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At Home With Burns & Schiro

by Joseph Montebello

Although it was only a rental, Bob Burns and Gary Schiro felt at home the minute they laid eyes on the antique farmhouse in Goshen, CT that they had found online and immediately wanted to own it. But the landlady, who hadn’t lived in the house for many years, wasn’t selling.

“We had only three weekends to find a new place to live,” Schiro explained. They had sold their house in Staatsburg, NY in anticipation of Burns starting his new job as director of the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury CT. While Schiro would continue his job as director of the Hudson Opera House, they wanted a place that was halfway in between their respective offices. In truth, it is slightly closer to Burns’s office.

On the outside the sprawling white farmhouse had every going for it. Originally built in 1785, with an addition dating back to 1825, it sat on five acres of land, on a road with little traffic and no visible neighbors.

“We walked in through the kitchen door and five seconds later I knew this was the house we had to live in,” Schiro recalled. “I had never felt that way about a house before.”

After a tour, though, reality set in. The condition of the house was one of abject neglect. Things had been overlooked for a long time – a combination of an absentee owner and a series of renters over the years. Of the thirty-two windows in the house, only two had operable sash cords; only one window had hardware and most of the windows were painted shut.

The kitchen, of major importance to the two men who love to entertain, had last been renovated in the 1980s. While the room was large in size, it was short on practical things, like counter space. But the love affair with a house had begun for them.

And so Burns and Schiro rented the house and began to fill it with various rugs, lamps, and tables, and quietly began to make it their own. Finally, after a year of leasing month to month, the owner relented and the house was theirs.

Burns and Schiro have been together for twenty-three years and for them they have finally found their permanent home.

“Besides the extraordinary view, there’s a feeling of openness but we still have privacy,” Burns said. “We can sit on the front porch in the morning in our pajamas and not see a soul walk by.”

Both men have jobs that sometimes require weekend hours. Burns has brought the Mattatuck to new heights since his arrival, with more shows than they have ever had. Schiro’s roster of performances and events at the Hudson Art Center have brought well-deserved praise and crowds of people. When they entertain, in many cases it will include artists from recent events, along with members of the staff and friends. It is not uncommon for an after-opening dinner to include thirty people.

“Bobby is actually a fine cook – if pressed into service,” said Schiro. But mainly it’s Schiro’s domain. With an ample vegetable garden at his disposal, he can whip up an amazing meal while guests sit in the kitchen, drinking wine, sharing stories, and watching Schiro do his kitchen magic.

The rooms are comfortable in size and décor, inviting one to sit and read or ponder the view, but he house is still a work-in-progress. Burns says there is a long list of projects they are slowly working through. Recently, the huge weathered barn on the property has been their focus.

“For a while we had no access to it – it was filled with the owner’s belongings,” said Schiro. “Now we’ve cleaned it up, painted it and turned it into a usable space for entertaining and for guests.”

For two men whose professional lives are devoted to the arts, they have found the perfect antidote to their busy schedules in the quiet hills of Goshen.