Reality TV producers have always loved a good house. Throwing a cast of disparate characters into places like The Bachelor mansion, The Real World houses, or the Big Brother house tends to spark chaos and intimacy in equal parts, and lets at-home viewers scratch their voyeuristic itch.
But Bachelor pads and Big Brother sets aren’t homes, really: When a series’ season is over, everyone goes back to their respective spaces, and the owner might shuffle back in. Blue Stone Manor, on the other hand, is. Owned by Real Housewives of New York City veteran Dorinda Medley, the Berkshires estate has been home to so many of the series’ pivotal, quotable blowouts that fans actually sell “Berzerkshires” t-shirts on Etsy.
Lisa Shannon, who has been producing Real Housewives of New York City (abbreviated RHONY) since 2008, says there’s a reason Blue Stone Manor is famous. “When I say ‘Mention it all,’ ‘I cooked, I cleaned, I made it nice,’ and ‘You don’t touch the Morgan letters,’ if you’re a RHONY fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about,” Shannon says, referencing several quotes said over the years by Medley and RHONY cast member Sonja Morgan.
When it came time to figure out where to set the second season of Peacock’s The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip Ex-Wives Club, which brings former cast members from across different franchises together and is currently streaming, Shannon says it was a no-brainer. “The women all feel comfortable and relaxed in the sprawling home, which helps them to open up and be honest with one another,” she says, adding, “that usually comes with strong opinions, which they all have.” Production crews can cover a whole house more easily than a number of hotel rooms or bungalows, and all the activities can get equal shine, whether it’s a burlesque cocktail hour or a classic Housewives dust-up at room selection.
Blue Stone Manor has another ace up its sleeve in Medley. A consummate host who takes her role very seriously, she’s as much of a producer on the show as she is a star, slating constant activities on and around the home’s grounds. In the run-up to the latest season of the series, Medley says she was working around the clock to make sure the shoot went off without a hitch, even enlisting a sort of concierge to help her shuffle the other women around. Dwell talked to Medley about her famous home, how filming and hosting this time was different than before, and why she says Blue Stone Manor is the “Disneyland of reality.”
Dwell: Let’s get the basics out of the way. How many bedrooms is Blue Stone Manor? Bathrooms? When was it built and what’s the house’s history?
Dorinda Medley: There are seven bedrooms and six bathrooms. It was built in 1902 by physicist William Stanley, who sold his company to General Electric. He worked with Stanford White to build the house, so it’s very much that style, very well-built with big doors and lots of heavy woodwork. [Medley’s late husband] Richard [Medley] actually purchased the house six months before we got married because my great grandfather worked on it as a mason. When I was growing up in the area, I always loved the house and said I’d own it one day.
This house was one of what they called “Berkshire Cottages.” There are books on them. You can look them up. The Berkshires were in vogue in the time before [wealthy] people went to the ocean, because that was very gauche. Only people who had no means went to the ocean because it was free. People used to come out to the Berkshires because it was cooler. Even on the hottest days of the summer here, it would cool down at night. So people would come here for two months, generally July and August, and they’d open up their Berkshire Cottages.
I’m sad to say that a lot of them were torn down, which is heartbreaking because we used to visit them when I was little, but when property taxes kicked in, no one could afford to keep these houses anymore and run them, especially for just two months a year.
Blue Stone Manor was one of these houses when I was growing up that kept changing owners but no one ever really did anything to it. They never really took the time to restore it back to its former glory. I don’t think Richard knew what he was getting into when he bought the house. Stanford White homes are built so beautifully that it’s kind of deceiving in terms of how much work it needs.
Our plan was, when we got the house, we were just going to live in it for a year. I remember saying to Richard, “You have to live in a house for a year because you don’t know what you’re going to do. You might expect the house to be one way, but you don’t know what the house is going to expect of you. Let’s really strip away the fantasy of how we think we’re gonna live in it.” At the time I had three young kids: two stepchildren and my daughter, Hannah.
“I didn’t make the house for a reality show. I made that room for a 12-year-old boy, my stepson.”
