Sunday, February 28, 2010

Blog Cabin 2010 Video Premiere (and a night out with some homeowners)

Blog Cabin Intro Video

This should be great for the area. Lots of positive free press.

There's this guy named Jack Thomasson, I mentioned a few times over the past 9 months, who pops into town more and more frequently. Having done house projects for the past 15 years for HGTV, various national magazines and now DIY, he's a combo house planner, talent scout, location scout, project manager. Not saying he recruited us as only the 35th builder he's ever selected from across the US, but someone else could say that. He would know better than me since I hardly leave Eldred these days, but he claims that Catskill Farms is one of more dynamic home design and build companies in existence presently, anywhere in the US. And he would know considering not much grass grows under his feet - he's always moving around the country - building this, scouting that. His latest project - HGTV's Dream Home in New Mexico - is presently airing and will be given away soon.

It's validating for sure - and since it's not like I live in a place where many of the daily professional challenges can be shared with like professionals (since few exist), he's great to have around and bounce things off of.

Well, This real sad looking photo is from Friday night at Erin and Gregs - over at 50's Ranch #1. For some reason I may be the worst portrait taker ever - still lifes are one thing, put a person in the photo and everything goes haywire.


Anyway, Erin popped up last January, and having never spent anytime looking at or for real estate, decided right then and there to buy 50's Ranch, even though it was only framed up with very little definition.


Gin Martinis, snacks, our baby somewhere doing something worrisome.

What's amazing about our clients is their general taste level - our clients have good taste. Not necessarily expensive tastes cause lord knows money don't buy taste - but just a general soundness to their aesthetic.

Colors, contrast and whimsy.

Girl talk in the kitchen over drinks and sippy cups.

Guy stuff by the fire. Lucas kept running around sticking his fingers in the candles and playing by the fire.


And Jake, Lucas, the vacuum cleaner and sunlight on a Sunny Sunday Morning.


So, it's one thing to take pictures of empty good looking houses after we finish them - it's quite another to revisit a year later after everyone settles in and defines it a little more specifically. Maybe I'll start a "Martinis with your builder" program, where people can invite me over, feed me alcohol, good snacks and good conversation, and then we can snap some post pics of the house with them all saying great things like "What a guy!", "Frankly, genius!!", "Best decision I've made in my life!!!"

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sullivan County - State of Emergency. 30" of Snow


What used to be my picket fence in my front yard.

And bel0w, the Snow Fro.








We're working today. We work everyday.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cottage 20 - Going, Going Gone - Sold

My damn dog Jake just got caught totally chewing up my cool Carhartt hat with brim. This really burns me up.

Jake loves this mid-century chair, and while it was emotionally painful, I let him have his way with it, and he preceded to use it as a big chew toy/comfy bed combo, which is fine since you got pick your priorities with a young dog.

Just ask Lucas, whose toys have been thoroughly mauled, chewed, destroyed and distorted by the chewing abilities of Jake. And Lisa has a real sad slipper that was chewed pretty good too - and since she is pretty picky about her slippers, I don't see them being replaced anytime soon.

Jake is growing pretty fast. He's going to be big and his feet have always been over sized (you know what they say about big feet!).




It's snowing again. After a pretty weak winter of snow we have been hit 3 times now in the last 2 weeks with some pretty significant snow falls. The reality of it is the less snow you get, the more extreme each storm is. I remember back in 2002 or 2003 when one of the winters brought a snow storm a week - so by the end of the winter, 6-8" was considered a dusting - that's how accustomed we became to its regularity.

But with a storm just two days ago with 14" of thick wet heavy snow, this snowurricane promises more of the same - lots of work plowing, losing electric, losing time on the jobs, etc... I'm in the office alone today - a month ago I cancelled work after the hype of a snow storm that left us with about 3" - and after Lisa accused me of getting soft ("You What? You closed the office?! Wow, times have changed!), I was hardboiled against being duped again, but the other day it took some of our guys 3 hours to get home, I figure since it is snowing now, this morning, and they are calling for increased snow all day, I figure we can sit this rumored 20" out. I'm currently organizing my desk to Pandora radio, dialed into songs like Radiohead.

Like I mentioned last week, between the weather, we managed to finish up a few houses and get them sold. The closing that happened on the same day as Cottage 24 was for Susan at Cottage 20. Susan had considered building with us for some time, then one day she called us up and said she was ready and we had just so happened to start a neat little version of Cottage 23. Super sweet, on a hill with views, with neighbors with houses from Catskill Farms.

Like I mentioned several times, Susan is friends with other customers of ours and as it appears of most of our customers, had great taste and was a real treat to work with. Clean simple straight-forward aesthetic.

