Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cottage 34 Commences


It's not everyday that my style and garment selection syncs right up with the exact same color palette as the new siding on my office, but here it is - see it for yourself. A perfect match.

The fact that my new LL Bean sweatshirt does not nearly represent my elevated fitness stature accurately is something I have my assistant currently complaining to LL Bean about. I mean, they should at least put in the description - 'Great new sweatshirt made of lightweight materials that will turn any body into a rounded caricature of itself! Buy two for $39."


Anyways, body issues aside for the moment, we have begun another house. Yes, that's right, we have begun another house. Sure, I'm aware I live in the middle of nowhere. Sure, I'm aware that the region and nation is suffering through an economic calamity, and sure I'm aware that these are hard times indeed.

But we have 6 homes under construction, a 5 home waiting list, and are working 5, 6 & 7 days a week to keep up with our aggressive scheduling.

It's an extraordinary fact - the fact that it's a story that is almost unprecedented and uncopied across the entire nation, well, that just makes it all the more extra ordinary.

What it means for us is that we can continue to perfect our little cool houses because nothing assists improvement more than practice and we are getting all the practice we need.

For instance, at Cottage 34 on Aspen Way outside of Narrowsburg, NY we have this really cool homesite, with a 425' driveway and the house set pretty perfect on the piece of land. So we hit some rock when we did some digging - not all that unusual, but always adds a hiccup to the best laid plans. A couple of interesting things occur or don't occur when we hit rock - the first thing that doesn't occur is a change order to the customer. Typically, the phone call would be made - "Ah, yea, Bryan, you know that budget we were talking about - well, we hit rock (or water, or ledge, or whatever), and we are going to need to rent a machine that costs $2500 a day, well, anyway, then we need to truck away the stone, then we need to pound a little for the septic, well, you get the point - here's a bill for $12,000."

On the first day of work. That's a typical homebuilding experience and why the adage 'twice the cost and twice as long' is a common cautionary refrain.

With Catskill Farms, doesn't happen. Norm tells me we hit some rock, I tell him to rent a machine, without missing a step we are pounding away, using the rock we excavate for the driveway base and just going about it so efficiently and without the tears and crying and carrying on that accompanies most unforeseen site conditions with other companies that the extra costs just kind of slip away.



In a way, we have aspired to reinvent the construction process. No change orders based on 'unforeseen site conditions' such as rock, water or what have you, a process that has for years been right on the money when it comes to timing and scheduling, and a process that does not include a penny of budget more than agreed on, unless the client wishes to discretionarily spend.

The above pic shows the precision drilling to enable level solid ground for the house footings. It reminds me of my last dental visit, after failing to go for a few years.


Chip the rock, pile the rock, move the rock, spread the rock and before you know it, you not only have a hole ready for a foundation and a house, but you have a driveway as well. Talk about green - building a driveway with material from the site.

It doesn't matter how deep the well goes, or if we hit rock or water, or if it rains everyday, or the price of plywood double unexpectedly over the course of two months - we pay for it. and we also finance construction.


So, let me get this straight - Catskill Farms pays for building my customized house so I don't have the cost or aggravation of a construction loan, Catskill Farms takes on the risk that is standardly borne by the client (site conditions such as rock, water, deep wells, unconventional septics, etc...), Catskill Farms delivers it pretty much on time and pretty much on schedule.

It's an unheard of proposition for this area, where construction torture is a well-honed and developed and accepted way of doing things up here.

Our entire team is serious. they are young, aggressive, hard-working, talented individuals, and it took me 8 years to put it together. I have fired more people than I care to remember, not because they were all bad at what they did, but because they were not great at what they did, didn't work hard enough, had their head up their asses too many days of the week.

Although many times we need to be patient as we increase the caliber of the team, be assured there is never a minute that goes by without a trade by trade vendor by vendor evaluation of price, product and service. And why shouldn't it be that way? Just because we are in the sticks doesn't mean we should accept shitty service, although that can be the default attitude.


