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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Old House Blues Part Quatre - Ponce De Leon

Ponce de Leon's unrequited search for the fountain of youth has nothing on Catskill Farms' ability to bring this old lady back to life.

Lisa chose a light green for the body color, and the trim and window and corners and faccia and freize board will be glossy white.

Stately and simple - just how I like it - it's possible some shutters would look super sweet on this home. The distressed 75 yr old standing seam roof will probably remain.

The only thing we didn't change was the bathroom, which we we kept exactly how it was - tin ceiling 6 1/2 feet high, old school wall paper, old bathtub.

We completely reconfigured the house and made a strategic choice to include an oversized mudroom with closet and laundry, as well as plenty of room to kick off the boots and avert the 'why are you in the house with your muddy boots?' query. The reason I say 'strategic' is because the house is small (1300 sq ft) so a big mudroom means a small something else. That's the thing about building small - every square foot is important - there is no wasted space.

This mudroom features the original side entrance door, a new wood ceiling and new wainscotting.

Here's my main man Juan on Saturday checking out the wood in order to get started trimming the windows and doors.

The above photo is also a great shot of the wood floors we are refurbishing - underneath the carpet, and glue, and ancient padding is a wood floor dating back 150 years - a heart pine that not only is perfect in it's character and detail, but a floor that goes for over $14 a sq ft on the salvaged free market.
Photo below is taken standing in the dining room looking towards the kitchen. We installed audio and security before putting up the wall coverings.

This pictorial study of the NorthWest elevation at 7:30am - the leaves are very green, just beginning their march to a fuller, deeper green that will last until it doesn't. For some reason this picture looks antique and romantic to me - a simple farmhouse, well-kept, in the morning sun as the farmer and family start the day's chores that keep everyone fed and housed.

Was on the golf course at Villa Roma outside Jeffersonville yesterday late afternoon and the clouds rolled in, some vertical streaks of lightening, and then the skies opened and a heavy downpour of hail (hale?) and large rain drops swallowed the real estate of western sullivan county in one of those intense, unexpected shows of power the weather goddess likes, as she reminds us who is boss.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cottage 8

It's baby season up here in the country and while cruisin around many and diverse sightings are possible - baby deer, baby turkeys, baby geese, baby ducks and I even saw 2 baby bear cubs and their Momma crossing the road the other day.

The deer are losing their big winter coats, and looking foxy in their form-fitting summer wear. The other week the turkeys were mating (hence why we are seeing babies now I guess) and all the males were buffing their peacock-like plums, looking for a mate.

Cottage 8, our 2nd Mini-House is well under way. This house features about 800 sq ft on the first floor and loft, and the owners hedged their bets by building out the basement with a bedroom, bathroom and large media/cooling-it room.
Another interesting way we approached this house was to build small but splurge on the details that made it perfect - stone all around, cedar shake siding, big back deck, cathedral ceilings. Great value oriented decisions.
Here's a pic from the living room looking up through the loft. There will be 2 sliding barn doors that open up into the loft.

Steps going up to loft made of big timbers and structurally supported by one of our barn beams.

And the Cathedral Ceiling.

This little house has big visions of living easy and large.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008



So there's this blog out there that tracks regional real estate trends and I have been a regular contributer over the last 3 years (I also write lots of letters to the editors of our local rags). Anyway, for a little background this area up here in Sullivan County has a very superficial tendency to exhibit some class resentment among the newbies and the oldies - but it's just that, - superficial. The area is actually pretty open to the people who have newly landed, -straight, gay, banker, artist, musician, teacher, potter, etc.... The diversity of the under-the-radar 2nd homeowners is actually one of main drawing points, in my mind - otherwise, you could go to Oneoata.

