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  • Writer's pictureAnneliese Abbott

Inside the Big House at Malabar Farm


Mary Bromfield's bedroom in the Big House at Malabar Farm
Mary Bromfield's bedroom in the Big House still has the original wallpaper, carpet, and bedspread

Tom Bachelder is passionate about Malabar Farm. After retiring from his career as an art teacher at the Mansfield Public Schools, Tom worked for several years at Malabar Farm State Park as a tour guide. He “retired” from that job a few years before I visited in 2015, but joined the nonprofit Malabar Farm Foundation and continued to volunteer at the park. He’s been instrumental in spearheading projects to restore some of the artwork in the Big House collection, which includes two valuable Grandma Moses paintings. With his artistic and historical knowledge, Tom was the perfect guide for my first-ever tour of the Big House at Malabar Farm.

 

When Louis Bromfield first moved to Malabar Farm in 1939, there were several old farmhouses on the property. He loved the location of one of them, but the existing structure was just too small for his sprawling tastes. So he hired Louis Lamoreux, a Mansfield architect, to “remodel” the old farmhouse, adding on several huge wings to create a one-of-a-kind architectural masterpiece that Bromfield simply called the “Big House.”

 

Amazingly, the interior of the Big House has been almost perfectly preserved ever since Louis Bromfield died in 1956. Friends of the Land was the first to offer Big House tours, followed by the Louis Bromfield Malabar Farm Foundation and eventually the State of Ohio. Most of the original wallpaper is still intact, including unique designs like the raspberries coming out of clamshells in the sitting room. The spacious rooms are still filled with the antique furniture Bromfield brought over from France.

 

Tom started our Big House tour at the front door, which opened into an entryway with twin red-carpeted staircases curving up to the second floor. He let me go inside Mary Bromfield’s bedroom, which is usually closed to the public because the carpet was getting worn from too many people walking on it. We went into Louis Bromfield’s bedroom/office, with the beautiful ornate desk that he didn’t use for writing because it was too tall. He wrote his bestselling novels on a little card table at the side of the room.

 

At the back of Bromfield’s study, Tom opened a small door and led me up a narrow staircase to the bedroom/office of George Hawkins, Bromfield’s secretary. From there we toured the rest of the second-floor bedrooms, including the guestroom where Hollywood actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall spent their honeymoon night after being married at Malabar in 1945. We saw the girls’ bedrooms and living room and then went into Nanny’s room and the room where Bromfield’s parents lived. Before the new visitor center was constructed in 2006, those rooms had housed the park offices, and they were still unrestored in 2015.

 

After touring the upstairs, we headed down the main staircase and saw the dining room, which still had the original table but not the original chairs because those got their legs chewed up by Bromfield’s Boxer dogs, who used to sit under the table and beg during meal time. We ended our tour in the huge kitchen, where Bromfield’s cook Reba Williams prepared many memorable meals.

 

As we walked back out through the garage into the July sunshine, I thanked Tom for a great tour of the Big House. We headed back up the hill to the visitor center for my next meeting—with park manager Korre Boyer.

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