And, in the end, our housing concepts have always been a little ahead of the pack, but the team is what makes it a viable enterprise. Many a good idea has failed for lack of proper execution.

There's James, Project Manager, walking over the new driveway. He lost a similar hat late night in Vegas at the Builder's Show 2009.



And our mason working in tandem with our excavator, without missing a step.

In the end, I'd pit our team against any team, anywhere. We have practiced and honed and concentrated on every element of the process, down to the tiniest details and process.

Like I've mentioned before - We try hard, and the results are the proof in the pudding.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Just to name a few...

We got a lot of house making good progress.

Here's Cottage 33, with some bluish/gray siding, white trim and a galvanized metal roof. These customers are always downplaying their design talents, but after seeing this exterior combo, I don't think they are giving themselves enough credit. The biggest compliment I can pay a client is to like their color schemes and palettes on another house, and this is definitely one we will use again.

Cottage 34 foundation is beginning today outside of Narrowsburg. Norm cleared the drive and site the other day, and today we are digging.

Actually, there will be some digging, and there will be some rock pounding, hence the big rock pounding machine on the left.


And Farm 15, coming in at a cool 2400 sq ft, is just coming out of the ground with its foundation walls. Today we are 'pouring the slab', and having the footing drain inspected, and then tomorrow we shall backfill. Framing starts early next week.

Cottage 31 races ahead. We just had our rough in plumbing, heating and electric inspection this morning, and we will be insulating next week.


And our first Shack is up. 500 sq ft, 5+ acres, big views, nice land, close to Narrowsburg.

The Shacks are interesting, and it will be interesting to learn who is interested in them. As we did with the cottages, the mini-cottages, and the micro-cottages, you have to build one first to see who wants them, since nothing existed like it in the marketplace, the demand is initially unknown.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clock is Ticking

Farm 15, selected by a Dr. of Chemistry, just getting started. 2400 sq ft, 2 car garage, 7 acres. John looking over his handiwork prior to pouring the footings.



With Fall in full bloom, and the windy afternoon shaking off the brittle leaves, leaving just the skinny little legs of big and small trees.

We are on a race against time, as we are every year about this time. It starts to get rainy, and then a little colder, and by mid-October you have to start planning on the colder days, then the unpredictable days where we get down below zero, and just when you really start pressing your luck knowing that the super-cold snap is just around the corner, bang - it's here, and everyone scurries around looking for some warmth, hustling to get the septics, well lines, and porch piers in before the ground gets too hard.

Below is our first Shack. 500 sq ft, one bedroom, kitchen, 2 deck/porches, full basement, cool views. The Shack is another attempt find a new lower price point in order to open the door to a new wave of country livin' dreamers. We won't know just yet what the price will be, but we are hoping for the mid-$100k's. It's hard to price, since the land, the drive, the electric, the site work such as tree cutting, site clearing, septics wells and foundation are costs that are fixed and the smaller the house, the higher the percentage of cost are the fixed costs.

That's Norm and Justin.

Cottage 29 is now nearly complete. One of two homes we have in inventory, finished and ready to sell. Actually, with the Shack above, that makes 3, at 3 different price points. this home is 2 bedroom, 960 sq ft, 7+ acres and a basement.


Micro-Cottage 2 is looking very woodsy with the Adirondack style siding, a first time selection for us. The cottage is spoken for and the Moma momma and her man are coming up on Monday to make some interior design choices. 720 sq ft, 1 bedroom, big open living/dining/kitchen space.

Tito in the foreground, painting what he can before the weather turns gray and uninviting.


The writer and his partner country abode below has good views, high ceilings, and by the look from this picture, a happy electrician. 1300 sq ft, 2 bedrooms and a cedar shake exterior.


Two banking pros picked up this neat little mini-cottage and then took a big swing with some dark gray blue siding which will contrast the matte aluminum of the porch roof grandly. 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths.


