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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

A Shack to Call Your Own, $190,000

If an old Upstate New York farmhouse seems intimidating in size and price, Upstater has another suggestion. Catskill Farms, a Sullivan County-based builder (actually, a former New Yorker, absconded after 9/11),  creates what he calls “new old houses,” inspired by American vernacular architecture. They come in a variety of sizes and styles and are quite beautiful, full of light and have the appearance of something sturdy and liveable and homey and architecturally simple and just a little sleek. I likes.

But the one that caught my eye was Shack 2, the “single most revolutionary concept in housing to hit the region ever,” goes their humble copywriting. “How’s that for hyperbole?  Hopefully we can sell these for $150k.” Read the rest of this entry

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