Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Albert and his Mountaintop Farm and Music Studio

I'm down in Fair Hope Alabama, cooling it on the Mobile Bay, at the Grand Resort, visiting Lisa's good friends who moved down here a few yrs ago from Richmond Virginia. I'm sitting here on a computer that is charging me .25 cents a minute, so I'm really hustling through various posts - but, lordie lord, I haven't posted in over a week and know by now my readership must be parched from the inactivity.

Well, over the years a few actors, publishers, writers and musicians have bought homes from us and just recently we finished up a house for Albert Hammond, Jr, the guitarist for the Strokes.

Here he is with his wingman Gus, as they walk from the house to the studio where they are busy unpacking. Like true musicians, the house is empty, and the studio was tackled first.

The studio from afar.

What was.....

and what was about to be....









I know a lot of people think I'm just a big dickhead steam rolling all in my way - but, in reality, however true that may be, the aspiration of all the brawling and sharp elbows is to enable dreams like a mountain top studio in the woods to become reality, - on budget, on time, and refreshingly unique.
Anyone who has tried to do anything up here in the sticks knows the challenges in the way of timeliness and quality. It don't come easy - and it's not a process that wins a lot of friends.
Oh well, guess I'll have to learn to live with the ramifications of taking my promises seriously. Probably would be more likable if excuses would be more readily accepted.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Toilet Art

This pic was really just to show Erin of the 50's Ranch a few toilets we had in mind for her swanky bathroom, but ended up creating a neat little piece of photograpy.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Springtime

Winter's hard, and winter is even harder when building is your past-time, since cold, ice, freezing, snow, winds and short days do everything to defeat even the most hardy and energetic.



Here's Lucas, working on his eating. Soon he will be helping me boss around my subcontractors - I can already hear it, "Don't make me get my Dad!" - sending fear through all that hear it (at least in my imaginings.)

And Cottage 21, which is taking shape nicely. 1300 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, and the last house we have left for sale.



The foam spray insulation we love so much and are trying to incorporate into every home. The building process does not make huge strides forward for the most part, but this insulation is a true advance, and, while pricy, definitely has its merits.


And the Mid-Century Retro Ranch, under the clear blue sky. Keeps getting better with every new detail completed. Within a week we will be painting, within a month this house will be nearly complete. A glorious 950 sq ft.


On the inside we used the exterior siding, stained Tuscon Gold. Really makes the house interesting from many different design vantages. That's Erin - checkin' it out - pretty amazed it will be hers in a few weeks.



The house and views.

And her steel cable railing on the back deck with the big views.


And the Plumber Rich, who is installing the gas boiler this week.

And his helpmate in the basement -



Here's Pete Kestler back in the game - well drilling is his name. "Water when you want it" his logo says. So his big rig is all set up to drill straight down into the earth looking and sounding for water. We hit it after 380 feet - and a pretty good flow at that.

What I like about this picture is how it demonstrates the size of the home - not very big. Which is exactly the way we like it. Cottage 18 rolling right along. 960 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, stream and 5+ acres.

That's Pete and Steve, the well drillers. Pete, the owner, builds his own airplanes and flies them around the area.
Well, that's that. I'm feeling a lot of writer's block ever since Lisa cut off my nightly cocktail, hence my irregular posting. Or maybe I'm just recovering from a long winter that required all our attention every morning noon and night.
Hello Springtime.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Feedback from Julia who plays the piano

Julia and Marty bought the Rock House, where Lisa and I lived for 4+ years. 650 sq ft, 1 room, 4.5 acres. Here's a plug for them, and her husband's book.



"It's Julia here from the Rock House. That is slammin' that you got that new award. Congrats! AND that you are selling all of those killer little houses. I love the new little red house. Am dying of jealousy that that is not my house, EXCEPT of course, for the consolation that I have the original Rock House, that started the whole thing, and posesses the Rock House Magic. Still, that little red house is something cool. Also really dig the little white house with the red door. Did anyone buy that one yet? And the new yellow ranch house is AMAZING, of course my all time favorite is that modern number that sold last year. The one that seemed like it was in the middle of a forest. That one was unbelievable. You are on a roll, my friend, and it is great to see someone doing well during this weird time.

