Category Archives: Illustrious Upstaters

Illustrious Upstater: Actor Mark Ruffalo is a Sullivan County Resident and Anti-Fracking Activist

I’ve loved Mark Ruffalo since he sexed-up Michelle Pfeiffer in In the Cut. Here’s further proof I know how to pick ’em: Mark is not only a full-time Upstater, according to this new New York Times’ piece, he’s also become an anti-fracking activist in his adopted hometown of Callicoon. That rhymes with swoon.

An Interview with Catskill Farms’ Charles Petersheim

Cottage 28, a 2-bedroom, 1,276-square-foot home, designed and built by Catskill Farms.

Upon first glance, you can’t tell that Catksill Farms‘ Victorians, cottages and farmhouses were built sometime in the last few years. They have all the loving detail of vintage homes but with a nifty twist: they’re new, and not necessarily prone to the same problems that invariably plague old homes, the dry rot and mildew and whatnot. And they’re affordable-ish, too, with prices generally ranging from $160,000 to $420,000. The founder, Chuck Petersheim, started his work in Sullivan County after absconding from NYC post-9/11, and interestingly enough, despite the stagnant home economy up here, Catskill Farms has thrived and expanded; they’ve now ventured into Ulster County.

We asked Chuck about the secret to his success, his unusual business model, and why old house hunters might want to alter their tack and go for his retro models instead.

So, first: Chuck, could you relate the tale of how you left downstate for upstate — why there, among all the places you could flee to?

I left New York City over ten years ago after September 11th, 2001. Work began to disappear as the economy began to fail and around the same time the lease on my apartment was up.  I decided I wanted something different so I packed up and headed north. I settled in Sullivan County though not intentionally; it was a complete collision between random luck and affordability, which Sullivan County still offers.

I received my first job fixing up barns on the property of Alexis Rockman, a New York-based fine artist and moved into an abandoned 400-square-foot shack.  I began fixing up my own home and came up with the idea of creating ‘getaway’ homes for young New Yorkers. Now 10 years later Catskill Farms has built over 90 homes.

What drew you to Sullivan County as opposed to some of the posher spots?

Posher spots were much more expensive, and having little money to get started, Sullivan County offered a chance to relocate, buy a home, start a business.

Your decision to create homes based on traditional architectural styles is an interesting one — there are so many old Victorian farmhouses, Greek revivals, etc on the market.Why did you take this tack, of reinventing the traditional?

There aren’t a lot of grand old houses in the area, and those that are in the area have many negatives such as being right on the road, low ceilings or something else that is just a non-starter for our clients.

We saw  the dream of a weekend getaway get lost in the stress of owning, caring for and/or restoring an old home.  With many of the people buying upstate being first time home owners (renting in the city), buying a home that needs work while not living there full-time is a real challenge – and I saw the opportunity to provide a ‘house that works’ that accurately and intimately parallels the emotional and architectural feedback that an old house provides.

Do the houses have any notable 21st features? Anything green? Could you tweak one to be passive solar if a customer wanted? Read the rest of this entry

Illustrious Upstater: Fashion Designer and Friend to the Fabulous Vicky Tiel

I wouldn’t have pegged Vicky Tiel—long-time designer of cleavage-enhancing dresses worn by the likes of Halle Berry, Megan Fox, and most famously, Liz Taylor in her prime—as the Upstate cabin type. She used to party with Dick & Liz, plies her dresses in Paris, and admits to affairs with Paul Newman and Warren Beatty. She seems too fabulous by half for the sleepy charms of Greene County, but as I discovered in this morning’s Sunday Styles, that’s where she has her weekend home.

Check out the article for a great photo of Vicky in one her gowns posing in front of her log cabin. Her new book It’s All About the Dress, which details, among other things, how Woody Allen won a night a night in bed with her at a wrap party contest and what to wear when you’re “giving your man a foot massage,” sounds like a wonderfully retro hoot.


Fleishers, Beloved Upstate Butcher, coming to Park Slope

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating a Fleishers’ sausage but aren’t lucky enough to live within a close drive of Kingston, you’ll relish this development: celebrated Upstate butchers Josh and Jessica Applestone will be opening up a shop in Park Slope, at 192 Fifth Avenue, to be precise, across from Bierkraft. They plan to offer their usual range of locally sourced meats, while “beefing up” their frozen and ready-to-serve offerings. Think shepherd’s pie and rotisserie chicken.