Anway, to make a long story short I recommend NOT EVER saying one of the reasons people buy 2nd homes is so they can enjoy life's little moments more, such as seeing their dogs run around without a cage- or worse, that because NYC is expensive some of the surprise that this region is not super cheap is blunted. Well, it quickly went downhill and ended up on a very interesting strand about how 'all New Yorkers are easy suckers for us sophisticated country folk' and that any one who buys a Catskill Farms house is just throwing money away since the value will suredly drop precipitously. My thought is exactly the opposite, of course- that the better informed and educated about the area our customers are, the happier I am since then they are aware of value we are offering.

It wasn't the constant attack and simmering hatred that caught my attention, but rather the mob mentality of the anonymous blog post - people say really stupid things when they don't have to post their name. I guess that's why newspapers insist on full name and addresses. Post after post by people who don't know me - his houses suck, his customers are dumb, his prices are ridiculous, on and on, and in some cases, some even using my name to post blog threads. It reminded me of the one episode of West Wing where Josh starts replying to a fan web site blog and is really surprised at the mean reaction.

I say BigTime Bunk.

It's even better when I get threatened with 'you'll never sell another house again'. If I had a nickel everytime I heard that, well, let's just say Storm would not need to be laying on a worn out hand me down pillow blanket (she's doing well, thanks for asking).

Catskill Farms wakes up, works hard every day, delivers an honest product, and earns its money - the only thing that makes us different is the fact we understand the marketplace, and cater to a very discerning group of people who understand the definition of value - that value is a mix of financial emotion well-being, and you can feel it when you walk in the door.

Scattered all over Sullivan County are failed development projects by big smart money. I can name 8 without even thinking too hard. But here we are, a little simple company with a little simple idea - and we can't build them fast enough. I used to read the newspapers during this economic malaise and worry that it will only be a matter of time before it affects our business - but knock on wood, we have a year's waiting list and are turning people away on a weekly basis - supporting our current pricing as well as our historic prices - ie., very good for our customers.

The question is why - and I think the only explanation is that there was a market demand for a product for many years that no one ever figured out - and when we stumbled on it, and didn't make any big mistakes that put us under, - we inherited a surge of pent-up demand.

When the market was hot, a good company got lost in the crowd because everyone looked good. But now that the market has been pretty dead for 14 months, all those companies that were strolling along, then limping along, then using crutches, finally could not outlast the downturn and are simply gone, gone, gone.

On another note, Over the weekend I went to an Irish Musical Festival in East Durham, NY, just outside Cairo NY. This is in Greene County, which is another 2nd home hotspot.

I bought a new set of Callaways couple of weeks back and have been hitting the links regularly, here teaming up with 3 guys from LI who are married to 3 sisters.

And the cute little 'massage parlor' for some after-golf happy endings.

Friday, May 23, 2008

House We Built

We built this home two years back for a gentleman from Manhattan who deals in Mid-Century antiques. His good friend from France/Italy designed it for him, and we built it.

Concrete floors, 25 ft ceilings, 2 bedrooms, radiant heat, steam shower, and 35 beautiful acres.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

and we don't stop -

And you don't stop,
you keep on eatin' cars
Then, when there's no more cars
You go out at night and eat up bars
where the people meet
Face to face,
dance cheek to cheek
One to one, man to man
Dance toe to toe
Don't move to slow,
'cause the man from Mars
Is through with cars,
he's eatin' bars
Yeah, wall to wall,
door to door,
hall to hall
He's gonna eat 'em all
Rapture, be pure
Take a tour,
through the sewer
Don't strain your brain,
paint a train
You'll be singin' in the rain
I said don't stop, do punk rock

Hello Blondie - a song from when I was about 1o, or more perversely, 28 years ago.

Yes, it's true we work long and hard hours, keeping the show running 7 days a week, 10 hours a day. Sometimes you will even see people working by headlights.

Introducing Fabulous Cottage 8 -

And marvelous Cottage 7

Perfect Affordable Artsy Cool Quality Country Living.

Just as predicted, had to edit the post a few days back poking fun at my customers. Seems not everyone gets my humor - surprise, surprise. Lisa was giving me a few "told you so's" between tending to Storm, tending to the baby to be, and procrastinating the laundry.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You've all heard about 'road rage'...

well, here's a nytimes article about contractors and builders not feeling the love.

