Most Hollywood celebrities trade up when it comes to their real estate holdings, acquiring an enormous mansion in L.A., a sweet crib in the Hamptons, or a ski chalet in Aspen.
But for Melissa Gilbert, the famous former child star of the beloved long-running TV series “Little House on the Prairie,” the goal wasn’t a more massive manse when she left behind her million-dollar home in sunny California.
Instead, she bought a property that was much more down-to-earth and modest—even akin to Gilbert’s simple TV home set in Walnut Grove, MN, where she played a fictionalized version of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books.
Gilbert’s petite upstate New York place, which she cutely calls The Cabbage (a mashup of “cabin” and “cottage”), is so far removed from the way most glitterati live today that some might wonder if her manager made off with all of her earnings.
Or was she yearning for the Ingalls family’s simple pioneer life?
All we know is that this little cabin in the woods—which Gilbert shares with her husband, actor Tim Busfield, and their rescue pup Chicago—suits the couple perfectly.
Though the well-known pair also rent an apartment in Manhattan, they’re smitten with this tiny spot set on 14 woodsy acres that features just a single bathroom. (There’s also an outhouse, just like living on the prairie!)
And neither Gilbert nor Busfield were deterred by the massive amount of work involved in transforming this $98,000 property purchased in January 2019 into a comfortable, livable home. Gilbert has even chronicled her back-to-the-land journey in a new memoir, “Back to the Prairie.”
The previous owners of this home in the Catskills had fled without packing, leaving behind a ton of junk. As a result, mold and mildew proliferated in the home, bringing with them a funky odor. And mice were on the prowl all over The Cabbage.
So the couple got their hands dirty, getting rid of all the trash and scrubbing the home clean. Gilbert is no slouch DIYer either—she decoupaged some cabinets with clipped recipes from magazines, built a ceiling fan, and reupholstered both a couch and a love seat.
They’ve made good use of the surrounding land by installing raised garden beds. And Gilbert even tends chickens, another detail that harkens back to her days when she played a prairie girl enjoying the idyllic country life.
Though she hasn’t been spotted wearing a bonnet (yet), Gilbert is also an avid knitter and makes her own throws to warm up the rooms. Ma Ingalls would have been so proud!
The couple wisely held off on doing their plumbing, demolition, and electrical updates. (They called in the pros for these jobs.) They also stuck to a budget as they renovated, making do with upcycled materials such as a piece of corrugated tin in the kitchen and old wood from a bowling alley for some floating shelves.
And instead of late 1800s decor, kitsch and the 1960s is the central design theme, as evidenced by all the tchotchkes lining every surface of The Cabbage. On the whole, the look evokes a cheerful, homey vibe—and it seems to make the couple (and their cute dog) very happy.
But what real estate fans will want to know is how savvy a purchase was this for Gilbert? Will she recoup her investment? Or are we missing the point?
“Melissa Gilbert’s home is modest for her fame, but it also fits right in for the area and lifestyle she’s looking to have,” explains Khari Washington, a real estate agent with 1st United Realty in Riverside, CA.
Updates are definitely in order, notes Washington, including a less dated color on the kitchen cabinets and nicer countertops.
Tony Mariotti, a real estate agent and founder of RubyHome in Los Angeles, agrees.
“Stepping away for a quieter life is awesome—who wouldn’t want to own a rustic cabin in the woods?” he asks.
But he’s also pretty sure when the couple bought the house, it included a long list of much-needed repairs.
“I bet the inspection report was crazy because you can see from the exterior shot that the fascia boards are worn, the roof needs replacing, and the chimney isn’t sealed,” he says.
The bottom line?
“The real value here is the 14 acres of land they now own—because the house could use a full rehab,” says Mariotti.
Perhaps Gilbert’s next step will be to build herself a new homestead, just as Pa Ingalls did.