Marty and I are both employed, thank God, and I am quitting my job on Saturday, hooray! He has a hilarious book that came out last year. You can still get it on Amazon.com, and it was a big hit in Germany. (Thanks Krauts!). It's called "Asshole" by Martin Kihn, and it's really funny. Marty wrote it the summer we were at the Rock House. It's about a guy who thinks he's too nice and tries to be a jerk to get ahead. I just thought I'd mention it as you are also a writer.

We didn't come out to the Rock House hardly at all this year, cause I had to work weekends, but that is changing! We plan to be there a lot in the spring and summer. Hooray! Anyway, since we didn't get out to Sullivan County hardly at all, the way I get my fix is to go to your blog, look at the new houses. Glad to see your beautiful homes are doing great, I'm not surprised at all. Hopefully we'll run into you this summer. Best to Lisa and the baby pictures look great.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Award Winning Homes - 43 New Old Houses Designed, Built & Sold

We've been honored by the local community with awards and plaques for a few of our homes, we have had thousands of people write to us with compliments and questions, our local newspapers have showed great kindness by covering our progress over the past few years, and mostly, our homeowners honor us over and over by buying our homes - even more so in this climate where the decision to spend money does not come without real consideration.

But, I got to say - to be awarded the designer and builder of the Hudson Valley's best home under 2500 sq ft. is an honor we won't forget soon. Here's the link the Times Herald Record included in their business section -

http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090304/BIZ/903040336

The thing is, like I said before, the Hudson Valley Builders Association is an association that covers all of Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster, Putnam, Greene, Columbia, etc..., well, you get the picture. The fact that this large organization, possibly the largest in upstate NY, plucked an 810 sq ft, 1 bedroom cottage from Yulan NY, says something really real about the introspection happening all across the design and construction landscape. This award to a small home is almost like a pennance for the years of over-building, bigger is better - a nod to a new way where need and want aren't not so divergent and distant aspirations.

Being a bit media jaded after seeing all sorts of PR triumphs over reality over the past few years (remember "Welcome to the Sullivan Riveria" front page back in 2006), Catskill Farms stood through earnestness of effort. To be honest, it's embarrasing to be a champion of 'earnestness' when snarkiness and sarcasm is more easily applauded, but what can you do when that is the core of your character, like it or not? Remember, we are a martini into this.

A real funny customer wrote me a note the other day about a few things that needed to be taken care of around their house and they think the mentioning of the 'cinnamin coated frosted pop tarts' will push them to the top of our 'to do list'. How right they are!!!

For some reason, I've changed, and I have never in my life been a "!" person, never relying on the exclamation point to get a point across but lately I can't write a note, email, reprimand, thank you or observation without using the damn "!". I can't figure it out - either I've gotten lazy and now only cursing and exclamation can get my point across, or else my point is so newly urgent that I can no longer rely on happenstance and chance, two old and reliable friends.

OK, so I am one Martini into this post, and Lisa my wife and Amy her friend are in the kitchen whipping up dinner.

A rising tide floats more boats, and at the same time you really see who is swimming naked when the tide goes out. Listen, there is no one who has failed to reach the heights of our goals more often than we, but probably just as true is no one has set those sights more unrealistically high.

Regardless of the dire world situation and that the whole world is ending and happy days will never be here again and we should all prepare for the 'end of days', we had a banner year and built some tremendously awesome house (I can't write the word 'awesome' without thinking about my morally doubtful highschool cheerleading outfit - "AWESOME ' - spelling it out with high kicks and loud cheers.

So, everyone is surprised that an economy expanded over the last decade through artificially loose credit will snap back eventually into a reasonable shape. Oh well, live and learn.

Here are our 2008 and 2009 houses. I am a big fan of year end retrospectives with great music and perfect edits, but all I can offer is a quick snapshot.


Cottage 6 - Sold to David, entertainment.

Farmhouse 9, sold to Christine, writer.


Cottage 7, sold to Pablo the shipping magnate and Ana the banker.