Of course, we can't forget about Cottage 34, reserved by some NYC art pros. Starting that one shortly. A great house on a 6+ cool acres, a few miles outside of Narrowsburg.

Our shop also went down for some badly needed spruce up. This building was in the past was the place where they fixed up the school buses for the Eldred School District - built 20 or 30 yr ago. We moved in 2.5 yrs ago, after working out of my homes for a few years, and have year by fixed it up. We built a big building in the back, and this year we fixed up the interior space in the front building. Before winter hit, I wanted to put on a new roof so we could retire all the buckets around the shop, and we also redid the siding. We could have just painted the siding, which would have looked pretty good, but our main goal was to insulate the heck out of the place with our spray foam insulation - so we stripped 'er down, peeled back the disgusting fiberglass insulation, sprayed the crap out of it from the outside, then put on new metal ribbed siding. We also added a window to lighten up the main space.
Every year we get a little ahead of the game in terms of planning and preparing for the winter. This year we should be in good shape, working indoors with our temp heat and preparing a bunch of homes for their new owners.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ahead of our Time

New York Times covers the small house trend again in today's magazine, titled, "The Elusive Small House Utopia."

And Russel Versace's "Retreats: A World Apart."

Trends we are well-aware of, trends we have informed and directed since early 2007 when we started our small home utopias at the height of the large home and mcmansion hysteria, mastering trends that have kept us busy and employed during the Great Recession.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New David Cross Show

So David (think 'Arrested Development'), is one of our favorite clients, having bought into the Catskill Farms thing back a few years ago, and credits his country home with being the sole inspiration for all ensuing work - a writing endeavor entirely inspired and completed on his back porch of Cottage 6 is now premiering on IFC channel. I don't know what I am talking about, but I think he writes, directs and pretty much is in charge of the whole kahuna.

Check it out - "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" on the IFC channel.

Monday, October 11, 2010

PARTAY Animals

For all you readers who are fans of picture books, this blog thread will be right up your alley. Lisa and I have been socially active this past summer, more so then we really cared to be - and ended the last two weeks with parties for two separate events - The airing of the DIY Blog Cabin Finale, and Lucas' 2nd Birthday (good as excuse as any to throw a neighborhood party).

I've been working up in Hankins New York the past several weeks for one of my first customers who is doing a little home improvement. And the house above, just a few miles outside of Fremont Center on your way to Callicoon Center, was the inspiration for FarmHouse #1, back in 2002. Just an abandoned old house, sitting there un-used, looking pretty even without tons of mascara. Any time I pass an old abandoned house I always stop to snoop around on the creaky floorboards, water logged plaster and sagging ceilings.

Below is the pond money can buy. It's perfect in every way, with great stone work, fountains and a view across northern Sullivan County fields.

Just to clarify, that's not my pond in the previous photo. That picture comes later. Since we constructed it, a lot more light comes into our morning sitting room, to be sure.

There's Nick our neighbor and owner of Cottage 19, and Lisa, getting ready for a walk with Jake the dog.
And our house (and our son playing on the road).
For the DIY finale we invited the gang over, who consist mostly of NYC expats who relocated 5 or more years ago up here full time. Here's a pic of the yummy mummies sitting down for some homemade pizza prior to the airing (it actually aired the night before and we were showing a taped version).

Note Lucas in the far right, - every picture taken of him for the past 2 years has that old scary woman in the background.

There's Henning from Norway, who works with us and is shown a few times in the show.

and Lisa with the "I'm busy here' look I'm quite accustomed to, with Heather in the background.

The meal was a feast of avant garde homemade pizzas of assorted locally harvested meats, veggies and plants.

That's James sitting on the chair with his eldest son - they live outside of Narrowsburg, NY. James is a painter and we have a few pieces of his scattered around our abode. Darryl B. - maybe the first person I met up here in 2002 while biking past his farmstead in Cochecton.