We lived in it for a year and then we shut it down to do construction. We thought it was going to take about a year and a half, but it took three years, because once we opened up the plaster and the walls, it was just riddled with issues. No one had done proper electrical wiring on the house. There were newspapers for insulation that looked like they had all been burned. We even had to lift it off its foundation.
My goal was always to restore it, but also renovate it to add in all the modern tech. This house was a summer house, mainly, so it didn’t have heat when we moved in. Well, it had heat, but never anything proper. No A/C. It was almost like people were sort of living in it the best they could, you know? It was hard to have a love affair with the house in those days.
Some people say that Blue Stone Manor is one of the best-known homes in reality television.
One of? It’s the best-known home. This is the Disneyland of reality.
How did that happen? Tell me about the first time you invited cameras into your home.
It was just an obvious thing to do, because when I went on reality television, something that was a big part of my life already was Blue Stone Manor. I loved entertaining and decorating. I didn’t just start doing all that for the show.
People think when you go on reality, that’s where your life sort of starts. I always say, ‘Believe it or not, I had a life here before.” It always cracks me up, like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I got the fish room.” [A reference to an infamous, taxidermy fish-strewn room that some cast member guests did not want to stay in.] It’s like, “I didn’t make the house for a reality show. I made that room for a 12-year-old boy, my stepson.”
From left: Jill Zarin, Phaedra Parks, and Dorinda Medley film a scene at Medley’s Berkshires estate for The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip Ex-Wives Club, now streaming on Peacock.
You know, I think it was just a natural thing. Everyone goes to [fellow RHONY housewife] Ramona’s Hamptons house, because that’s a big part of her life in the summer, and a big part of my life every weekend was going to Blue Stone Manor. We’ve always had a city life and a country life. Our country life was more about having people up and doing dinner parties. You also have to remember that my parents are down the road. I grew up here.
Season 1, I think we just came up for my [notably over the top] holiday decorations. For the audience, going to the Berkshires became a real focal point in [each RHONY] season. We crescendoed up to it. A lot of famous things have happened here, and the audience fell in love with the house like a character.
I gotta tell you, when I was put on pause [from RHONY], I was actually a little insulted because people would say all the time, “Oh no! No more Blue Stone Manor.” It’s like, “Oh my God, the house should have been paid its own salary.” People really love Blue Stone Manor. Just this morning, I went out at 8:30 a.m. to go to the grocery store because I’m making dinner for my parents, and there were three people lined up taking pictures at the front gate.
There are iconic spots in the house. Sometimes I’ll do an Instagram post of whatever, and when I’m reading the comments people are like “Are you at Blue Stone Manor??” People forget this is a home. It’s not a film set, it’s a home that’s filled with paraphernalia and has closets filled with clothes and all the same things every other home has.
Over the seasons, I’ve had to release a little bit of control because I try to run the house in a certain way. That was the hardest thing to get used to. Once you have eight girls in here running around and 10 cameras, you lose control.
It does seem like some people on the show forget they’re in a home. They think of your bedrooms as green rooms or hotel suites rather than something they should actually care about.
That’s correct. That’s where the frustration comes in. Even this season, you see where I was like, “Just please don’t eat in your room” and people were really pissed off about that. I mean, to me, that’s just common sense, especially in someone’s home. When my carpets get dirty, it’s on me to get them cleaned.
And you spent money on those carpets. It’s not some throw rug you bought at Ikea.
It’s not a spec house where you just go rip them up and replace them. Each carpet has been made for each room. You worry about people spilling stuff, people ruining stuff. It’s a country house so you don’t want to have mice. I don’t know, I prefer to eat in a thing called the dining room. It seems to work for a lot of other people, too.
[My house manager] Len has been with me for 17 years. The show is a lot of added work for her, too. Things really do get ruined, I have to say. Production is always very good about it, but it’s not as easy to replace some Fortuny fabric as it is just to have a piece of furniture re-covered. I have to order the fabric, I have to get it reupholstered. And it becomes a big expense for production as well, which isn’t great.
Season 2 of The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip Ex-Wives Club was filmed at cast member Dorinda Medley’s Blue Stone Manor in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
How did you meet Len?
Len is a famous character in her own right. I started working with Len when I moved in with Richard at the townhouse that I got for him when we got married. She interviewed for a job and she never left. She’s been with me ever since. I said to her one day, “You know, I never thought this through properly. I probably should have asked you to sign an NDA,” and she said, “Too late.”