Cottage 8, the award winner, sold to Leah and Rob, clothing and style designers.

Cottage 15, sold to Gayle, hedge fund sweat shop indentured servant.

Cottage 9, purchased by Nick, the IBM researcher.

Cottage 14, with new owners Jeanne and Deb, with unnamed but impressive philantrophic and investment CVs.

Cottage 13, the new home of Dean, creative director of unnamed retailer.

And Farm 10 - with Albert the musician and Agyness his partner, calling this hilltop adobe their home away from home, their respite from the urban machine.

Well, there you have it - our Tour de Eldred, our madame butterfly, our 'Yes We Can.'

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Micro-Economics - Another House Sold

Say good bye to beautiful Farm 10. The game was on after Albert and I hiked up a big hill to a home site not yet located, and sat in the woods and heard the sounds of what happens when we were not around, the same sounds as yesterday, the day before, the year before and the century before.


8 months later it's his to have and to hold.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

AbraCadabra - 2 more contracts signed

As you all know, it's not all cherries and roses out there at the moment. I mean, I've been a bit disingenius with my downplaying of all the economic troubles but the truth remains, like it or not, if I didn't read the papers, watch television or talk to anyone, I would have no idea we were in a depression (although after months of comparing the current scenario to the depression), most newspapers admited last week the accelerating downturn best resembles the resetting of 1982, not 1932 - but hey, let's not split hairs - hyperbole is what sells, so let's not ruin the party. It's so fun being taciturn and negative.

I mean, again, not to split hairs, doesn't a 7% unemployment rate mean that most people still have jobs? And sure there are some salary freezes and stuff like that, but nothing has changed for most people except their attitude - bravado and confidence is now fear and pessimism.

As far as I'm concerned, even more reason to buy one of our perfect little houses - at least you can be scared without anyone knowing it, on your own private 5 acres, with the coyotes yelping, the possums scavenging through last night's dinner - in fact, that's what makes country life great to the newbie - there are so many new things to be scared about the economy and the 'end of days' seem like just far off guesswork. A possum or racoon on the front porch, - now that's an issue.

But there is no doubt it's tough out there and there are 3 examples that really hit home for the missus and me. The first was the rapidly decreasing pages of our the mags and newspapers we get - we get most every house, garden, design magazine because I like to see which rag is covering the wrong story, but it was definitely alarming to get my weekly Crain's and it was all of 8 pages. Or get a notice in the mail saying Cottage Living, - my favorite home magazine - was going out of business. No fanfare, no nothing - just a frickin' low end paper postcard saying Cottage Living was no more and my subscription to it was flipped over to This Old House - problem is I already have a This Old House subscription - so now I have like 17 years of a magazine that was only renewed after serious debate each year. And then Country Home went bye-bye. So we are left with Country Living, which never really did it for me because it was a bit crafty and girlie and antiquey and flea markety and shabby chicy, unlike Cottage Living - which featured new cottage neighborhoods throughout the country, a great garden and landscape section in each issue (as opposed how to cook the best oatmeal raisin cookie).

The second one was one Lisa relayed to me the other day about making a reluctant trip down to Walmart in Matamoris and not being able to find any baby food and she asked around and eventually she found it - behind the counter, under lock and key, right beside the cigarettes. Seems like lots of mothers in this area are having trouble making ends meet - so they were stealing the basics - now, that's an alarming micro economic consequence of present day status quo.

There was third real insightful observation, but I can't remember it.

Lisa doesn't know the details, but me and my companies - I'm doubling down - screw it. This is either an economic situation that we will never recover from and we are all in same boat regardless of current household balance sheets, or this is the best time in a generation to buy shit. We're buying trucks, cars, and completely redoing our office. Not doing anything we wouldn't have been doing anyway, but accelerating the plans to take advantage of the availability of labor, the price of lumber, steel, and cooper. Prices are depressed 50% - meaning $100,000 buys $150,000 worth of goods and services, $1,000,000 buys $1,500,000. Borrowed money is free - residential rates at less than 5% and commercial not much higher - anyone who has every started a business nows how the cost of money is integral to examining good opportunities.