Pretty good and funny article, and the related blog posts reveal the extent of the bitterness left by contractors and their minions. My thoughts - both sides have a point to be sure.

"Building Rage"


I thought it was well-timed because you always read about the homeowners and architects, but the builder sometimes actually has to serve as a bridge between the aspirations of the homeowner and architects.


Spring has sprung - in the Catskills that means mornings are 32 degrees, and afternoons are 65. Even in the summer, our evenings cool down melodiously - negating the need for air conditioning and discouraging a lot of pests.

Here is Cottage 5 Maurizio's yard, about 10 days after we planted it. First you 'grade' it, then you rake the rocks out, then you add two teaspoons of top soil, rake it 0ut, sprinkle liberally Delaware Valley grass seed, and cover with hay (which keeps it protected from too much sun and too much wind), let sit 2 weeks, and enjoy. We differ from most country builders by even using top soil - most just rake around the clay like soil they found on site, throw some seed around, and wallah - a rocky, spotty, weed lawn impossible to fix without starting from scratch. This is a great example of how Catskill Farms exceeds expectations - a fine yard process like this is easily $5k, and no where in the contract does it stipulate I will do it. But let's be honest - it's better this way, so we do it.

Maurizio also has already planted some trees -

Sullivan County has lots of little farms and 'at home' suppliers of all the little essentials that makes life sweet - in this case, honey. Which immediately makes me wonder why a few of my customers have never heard the cliche 'you catch more flies with honey....'

And the Sullivan County countryside, in all it's glory.

And Cheri's 1100 sq ft modern abode.

And Cheri's note to us after she settled in (one of full timers) -

I'm so happy to be here.
It's unreal.

I'm not kidding.
I keep telling the dogs we are on vacation.
Norm is like a pig in shit, Scout a bit wary.

When I wake up and go outside
I don't need to smile at anybody if I don't really want to.
Or talk about the weather. Or how I'm doing today.
I don't have to make a mad dash for a hot pile of poop nearly getting hit by a street sweeper sitting on his throne.
I don't have to cover my ears as screaming emergency vehicles go by or be saddened by
firetrucks rolling by with american flags flying.

I can sit on the porch with scout and norm
and listen to a little chirpin' and hummin', whooshin' and cracklin'.
I talk to spiders before I pick them up and gently place them outside (where I think they belong). We differ.
I found a tiny bird dead on the patio in the morning one day...it must have flown into the sliding glass doors in the night.
I buried the little body in the backyard. (respectfully).
And yesterday I uncovered two tiny translucent bright orange baby salamanders under a log.
Awesome. After admiring them, I placed the log back over them, gently.

...not to mention having a washer/dryer. And a fancy stove.
shit. it all just blows my mind.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Builder Magazine Article Link

That's right, we bad.

Nice article capturing our business philosophy in respected trade magazine.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Old House Blues part tres

Ok, we are making some big progress at the old farmhouse - we are insulated and ready to rock (sheetrock that is). The old lady is coming right along, tripped out with some security, whole house audio, higher ceilings, and more windows. The only thing untouched is the bathroom.

I don't know if I mentioned but this house and 50 acres was owned previously by an older lady who spent most of her adult years performing caberet tunes across the world. The big piece of land I bought before this was owned by Mrs. Vaughn, who was over 80 yrs old. I guess the older ladies really dig me.

We reshaped the upstairs pretty drastically - moving walls, raising ceilings, adding closets, etc... In this pic I am standing in the master bedroom and looking into the hall and nursery. Lisa is very concerned our huge king sized bed will not fit in the bedroom - maybe it will, but probably nothing else.

What makes an older house hard to renovate is the unstandard sizing of both timbers, and spaces between the timbers. New construction is about standard sizing - 16" from stud to stud, rafter to rafter - and most materials like insulation, sheetrock, durock, and even trim lumber comes in measurements of 16" - so when every stud and every stud bay is different, each trade most take their time and deal with a fair amount of aggravation to make everything turn out ok.