This Mini-Cottage comes in just under 960 sq ft, with two bedrooms and a full bath with big views and a half bath with big views as well. And the back deck cantilevers out over the hill.

,Fireplace, wide plank floors, covered porches, open floor plan, functioning good looking kitchen. Thing about small houses is that they don't have any wasted space. Every bit of the house is used -


This vantage is from the stairs landing going to the upstairs, over-viewing most of the first floor.
5 panel interior doors, little mudroom with bluestone floor coming in the front door.
Rads to keep you warm, and 'quick pass' windows for deck eating.


The staircase going down into the basement, lined with stone.

Bathtub frames the window that looks out over the hills. 6' tub, 2' deep, with white subway tile.

Secret little passageway into a little storage area in the bathroom.

Blue room, with perfectly matched blue light and sliding crossbuck barn door.


Catskill Farms is kicking it, with another closing set for Monday for Mid-Century Ranch #2. We are starting the DIY project Monday and that should take care of the NY Times ignoring us for much lesser stories for the past 4 years (stories of upstate designers, developers, builders - 7 out of 8 who were out of business before the print was dry on the article, and half the other stories filled with nonsense facts and exaggerated claims of vibrancy), currently building Farm 12, Barn 2, Micro 3, and Cottage 25, and planning to get started on 5 new houses in the Spring (get ready Norm (he's our excavator who keeps us moving)).

Snow day in the Catskill. Not a bad thing at all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blog Cabin 2010

Not saying we are the contractor for the DIY's 2010 Blog Cabin (which will be seen by millions) since that could be interpreted as publicizing my involvement in violation of my contract, but there does seem to be some pictures of our homes in the selection area.

See it here - Blog Cabin

Jeanne and Deb - look familiar - Cottage 14 is Famous link -

Also, looks like Dean at Cottage 13 is gettin his game on in this interactive home design show.

And the boys at Cottage 23 with a their refrigerator and kitchen shot.

So these money shots are now going national.

Blog Cabin is a show where the viewers (web) help design the house, and then in the end the house is given away. The TV show airs in the Fall, and there are 5 independent shows as well, focusing on kitchens, baths, landscaping and great rooms. Can't say we will make it on TV (them damn editors always act like their guys are doing the work) but it should be huge publicity, which never hurts.

If we only had some houses to sell.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cottage 24 - Sold

Cottage 24 was a home that we started back in October, with no predestined homeowner lined up - a spec home, in industry terms. Building homes without owners, designing them ourselves, paying for them, completing them, and then waiting around for someone to recognize our genius and buy the damn thing (just kidding, I have to be more careful now that I'm going to be celebrity TV guy doing our next project in front of 15m people - congrats to my homeowners, who with our constant sales see the benefit of homes that have constantly reinforced their value).


I mean, after selling through this Great Recession like a sharp knife through butter, we have constantly reinforced the value of our homes. We are selling homes for the same prices that sold back in 2009 and 2008 when prices for real estate plummeted uniformly, and for more than we were selling them during the height of the boom in 2007.

Cottage 24 is stained sage green, has a sharp front porch, a big wrap-around porch and 8 acres. Sold about a week ago to Mark and Jim, who after several years of looking all around upstate, found us, saw the house, and within 2 weeks we had made a deal - and 6 weeks after that, they are living large in their own piece of real estate - they own it, I think that gives my homeowners a big kick, since not many of them own their space in the city.

Old Jake is becoming a real picture hog, showing up slyly with every snap. He's over at Dog Mountain Lodge since Lisa and I are up in New Hampshire, at one of our favorite Inns, The Wentworth by the Sea. It's Lisa's first time away from Lucas. My mom came up from Lancaster to watch him, so we know he is in good hands.

Dean, the owner, is one of those upstate business people who nailed a niche, and regardless of how unpopulated this area is, there is plenty of room for good, niche small businesses. Take the River Mart in Barryville, the River Gallery in Narrowsburg, Catskill Farms, Catskill Harvest Market - just a few examples of businesses that identified a niche, executed well, and saw it through. The examples of this success are much less than the crash and burns, but that is not necessarily a reflection of the lack of niches. Other examples include the wine store in Callicoon, the Lazy Beagle restaurant in Livingston Manor, and others.

For example, a few businesses are in the pipeline currently - Eric and Alana Goldstein have started a home concierge service, coordinating such challenges as snowplowing, firewood, house surveillance, cleaning and just a general facilitation of making country life a little less chore oriented - not sure of the website, but I'm sure Eric can supply it if it is up and running yet.

And Amy Miller, starting another food oriented business up here - this one called Early Bird Cookery - specializing in catering and meal preparation for the weekenders.

