Inside Bailey McCarthy’s Dreamy Bellville Farm: Creating a Good Thyme World
Bailey and her husband Pete decided to build a house on their land in Bellville.
As an only child, I’ve spent considerable time anecdotally studying “only child syndrome.” In my research, I’ve found it can go one of two ways. The child thrives and grows up to be independent and self-possessed, or the child survives and grows up vowing to never be alone again.
I fall into the latter group. As Ariel sings in The Little Mermaid, I want to be where the people are! And for that reason, I have become a prolific gatherer of people. I might go so far as to call myself a professional at it, because throughout the various businesses I have started in my career, what I really do is set the stage and bring people together to create memorable experiences.
There’s no place I do that better than our farm. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I should share a bit more on how we got here.
My husband, Pete, and I met in college and were engaged shortly after. We moved to Chicago (Pete’s hometown) for his law school, where my desire for community led me to blogs (surrounding myself with people virtually), and I began writing Peppermint Bliss. The tagline was “Follow Your Bliss … What’s Yours?” I wrote about my interest in food, design and entertaining, as well as my efforts to decide what exactly I wanted to do with my life.
Eventually we followed our bliss back to Houston with our 1-year-old daughter, Grace, in tow. I opened my store Biscuit, selling the bedding line I’d started in October 2012. As busy as I was with Biscuit and my interior design clients, I wasn’t about to make Grace an only child, and we welcomed our son, Harry, in January 2014. Later that year, after a string of back-to-back health scares and personal tragedies, Pete and I were starting to feel the strain.
We had spent five years straight up chasing our bliss around the country. I was beyond burned out and wanted more quality time with my people. What I probably needed was to sit and regroup. Instead, I decided to build a farm about it.
It didn’t take us long to find the place: a property in Bellville that had all of the usual trappings of a farm, like the brand-new barn we inherited from the previous owners, and also some more curious features, such as the likewise brand-new two-story air-conditioned four-car garage that dwarfed the adjacent 100-year-old farmhouse. Also. . . there was no farm. Just 80-something acres of unkempt land where a neighbor grazed his cattle.
Undeterred, we began work on the 1900s farmhouse. We added two bedrooms (gotta have room for all my people!) and an additional bath by converting the front parlor and a large sitting room. Once the house was completed, we set about tending to the farm part of the vision. We bought a fancy Victorian Lodge Greenhouse from Hartley Botanic and placed it on a two-acre swath of land that we then learned was entirely inhospitable, comprised of nutrient-deficient sandy loam soil. Not a great start, but, as always, we turned to our people.
Pete had begun development on our Houston hospitality concepts. We were introduced to master sommelier June Rodil and chef Felipe Riccio through friends and partnered with them to start Goodnight Hospitality. Felipe was completing a stage (or internship) with the famed Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York and connected us to a network of farmers who helped us nurture and revitalize the land. We hired a caretaker and a full-time farmer, and together we began to cultivate the full potential of the farm.
Working on the restaurants had inspired Pete and me to expand our vision for what we have now officially named Goodthyme Farm. We bought land across the street and hired landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand to help us create a 10-year plan for the property, which we hope will eventually include event and arts spaces, and a restaurant site that will be open to the public.
At the heart of it all is farmer Jack Jones, who oversees our commercial-scale farm, focusing on development and education in sustainable farming practices. The eight “hoop houses” — large greenhouses that were completed last year — provide produce for our restaurants, and we will begin selling our produce at The Urban Harvest farmers market in Houston this summer, and a processing barn surrounded by Mediterranean tiered gardens will be finished in the fall.
So the stage was set, and the people were coming together. The people also needed more space to hang out or stay overnight, so I hired Houston designer Mary Groves to help me refresh the original cottage that we planned to turn into a guest house. For the new larger primary farm house, we hired two of my design idols, Curtis & Windham Architects in Houston and Miles Redd with Redd Kaihoi in New York City.
We had worked with Bill Curtis on our house in Houston and adored him and I was a devoted Miles Redd fan for years — working with him and his business partner David Kaihoi was a dream.
The new house was completed in June 2018, and we immediately put it to the test, hosting 22 adults and 19 children — all under the age of 8 — for Labor Day. Every bed in both houses, plus Trailer Swift (the vintage Spartan trailer we rehabbed and installed on one side of the lawn), was full. We swam, we played, we cooked, we lit fireworks — we lit it all up!
As Miles Redd said about the experience of working with us: “Bailey and Pete are like a live-action Wes Anderson film, and we wanted a certain cinematic mise en scène that is essential to any retreat. But, at the end of the day, it is simply a backdrop. It really boils down to how someone lives in a house. Pete and Bailey should give a master class in this dying art.”
I don’t know that anyone needs to be taking lessons from Pete and me on anything, but we do know how to really live in a house. Part of that is because I need to have my people, and people are messy. If something gets stained, I consider it another layer of patina. After all, antique collectors will tell you that provenance is imperative — and what could be more valuable than to imbue our surroundings with the markings of our own happy history?