It’s an interesting business move, from a shop that has an interesting business model. While being physically based Upstate for years and having a strong local clientele, the Applestones have managed to gain significant name recognition among city folks and city diners. The meat is sourced only from farms with 50 miles of their Kingston storefront and then sold to locals via the meat counter as well as to a wide range of top-tier New York City restaurants.  (They also delivery to NYC customers on Thursdays, for those of you organized enough to plan your weekly meat consumption in advance.)

The Upstate sourcing and Gramercy Tavern stamp of approval give Fleishers’ products locavore and haute dining street cred, while surely enriching the bottom line. Let us know if you think of other Upstate businesses they have managed to live the dream north of the city and then expand down to the masses.

Upstate NY Edible Sculpture Party, July 23

If you have not yet eaten a bust of Kim Jong-Il made out of ham, then you haven’t really lived. Or at least you haven’t lived upstate. Or at least you haven’t lived upstate with my brother, who started this little party about five years ago with his wife, friends, family and fellow artist pals. It’s now grown big enough to warrant its own write-up in Travel+Leisure and a new home at the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies.

Past entries include a shit-shaped sushi roll, a severed leg made of meatloaf, a folk art mask crafted of tootsie rolls and Christopher Hitchens’ head made of spam (not exactly edible, but close). My last entry was marshmallows in the shape of the Shmoo. I’m not sure I can top the earthship I made out of chocolate donuts the first year, but I’ll try. You don’t need to make anything–just show up, gawk and eat, and meet some nice folks on the east side of the river. Photos of past entries here, as well as on the jump, and a video on the jump, too.

If that’s not enough upstate culture for you, check out my bro’s latest show, The Upstate NY Olympics.
Read the rest of this entry

Chef and Author Jonathan Dixon on Life in Saugerties

"If Denis Johnson had written A Prairie Home Companion, it would probably be pretty close to how I see Saugerties"

Many of Brooklyn’s creative class repair to the hills for more time to write. For Jonathan Dixon, the move had a culinary bent. He and his girlfriend, the writer Nelly Reifler, kept a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn but decided to spend much of their time in Saugerties, up and over the river from the renowned Culinary Institute of America. Rather than relaxed, Dixon’s new life was busy as he trained as a chef there, his plan to supplement his writing income. Lo and behold, the two worlds merged in the form of a memoir–Beaten, Seared and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America.

We asked Dixon about the pros and cons of Saugerties (“the eccentrics who might have been too edgy for Woodstock settled down the road in Saugerties”); splitting life and time between upstate and down; and a review of the upstate culinary scene–can you really get good pizza due north of The Bronx? His answers are below. Let us all hope we somehow end up at his place for dinner some night!

What prompted you to move upstate, and why Saugerties?

Nelly had been fantasizing about moving upstate for a really long time and then I got into cooking school. The stars just seemed to completely align and we went for it. We wound up in Saugerties pretty much because of Bob Dylan. A while before we moved, we’d been up in Rhinebeck visiting Nelly’s parents. I knew that Big Pink, the house where Dylan and the Band recorded the Basement Tapes was nearby and I wanted to see it. To get there we had to drive through Saugerties and we just immediately liked it.

Give us a review of Saugerties, for those interested in possibly renting or buying there: the pros, the cons, the unexpected drags and delights.

Saugerties is right next to Woodstock and has the same concentration of eccentrics. But the vibe I always feel humming around me is that the eccentrics who might have been too edgy for Woodstock settled down the road in Saugerties. So there’s a working class element to the town, a post-hippie element, an increasing NYC expat element, all set in the midst of some unbelievably gorgeous scenery. If Denis Johnson had written A Prairie Home Companion, it would probably be pretty close to how I see Saugerties. One of my favorite parts of it all is the large number of family-owned businesses, and you get to know those families in the course of shopping and errand-running. You wind up feeling a very personal connection to town that way.

