other words, all the brilliant components from the past were preserved while elements were added to give the garden personality and bring it up to date. The result is the best of all eras.
Eventually, the Oliver Goodrich House began to work its magic. With a decorator’s eye for color, the interior is brightened and now has all the comforts of home. And the expanded terrace allows for dining and lounging alfresco. The bond has been forged and the place looks loved and feels like home. When Jessica Marbain says, “Now I’m attached to that house and its unique garden,” she’s speaking from her heart.