Falk Family Settling Into Williamstown
Karen Falk said her family enjoys their new home and looks forward to visiting more of the area's cultural and recreational venues.
But Adam and Karen Falk were spared the stress of searching for a new house when they relocated to Williamstown from Baltimore for Adam's new job as Williams College's 17th president. A house was waiting for them and their children, Briauna, 15, David, 10, and Alexander "Alex," 8: the Sloan House, better known as the President's House, on Main Street.
In this stately 18-room home with eight fireplaces, Williams College presidents and their spouses have hosted parties and other events for such guests as trustees, faculty and alumni for decades.
"When I first walked in the side door of the house, I felt like I was going to hyperventilate," Karen Falk said in an interview recently. "It was overwhelming."
The oldest portion of the Federal-style mansion was constructed in 1802 by real estate speculator and Revolutionary general Samuel Sloan, with additions and renovations made over the years. Most recently a few areas of the house were refreshed. "Wallpapering and painting had to be done," said Falk as she sat in a beige armchair in the spacious formal living room. “It was a while since the last update.”
The furnishings in the house are a mixture of college-owned items and personal items owned by the president's family.
Now a yellow sofa and wallpaper of a similar hue create a cheerful atmosphere in the living room, where framed photos of Briauna, David and Alex sit on a console table. The paintings on the wall reflect the Falks' eclectic taste in art, but they belong to the college. "The college sent us boxes [of artwork] to chose from," said Falk.
Among several books on a coffee table are "Architecture in America: The Federal Style - Part 2" and "Tribal Art," a reflection of the art dealers in Adam Falk's family history, said his wife.
Meanwhile, Casey, a 3-year-old standard poodle, contentedly stretched out near the fireplace, his off-white fur blending with the rug. "I walk Casey on campus," said Falk who has noticed that the poodle, bred in more southern climes, shies away from snow.
Adam Falk was a professor and dean at John Hopkins University prior to coming to Williams; the family lived in Towson, Md., approximately 20 miles from Hopkins. "There were a lot of beautiful homes by the campus, but schools were better in Towson," said Karen Falk.
Now, she enjoys interacting with Williams students as part of the college community. A number of opportunities to do so have presented themselves since the Falks moved into the "white house" on Main Street and students began referring to them as the "first family." In October, for instance, the family had fun judging students' entries in a pumpkin-carving contest.
Some "firsts" as the spouse of a college president and a resident of Williamstown, however, have made Falk a bit anxious.
"In March, before Adam officially took over the role of president, we gave a cocktail party for alumni. I felt lost. I didn't know anybody, but I enjoyed learning about them," she said. "I told one [of the guests] I thought the real estate prices seemed so high, and he said, 'You can blame our class because we are willing to paying anything to come back.'"
On Falk's first trip to Williamstown, she worried most about getting here from the airport in Albany, N.Y. "It seemed such a long ride on unfamiliar roads," she recalled. "And the first time we wanted to go to Target (in the Berkshire Mall), we got lost ... but we found it."
As a newbie, Falk said she'd been asking a lot of questions. "Everybody was very willing to offer help," she said. "Danielle Gonzalez, who had been on the search team that chose Adam, has been one of my go-to people."
Gonzalez, of the Williams Office of Human Resources, said in a telephone interview that she introduced Falk to the Berkshires, providing information from just about everything from nonprofits to outerwear sales to Jimny Peak Ski Resort.
Casey loves attention but not so much the Berkshire snow.
The new president is often greeted by people when they go shopping, but not his spouse — yet. "I'm still under the radar," she said.
David and Alex attend Williamstown Elementary School and Briauna is a day student at Buxton School. They are not the only ones in the house who study and do homework, as their mother is pursuing a bachelor's degree in business communication.
"Our kids are doing as well or even better than expected in this transition and all without unnecessary drama such as running out of the room screaming we ruined a life," their mother joked.
To say Karen Falk, who spent her life in Baltimore, is coping with the changes in her life would be an understatement.
"Both Adam and I are excited for the opportunity to embrace the life that the Berkshires have to offer," she said. "We have been struck by the cultural abundance and sheer beauty of this region."
"Thanks to Scott Lewis, director of the Williams Outing Club, his wife, Bernice, and their daughter Mariah, we have experienced activities we never did before, such as canoeing, rock climbing, and cross country skiing. We bought our own cross country skis," Falk said, adding with a hint of satisfaction, "And I took a downhill ski at Jimny Peak."
Relaxing at home, the family plays games in the formal living room. "We most like 'Yahtzee,' 'Scrabble' and special version of [the card game] beggar-my-neighbour," Falk said. If they want to watch a television program or a movie, they gather in the cozy family room down the hall from the formal living room.
Dinnertime is also family time. "Adam makes sure that happens, if at all possible," his wife said. "We eat in the kitchen, and sit around the table, talking."
Preparing a meal for her family can be complicated. David is hypersensitive to the texture and smell of food and, therefore, has a limited menu; Briauna is a vegan with different food preferences from the rest of the family, Falk explained. Alex is pleased when roasted chicken is on his plate. "Adam's and my favorite is probably a couple of Ethiopian dishes I make," Falk said.
She likes the kitchen in her new home, despite dealing with some appliance issues. "The equipment is much nicer, except for the fridge [which tends to slosh water from the door dispenser], than our previous house," she said, and the oven once took nearly a half hour to preheat to 375. "The boys were very patient waiting for the cinnamon rolls even though their little stomachs were growling."
Falk continues to discover advantages to living on campus. The college generates a lot of activities she can enjoy nearby, such as sports games, and she has watched basketball, men's soccer and women's soccer.
She has visited the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, and hopes that before long she will be able to tour other cultural entities in the Berkshires.
"It's wonderful," she said of the Clark, which is but minutes from her home. "Fortunately, we have the opportunity to live in this magnificent town, in the midst of this more-than-impressive college, surrounded by amazing students, faculty, staff and townspeople, and in a house we never imagined ourselves in ... ever."
Then she spoke candidly of what has come with this experience. "We seem to have inherited a pedestal on top of which some people have placed us," she said, but she wants people to understand that they are a normal family with children, trying to juggle demands just as everybody else does.
"Just like any family, we run late, we lose things, we get tired and grumpy, we make mistakes and the list goes on," she said. "Like every other parent, Adam and I hope our children are given the leeway to make mistakes that are sometimes inherent in the process of maturation."