Sure, Sullivan County didn't become the next Riviera, but there was enough forward economic momentum that while we prospered, moved forward, and then slid back, there was a net gain of economic vibrancy, however, modest. Towns like Narrowsburg, Callicoon, and Livingston Manor all saw dramatic investment, some that still sticks.

I hate mentioning businesses by name, since the worry is not including something worthy - but let's just say the list was not meant to be all-inclusive, and any reader can feel free to post one they like, and that has been around for a few years.

Below is Mark of Cottage 24.
Because there was no homeowner, I got to design the house myself, with the help of James. And, to be honest, I'm pretty good at it - this house I placed in a small valley between some hills, looking down over Luxton Lake and into Pennsylvania. At night, you can hear a lonely dog barking and see an odd light or two across valley and onto the next hill.

We do a lot of pretty cottages, and quintessential cottage/farmhouse style - on this one, I wanted to masculine it up, merging cottage with barn with adirondack. Giving it some heft.

We went down to Hall's salvage yard in Lumberland and picked up some great old beams, some antique barn siding, some reclaimed barn flooring. We sanded clean the remaining paint specs, and highlighted the paint and age with a couple coats of polyurethane - encapsulating history throughout the home.
You got the great black radiator, the horizontal barn railing, the fireplace and wide plank floors.

A clean kitchen with open shelves, a farm sink and helpful island.


Going up the stairs...

One of the bedrooms, with a simple galvanized lamp, a 5 panel door and a hand-crafted barn door at the closet. The sky light really lights the place up.
We had a bit a fun in the bath, with a barn red vanity, and lots of textured and contrasting tile.

Going down into the basement, which we finished off. We lined the foundation with brick, and the stair landing with stone.

The basement was finished off with simple approach - fireplace, wood ceilings, wood stained beams
One of the showers.

There it is - complete, unique, original and sold. All of those elements are challenging. You got to figure after 60 homes we would tend to get a little repetitive, but to be honest, we keep strumming those three chords a little differently.

It was a few years ago that I started describing our design process as similar to music, - not complicated orchestra, but simple rock and roll that uses 3 chords over and over, just mixing it up endlessly to create completely new sounds. So that's what we do - we're not aiming for complexity, grandiosity, showing off our double-gainers off the high board. The trick to what we do is a respect to simplicity and restraint - smart and tasteful, and in the end the challenge is in it's simplicity, and not overdoing it, not going too far. Clean, affordable, good design - it's a lot harder than it looks, judging from all the failures of our imitators.

I guess another big reason that we have been able to keep it going during this drug out recession (going into 4 yrs now) is that we never relied on mortgage tricks to sell our homes. Our contracts asked for 20% down, and never really wavered, and funny enough the time or two where we made exceptions, we got nearly burned. So, we were mostly always selling to well-qualified individuals who had thought their decision over for years. So, when the banks stopped playing dumb and begun demanding that home buyers could actually afford the homes they were buying, we were already there - we only sold to traditionally qualified buyers (20%, money left over), which, when times got tough, was a critical component in continuing to get people into our homes. A business that relied on financing tricks of no-money down, seller concessions, and the host of other tricks would have seen real problems real quick when the mortgage market snapped from too loose to too tight.

Small homes, priced right, built well. It's a simple formula.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Our Homes in a Snow Storm

Last week's snowstorm that buried the mid-atlantic region for the 2nd time in a week touched down here as well, - but since we are a snow hardy breed pretty used to the winter storms, the 5"+ that fell was anti-climatic at best, super annoying at worst (with people talking about it non-stop for days on end). Just after the snow hits is pretty cool - with the snow hanging heavy off of house and tree alike.

Up above is Courtney and Bronson's Cottage 22 that they closed on in October and down below is a 80 yr old cottage that we redid and sold off to Richard and Nancy.

Gotta say it was a pretty good weekend, with my birthday, Valentines day, and soaking in the effects of two closings. In just a week or two we will be unloading Mid-Century Ranch #2.

Down below is Cottage 17.
And Cottage 19.
And our homes under construction - with this big guy coming in at around 2400 sq ft, on 7 acres, with a distinct salute to the Shakers. Lots of porch to come.

Here's the inside, with the wainscotting just get started over the spray foam at the top of the stair landing.

And down below is a micro-cottage with not much micro about its style, land, and design.


Installing the wood planking over the vaulted ceiling with the A team hard at work.

And the Barn House #2 with a fantastic hay colored stain.

Big high ceilings.
And ole Norm playing with big Jake.



Another shot of the barn, looking back to the bedroom up top and the kitchen to the right.

All of these homes are on a dirt road a few miles outside of Barryville. It's probably one of the neatest streets in America, in terms of architectural design and diversity.