On this house we did our part, addressing each and every stud with firring strips, blocking, and the like so we have a somewhat flat and even surface. In this picture you can see the light colored wood over top of the dark colored wood - each one of those light colored strips is a different size and width in order to create a workable surface for the finish work. Mind you that there are probably400 studs or more in this house, so it was a bit tedious.

What you are looking at here is polyurethane insulation, a skim coat applied before the standard pink panther insulation is applied. The reason that I chose the added expense of this redundant insulation is because air penetration and heat loss is getting more and more expensive. With a new house, a standard insulation process can be pretty effective, but with an old house with unstandard framing and lots of weird places that are hard to get to, this spray foam takes care of the human error. I think it was a great decision, kind of cool to look at, and not that expensive.

We have designed and built 30+ homes in the past 4 years, and believe it or not, we have not installed air-conditioning once. And since no one is complaining, i don't plan to start. The really hot summer season is super short, and up here in the Catskills, the nights stay chilly, cooling down the houses.
In this house, we added a 'whole house fan' in order to draw the warm air out of the house, and circulate cooler air.

At a flip of a switch, one fan will pull the air out of main house, and the other will push it out the attic. Air circulation can be just as effective as air conditioning.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cottage Living at Cottage 7

Construction continues to move at a breakneck pace at Cottage 7 on Schumacher Pond Rd in Yulan, NY, just outside Barryville, NY. I really like the southern end of Sullivan County - with the big Delaware River separating NY from PA, close to Milford PA, Port Jervis NY, Narrowsburg NY, and Bethel NY.

I think we started building this house in March and here we are already roughed-in with our plumbing, heating, and electric - 'roughed-in' is the industry term for the unsexy but vital work that goes into the walls before you 'close 'em up'.

6 weeks into construction and the insulation is up, wall coverings are up (both wood and sheetrock). Now we finish the sheetrock, which is the beginning of the project slowing down, since a rule of thumb in construction is that the last 25% of the project takes as long as ther first 75% - mostly because it is more detailed oriented, lots of moving pieces and subcontractors coordinating the lighting, kitchens, faucets and heating. Also, in the beginning, lots of different subs can be working together on the site at the same time, while at the end, lots of times it's just one trade at a time. Painters, trim carpenters, floor finishing all take a week or two and most must be in the house alone in order to produce good work.

And, here's Ana and Pablo from Argentina in front of their large beamed fireplace and mantel. The beams, which came from a barn we took down in Bethel NY, are literally 12" x 12" and over 120 yrs old. It's neat to have a piece of history in these new homes. http://www.thecatskillfarms.com/ .

Here's the future kitchen - the wires hanging out of the walls are for the stoves, dishwashers, vents, outlets and what have you. Note the wood plank ceilings that will get painted a shade of white.
And the new staircase, under a run of plank ceilings, leading to the bright dining nook, which leads out to the back deck.

Even though all our customers believe us when I tell them construction will only take 4 months, I think when they see what that means in terms of progress on a week to week basis is shocking.
Happy Mothers Day to our Mothers - Robin in Farm 7, Julia in Barn 1, Emily in the McInnes Cottage not yet built, Christine in Farm 9, Ellen in Farm 6, Nancy in the Old Bayer Rd farmhouse, Dukhui in Farm 5, Angie in Farm 2, Karla in Farm 1, and Leslie in Farm 3.
One other thing before I go hit the links, I don't know how the 'rankings' started appearing at the end of each blog post, and I am trying unsuccessfully to remove them - the last thing I need is any additional critiques - as a home builder to demanding clients, I get enough feedback as it is.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Well, we started this blog about the same time we started our Highland Farms project in Eldred, NY, sometime last October. 5 or 6 months later we have pretty much hit our goals of early spring sales for Mauricio's Cottage 5, Steve and Christine's Farm 9 and David's Cottage 6. Can't say it was all roses - shitty weather, ice storms, war with my ex-excavator Hank Andryshak of HSA Homes and HSA Excavation out of Goshen NY over his corner cutting, attempts at shoddy work and bad attitude, 3 building inspectors, a change in the town supervisor, a meltdown in the credit markets - but we made it. Actually we didn't just make it, we really made it and we hit the spring running with a full plate of excited future customers lined up, good cash flow, and a solid business infrastructure.