As for the ups and downs: Read the rest of this entry

“The Catskills Is the New Williamsburg,” or So Says Half of They Might Be Giants

I know some of you take umbrage when we compare Upstate towns to NYC neighborhoods, but I’d be a sorry excuse of an Upstate real estate blogger if ignored this one. In an interview with Gothamist, They Might Be Giants co-founder and Catskiller John Flansburgh sang the praises of Upstate living, declaring, “The Catskills is the New Williamsburg.”

Such comparisons clearly have their limitations and can seem parochial to boot, but they’re helpful when you’re explaining Upstate locations to New York City folks who might not know a Phoenicia from a Saugerties—and particularly when you’re trying to address how expensive or discovered an Upstate town might be. (For example, I’m definitely priced out of Rhinebeck, a town I love but I’d probably find a little too polished and touristed for day-to-day living, just like I’d never want to live in, or be able to afford, the West Village. Yet there are surely tons people for whom anything less than the shops, services and reputation of Rhinebeck wouldn’t appeal.)

The price and accessibility question is in fact exactly why the Catskills Read the rest of this entry

Straw bale architect-magician (and Delaware County resident) Clark Sanders

Just click on the Times' article for even prettier straw-bale porn.

I’ve been fighting the urge all day to post the photos of Upstate resident Clark Sanders’ gorgeous straw bale houses, featured in the New York Times’ today. I’m going to be a good girl and not commit copyright infringement, but trust me, the photos from Sanders’ website I’ve posted above don’t do his work justice.

Yes, his houses are made from straw bales, the stuff you see in barnyards. It’s locally-sourced straw to boot, and these homes (at least according to Penelope Green) are cool in the summer, snug in the winter and even”inexpensive” to make, though the article doesn’t give any figures. And don’t worry, they’re not itchy: the bale is then tucked into a frame and coated in plaster. The real selling point, though, is they’re really, really pretty: swirly magical medieval village pretty, but without the poor lighting and the outdoor privy.

Oh, and Sanders lives in East Meredith, NY in Delaware County, in the northwest corner of the Catskills, where he built eleven of these beauties for his neighbors. I don’t know East Meredith—let us know if you do—but Penelope describes it as “rural, arts-focused community in the northern Catskills, a part-time home to many in Manhattan’s creative classes.” Sanders doesn’t have a computer, so he’ll probably never see this love letter, but if anyone ever makes it up to his magical village, please tell him I love his homes.

Peter Nadin’s Cornwallville-Grown Art

Peter Nadin, Cornwallville resident

The second I saw artist Peter Nadin’s photo in today’s New York Times Magazine, I guessed that lush background had to be the Catskills. I can’t quite say why—there’s a lot of places that look basically the same—but there was something about that particular shade of green that just seemed right and familiar, like home.

Randy Kennedy profiles Nadin, a celebrated painter and former Soho art world insider who left it all twenty years ago to farm in Upstate New York (Cornwallville again!).  Nadin continued to make art, though, and he now uses materials directly from his land—cured ham, beeswax, honey. His work is currently on display in a very big way at Gavin Brown.

Nadin seeks to collapse the distinction between the experience of his art, its materials, and the very specific place it comes from, saying, “If you eat ham from one of my pigs or honey from my bees, then you’re ingesting the landscape here itself–it’s not an objectification of it.” Such interest in lived experience and messy biology are big trends in the art world, but Nadin comes across as sincere, with his stripes well-earned. Not incidentally, the profile is beautifully written. Here’s a favorite line:

“Watching a small, diverse farm over a couple of months beginning in early spring is like watching the machinations of a Chekhov play. The cast included 160 mostly wooded acres; a few dozen chickens and handful of ducks with the run of the farmyard; six Kashmir goats, plus an extra goat named Ham who preferred to commune with the humans …”

Another Fabulous Upstater: Susan Orlean

I love Susan Orlean so much I can’t even be jealous of her bucolic-literati lifestyle. She seems so above trendiness that reading about her Columbia County home in the New York Times made me even prouder to be a part-time Upstater. I get the sense that she’s not a follower of fashion, just a person of good taste.

The article is in promotion of Orlean’s new book, “Animalish,” which is a fine excuse for all of us to salivate over her petting zoo. Her 55 acre property is home to “one dog, three cats, eight chickens, four turkeys, six guinea fowl, one fish and two snow-white ducks.”

If you had the space, what sort of farm animals would you adopt?

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