Rhee Gold’s vision of a home away from home for dance teachers
By Karen White
When Rhee Gold brought a real estate agent friend to see the future home of the DanceLife Retreat Center—a log-and-stone residence nestled in five acres of New England woodland beside a meandering river—her reaction was memorable. “Boy, you have good vision,” she told Gold. “This is an absolute disaster.”
“I do have good vision,” he said one day in July as he watched a crew tear up underbrush and tear down walls, the first steps in a massive makeover of this neglected former estate into his home with a retreat center, his longtime dream. “I can see it in my mind. I can make this work.”
Gold hopes to retain as much as possible of the rural property’s distinctive touches, such as its high ceiling beams and stonework. The goal is to create peaceful, comfortable spaces where dance teachers and studio owners will feel free to relax and socialize.
Instead of a gigantic haystack of lumber scraps, bits of walls and floors, and the roof that collapsed into the enclosed pool, he sees a beautifully landscaped courtyard where dance teachers can relax and get to know each other. The barely navigable trail through wild brush and knee-high weeds will, he says, become a smooth strolling path down to a small river.
At the main cabin itself, once a full 5,000 square feet but now ripped down to its bones and shorn of several rooms, Gold envisions a 6,500-square-foot home with a meeting/studio space. Inside the still-standing heart of the cabin will be a full kitchen leading into a great room with soaring, beamed ceilings and massive stone fireplaces, all freshly decorated with a rustic flair.
More walls will be removed and rebuilt to create a 26-foot-by-56-foot dance/meeting space. But the retreat center isn’t so much about teaching dance as it is about treating dance teachers, business managers, and studio owners to Gold’s own brand of studio-centered business advice crossed with motivation, encouragement, and fun.
“When I first started Project Motivate, there were only about 20 people in attendance. People loved the interaction and the personal atmosphere,” he says of his original seminar founded in 1998. “I do love the DanceLife Teacher Conference, and I’m flabbergasted at what it has become. But one reason I want to do this is because I like to have that personal closeness with the attendees, to not only ask them what’s on their mind but have them communicate with the other teachers.”
Even as the DLTC grew into a 700-plus-person event with multiple classes, prestigious master teachers, and keynote speakers, Gold was seriously thinking of moving back toward his Project Motivate roots. His first idea was to purchase one of the old-fashioned camp properties that dot Cape Cod, enclaves of tiny cabins clustered around a main house. Yet every time he became interested in such a property, he says, a developer would move in and snatch it up.Last winter, Gold and his brother Tony were driving through the snowy backwoods of Norton, Massachusetts, when they spied a “for sale” sign on a vacant property and stopped for a peek. They had happened upon the old Balfour estate, which had been a working farm and the home of Lloyd G. and Mildred Balfour, owners of the Balfour Company, a jewelry company established in neighboring Attleboro in 1913 and known for its high-quality class rings.
After the Balfours died, the land, main residence, and several outbuildings passed to distant relatives who rented the property to Wheaton College for use as dormitories, Gold says. A developer bought it, sold off the windows and doors, and then abandoned the place.In a small cabin off to the side, once a home for employees who maintained the property, Gold gestures to beams and floorboards ripped up from elsewhere. He plans on using as much of the property’s original material, such as trim, railings, and ceiling beams, as he can in the reconstruction. He hopes the picturesque stone fences that wind through the yard and the old stonework that stretches across an entire wall of the great room can be repaired. “There is real value here already,” he says, “and I’m hanging on to as much of it as I can.”
Thick foliage that has eaten up the old driveway and can even be seen spouting out of a chimney, will be beaten back. Construction, which started mid-June, should be finished by April 2012, just in time for spring landscaping.
“I’m investing everything I ever owned in the whole world in this. I go to bed at night and say, ‘What am I doing?’ Then I go to bed some nights and say, ‘This is great.’ ”
“I feel very, very lucky,” says Gold, who, after years of searching all over for a property, found just what he wanted literally just across the woods from where he has lived in Norton for 18 years. “I’ve thought about this forever, and now I’m taking the plunge. It just seems like the right time.
“I come over here once a day and look at all this. Then I go home and work as hard as I can.”