So, let's review - money is cheap, labor is cheap, durable goods are cheap, service is immeasurably better. Compare that to 24 months ago when prices were inflated and customer service suffered under the weight of too much business.

The one thing that enabled us to survive this downturn was an awareness of economic history, and a close attention to small local signals. I noticed something small change in the middle of 2006, and did everything I could over the next 12 months of boom marketplace to cut costs and position ourselves to not only survive, but prosper as the market became less a no-brainer. Locally, an underfunded Catskill Farms has outmanuevered many well-funded ventures - from Bethel Farms and it's 3 developments, to Kenoza Lake Estates and its very slow sales, to Tasmian Lake in Parksville to Sharoff's Bethel projects, to Barriger and Barriger's foray into real estate leverage, to the failure of Sheriden Homes, Chapin Management, Parson Enterprises, Eagle Nest Estates, and Highland Estates. Amazing how many projects and companies have come and flamed out - some spectacturally in a fireworks of debt, liens, lawsuits and bankruptcy and others just a slow, boring lack of sales that can be carried only through necessity - the enthusiasm long gone as the trudging march from one closing separated through much time and space to the next.

The thing about Sullivan County is that the power structure and who's who is so intertwined with these lackluster projects that nothing more is heard from them other than the occasional front page story about how many sales are occuring and how the line 'is around the corner'. it's a funny thing to watch, when you know what the truth of the matter is.

Well, anyway - who can tell I'm alone? Lisa's down in PA visiting my family and her mom came up from Richmond, so I've been taking care of things here, holding down the fort, executing my honey-do list to perfection.

Now, onto the important things - We sold another fucking house. I don't swear lightly, and I hope my readership can handle a little cursing (I wouldn't know since I don't allow comments) - but jeez laweez, we sold another one, and boy is it good looking.


This 960 sq ft beauty has it all, including the perfect barn red siding, 2 streams, close to Barryville, 2 bedrooms, fireplace and all the other details that make our homes perfect. The clients are veteran home searchers, having seriously been looking for over 2 years - in fact, Johnny (to the right) wrote us more than a year inquiring about 'what we have'. Well, eventually, what we got was right on the money, because they bought in, putting down some earnest money to hold the house as we go into contract. It's complimentary for sure.


Since the house says it all, there was no reason to crowd these new owners, and I gave them carte blanche to check everything out on their own - the stream, house, quiet, etc... This house needs no pitch. I am very excited about all 900+ sq ft.

And here is Cottage 21 really taking shape. After the offer on Cottage 18, and Erin's committment to the Mid-Century Ranch, what was a pretty big risk (building 3 spec homes in a depression) turned out to be fairly low risk, with two of them spoken for. The remaining one will be an easy sale - $342k, 2 bedrooms, 2 full baths, very private 6 acres, pond view, 2 minute walk to 2 lakes. Here she is taking shape - sage green cedar siding, slate colored roof and perfect river stone on the chimney.






Won't be long and she will be someone's home sweet home.

And heerrrrreeeeee's the Ranch. Big views, big design. We chose Tuscan Gold Cabot's stain for this house because the house and western view is all about the setting and spent sun, so we just joined the house and the sunset at the hip - dance partners from here onward.




960 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, big high ceilings. Privacy, views, comfort.
All wired up and ready for some of that high-class insulation we've been braggin about.
And some last shots of Farm 10 before she gets handed off to the new owners, Albert and Agyness.

From the kitchen to the living room.

From the living room to the dining room.

The rock and roll bathroom hazed in a dream (actually this was not some technical photoshop but rather my lens was just fogged up).



And the barn, all shiny and ready to go. Very nice structure. And just to clarify that hole in the chimney is not the fireplace but rather the area where all the cables, wires, and stuff comes out from the sound room on the other end of the building.


The compound.

So there you have it - worked all week, worked all weekend - just like I've been doing for 6 years. At least I got something to show for it, if a great little family, 50 houses, 9 great employees and over 100 persons calling my homes theirs, counts for anything.
Ciao.