Blue Stone Manor seems to bring you a level of serenity and tranquility, but when people come there for the show, it seems to make them go nuts.
Yeah, and I think that’s why [Blue Stone Manor episodes of RHONY] are so hugely successful, and people are really drawn to [them]. Because this is not like staying in a hotel or in a rental. This is a home and it’s on 18 acres. When you come up the driveway and through the gates, once those gates are closed, you’re waking up with us, you’re going to bed with us, and there are cameras in the house all the time. You can get a little stir crazy, and it is probably a little bit of a pressure cooker.
You’ve got to remember that I don’t really ever have company like that. Normally people come up on a Friday afternoon and then leave Sunday after brunch. I don’t really have eight people come up and stay for eight days. With [Ultimate Girls Trip], there was an intensity just from being here. It was during the pandemic, so a lot of places weren’t open. I had to really think about doing a lot of the activities here, because we were originally only going to be here for four days and then spend four days somewhere else, but in the Berkshires, a lot of the places either weren’t open or they didn’t have staff. So we ended up extending the stay at the house to eight days, which is good news and bad news for all parties. It’s a long time for people that don’t really know each other well, and, also, let’s just face it, we’re doing a show. We’ve got to make it interesting, make it active, and interact with each other.
I saw a comment on my Instagram. Someone said to me, “She’s a terrible host because she is making them do too many activities.” So I wrote back and said, “You know this is a show, right?” Usually when people come up here, they come up on Friday, have a glass of wine, take a nap, go to the pool. On Saturday, they might go have lunch. They can do whatever. You know what I mean? I always find it hysterical that people can’t separate TV from reality.
The Tudor-style estate serves as a weekend residence for Medley, who lives in New York City.
It does seem like you feel some responsibility for producing the show, in some respects. Could you just say ‘They can come here, but the producers have to do everything,” or is that just not in your nature?
I have one rule when people come up to Blue Stone Manor: The only thing that they have to do is come to the dinner party on Saturday night where people dress up. You have to be in the Blue Room at 7 p.m. for cocktails. Otherwise, I don’t care what you do. With RHONY, Bravo usually comes up on like a Tuesday morning, we film Tuesday, Wednesday, we go back on Thursday. We pretty much just stay in the house, or maybe we’ll do one dinner out.
Ultimate Girls Trip was eight days. We really had to come up with some great ideas. Because I’ve grown up here and my grandparents were here, my great grandparents were here, I know everybody. So I probably did help come up with ideas like the hot air balloon—I know the guy that did that. The prohibition dinner, I just thought would be great because the house was built in the early 20th century. I have my Bluestone Manor Bourbon, and it’s a fun thing to dress up for. The burlesque dancer is a friend of mine, too.
So, yes, I think when you have people in your home and you’re filming, you have to be a bit involved in the production of it, because it just makes for a better show. The end goal for everybody—the production, the cameraperson, the stars—is to have a good show. I could sit back and be like, “Oh, I don’t care. Not my problem,” but who would that benefit?
With RHONY, when you’re filming, you want to give it your all for that three, four months. And then they give the footage back to Bravo or Peacock and let them take what they need from it. I think that if you’re a good reality star, you commit. It’s almost like being an athlete. If you’re an NFL player, when you’re in season, you’re in season. You’re eating it, you’re doing it, you’re beating each other up, you’re recovering from injuries. When you’re in the off season, you’re just not doing any of that. Life keeps moving. I love that intensity, though. I love that kind of thing.
It does seem like it would be exhausting. I don’t even want to hang out with regular friends for eight days straight, let alone have to make a TV show together.
I don’t regret doing that. If I did it again, though, I would have a much better understanding of how to do it. I would probably hand it over a little bit more. But we had a good show and that’s all that counts, right?
What do you want the future of Blue Stone Manor to be? What do you want to be happening in the house in 50 years?
Fifty years from now, I want my great grandchildren to be running around, using my old baking pans and washing my beautiful china and thinking about me, saying, “My great grandmother, she made it nice. She really made it nice.”
Top photo by Zack DeZon/Peacock.
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