And I even had time to take care of a little personal business - Lisa's 5 months pregnant. I've been saying for years there needs to be more Petersheims in this world. Well, I'm doing my part, if a bit belatedly.

I know I've blogged these pics before, but here is sweet Farm 9 and manly Cottage 6 in all their glory.

Tonight I go to the planning board for the first review of my new project just up the road. We hope to open up 7 big new home sites.

Once we get these built we will have built a total of 22 new homes in the Town of Highland New York. That's a lot for this po-dunk town.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Walking Storm

I'll be in big trouble for this blog post because I gave my word to never post pictures of Lisa without her approval.

Old Stormy, who we adopted a few weeks back, is feeling right at home. It's pretty funny because now when anyone comes to visit us we immediately need to pronounce three disclaimers - one, that the big log house we live in and rent is 'not really our style', that 'we aren't really gated community types', and now 'we don't usually chain our dogs up under porches.' It's a lot to communicate to new guests.

Here are some pics of Lisa getting storm ready for a big walk. Lisa has probably taken this dog on more walks over the past 3 weeks than the rest of his life combined (my cat just stepped on my keyboard !!#%$&).

Stormy is quite patient as Lisa figures out the harness. I can predict the trouble I'm in, mostly centered around her outfit - cozy pants, white sneakers, leprachan jacket and Jackie O shades.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Progress and closed for new clients

In a development I never expected, we are ceasing our marketing and saying no to any new clients. With Dean signing up for a new cottage, and Albert signing up for a farmhouse on 10 acres, we now have a 6 house waiting list, not including the 3 houses currently under construction. Accepting any more clients would only result in disappointing current ones, and that is without a doubt a bad business decision. The perfect element to this activity is that some families are ready, willing and able, others want to start in the summer and other want to wait till the fall - so it should work out perfectly.

Considering we are a finely tuned machine at the moment, and have access to more good labor than ever before (thank you slow economy), we are motoring right along.

Here is Cottage 7 with the roof on, windows in, house wrap being installed on the exterior, and the interior is completely framed, plumbed, heating lines run, and plumbing finished. This morning we passed our 'rough-in' inspection with flying colors and now we plan the fireplace and insulation installation. Turning the corner of this home in just 5 weeks.
Cottage 7 will look familiar to some of you since it is inspired by Cottage 1, which in turn was inspired by a little house on Rt 55 between Eldred and Bethel. We like to keep things very unique for our homeowners, but at the same time don't see a problem reusing a great design. As long as all the elements vary, the houses will remain unique to each individual homeowner.

Cottage 1 had a standing seam metal roof and cedar shake, Cottage 7 has 1x10 beveled siding and a black architectural shingles roof. The siding is being painted moonlight white, and a dutch door is decorating the front door. Cottage 7 changed some walls around and moved the dining room to the rear of the house, eliminated the full bath on the first floor and decided to add a bath and a partially finished walkout basement.
People love these cottages. It's a lot of bang for the buck.
Here is Cottage 8, a mini house, with about 800 sq ft of above grade living space broken into a fireplace room, kitchen/dining room, sitting room, a cathedral ceiling, and a closed in sleeping loft. It's a really great use space.
To allow a little extra room, we are completely finishing the basement area, with walk-out doors, lots of windows, a bathroom and a sleeping room. In the end, Rob and Leah took the money they saved by buying smaller, and allocated that budget to stonework, cathedral ceilings, finished basement, etc...

It's going to be a fantastic house. Cozy, perfect and inexpensive to maintain.