I’m all about keeping it fancy, not formal. I think this perspective is one of the reasons friends feel comfortable staying with us, which in turn means we frequently get to enjoy a house full of friends.
When quarantine began, Pete and I moved our family out to the farm. Before that, the longest we had spent at any one time was four nights. Last year, we lived there for six months, and it was the first time we were almost entirely by ourselves, without our usual merry band of friends around. There was nothing to do other than the kind of sitting and reflecting I had specifically built the farm to avoid.
And in the quiet, I realized something: My children are growing up surrounded by people from all walks of life — farmers, chefs, designers, and doctors — who are all teaching them many beautiful and different ways to be. They are being raised with friends who are like family, and by parents who have hopefully taught them two lessons.
1). Sometimes you have to literally move the earth to set the stage for whoever you want to be or whatever you dream of creating.
2). If you keep trying, you can turn hard times into a Goodthyme, and then you get to watch it grow.
“I’ve been the biggest Miles Redd fan forever,” Bailey McCarthy says of the New York designer known for creating joyous interiors packed with color and pattern. So, in 2016, when she and husband Pete decided to build a house on their land in Bellville — charmingly named Goodthyme Farm — Bailey naturally reached out to Redd and design partner David Kaihoi. “I already loved Miles’ chic city spaces and proper East Coast estates he has so rightly been celebrated for,” she says.
“At his core, Miles is a Southern gentleman from Atlanta, and I knew he was the perfect person to interpret a Texas country house in a fabulous fresh way.” For the architecture, the McCarthys enlisted William Curtis of Curtis & Windham Architects, who had previously designed their house in Houston. Coincidentally, Redd and Curtis are longtime friends.
Although their design styles are polar opposites — Redd’s interiors are exuberant; Curtis’ architecture is restrained — it all came together like magic. The farmhouse’s elegant Greek Revival-inspired architecture has such regionally familiar touches as a sloping metal roof, covered porches and traditional center-hall planning that references historical Texas dogtrot houses.
For Curtis, it was all about keeping things simple. “We focused on detailing the interior architecture so that it complemented the house and provided a simple backdrop for the strength we knew Miles and David would provide,” he says.
The McCarthys have two young kids, so they asked Redd to make sure the interiors were casual and durable. “We walk through the house with muddy feet and wet swimsuits, so we didn’t want anything precious,” Bailey says. On the other hand, she also wanted the interiors to have the quirkiness of a Wes Anderson film — and Redd was only too happy to oblige.
“Wes Anderson is about charm and surprise,” he says. The tented bar in the living room, the painted floors in the breakfast room and kitchen, and the enormous screen porch give the interiors an unexpected and fun vibe. Rooms brim with old Oriental carpets, chintz upholstery and floral wallpapers, including hand-painted de Gournay panels in the living room.
“The powder room is an homage to the wild, wild West,” Redd says, with walls covered in vintage photos of cowboys, native Americans and horses. “And the guest bedroom is decorated with arrowheads collected by Pete’s parents. This feels very Texas, but in the manner of great retreats — comfortable, rejuvenating and captivating.” Rebecca Sherman
Step 1: Generously grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13 Pyrex or baking dish, and evenly distribute the torn-up bits of day-old bread at the bottom.
Step 2: Layer the breakfast sausage and shredded cheese evenly on top of the bread.
Step 3: In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and mustard until all yolks have been broken and you have a smooth consistent mixture.
Step 4: Pour your egg mixture evenly over the baking
dish, cover, and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight.
Step 5: In the morning, remove the baking dish from the fridge and leave it on the counter to rest while you preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Bake your casserole for 30 minutes with a loose tented cover, then remove and cook uncovered for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. You don’t want it to be runny, but you don’t want to dry it out, either. Check the center with a fork to be sure. Remove from the oven, cut into squares and serve warm.
Bonus: Sometimes, if I’m feeling fancy, I add a sprinkle of cayenne to the egg mixture and a layer of caramelized onions on top of the breakfast sausage before topping with cheese.
Let people help. No one wants to hang around like a vestigial organ. Giving guests specific jobs ahead of time puts everyone at ease — bonus points if that job aligns with their particular skills or interests. For instance, ask friends who bake to bring dessert. Tell vegan friends to please pick up a bag of ice from the Sonic in town.
Make it festive. I joke that my love language is “Overdoing things no one asked me to do,” so this comes naturally to me. But just in case anyone reading does not feel the constant need to prove their worth, let me tell you: People appreciate a sense of occasion.
It doesn’t have to be anything big or over the top — though if I’m in charge, then you can count on it — but the right special touch can make the memory.
Learn your party trick. Mine is cocktails, and I have found a well-made cocktail is pretty much everyone’s love language. My most requested is a margarita, which I make with 3 ounces of tequila, and then 1 ounce each of Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and fresh grapefruit juice. Shake well and serve over ice in a glass rimmed in a chili powder/salt mix.