And Adam "Live Free or Die" Weinrich from New Hampshire, piling it on in our kitchen while no one was looking.

And Jake, locked away in his favorite little mudroom area. Nice little safe spot for him.

Lucas looking Amish and his older friends. He likes older kids and is a bit rough and condescending to those younger.

And then everyone gathered around in our media room pod to watch the grand finale where I was promised I would get a little airtime, after 6 weeks of doing the most amazing imitation of the invisible man during these shows.

So the last episode was cool, and I did get some face time and spoke articulately about demo and dumpsters and trash and they did a nice shout out to me and my team's ability and the houses we create.

In the end, though, it was kind of weird. Here we spent 5 months helping them locate a house, were the creative force behind a national TV show and did some of the most amazing feats of scheduling and construction management ever imagined, and the DIY show spent 6 weeks not even mentioning us, and giving their guys who didn't even bring tools, all the credit.

I mean, I'm no dummy, they have a show to make - but it's weird to have someone completely take credit for your work - I think in most situations, people get slimed, disbarred, suspended and otherwise demoted for such actions but here it was like SOP (standard operating procedure).

Whatever - the whole experience was validating. A seriously skilled and picky scout recruited us, our design abilities were well-received nation-wide, and our talents as a construction crew have never been more tested, or more validated. We kicked some major ASS. Strategic, laser-like, execution. Actually, come to think of it, that's our MO (modus operandus) every day - that's why our customers sign up one day and are sitting in front of the fire in a finished house 4 months later.

But then the real party started this past weekend with a neighborhood soiree doubling as Lucas' 2nd birthday. Turn out was great, no doubt facilitated by the fantastic weather we have experience all summer, and continue to see most of this Fall.

Kelsey, above and below, is Lisa's big party assistant - I was fired numerous times over the course of Saturday morning for not being a good employee and doing shoddy work - like not hanging the balloons at the same height, using my artistic interpretation on the color pattern of the balloons, giving a lot of 'back talk', letting a few balloons escape into the sky - but always hired back quickly since the available labor on short notice was scarce.

Lisa checking in with the cake people with two pots of chili simmering.

I meanwhile wandered off the job with camera to get some nice pics of my pond and the fall colors rapidly expiring.

Now that's a blue sky.

Our good friends Adam and Amy arrive early with our card table that has been missing for months. Adam works at WJFF - the local hydro-powered public radio station that Lisa and I are big fans of. Amy is quite the entrepreneur - she runs Golden Guernsey Bed and Breakfast and now supplies low-key professional catering - Early Bird Cookery - to area home parties, barn parties and other assorted events. This was a huge break-through because there was no one doing good, reliable, tasty catering up here. She'll do your event, she'll do your dinner party, etc...

Lucas trying to look cute for his party in his sweater vest.

My balloon skills on display.

That's our house.

And some homeowners - no one was allowed to introduce themselves, they were only identified by their cottage #. So, from the foreground, clockwise, Justin (Cottage 19), Carolyn & Denzil (Cottage 28), Jason (Cottage 19), Courtney & Bronson (Cottage 22), me (stretching my sweater vest to the limits with my newfound girth) and John (Farm 12, AKA the Mansion).
I think Bronson was cracking a friendly joke about Richard and Nancy of the Barryville Cottage fame ( and noticeably absent!).
Lucas and his FarmAll tractor cake from Pecks. Pedro (Cottage 23) straight back and our neighbor and Lucas' best friend Theresa (think Harold and Maude) to Pedro's left.




Nancy (a friend from way back) and Ben, our friends with kids from Brooklyn, next to Carmello, Kelsey's mom. Erik and Shannah from Lot 45 stopped by as well with Sam and Charlie.

That's our neighbor.

And then the 'opening of the presents' ceremony, which David from Cottage 6 fame texted me before he showed up asking if this was 'one of those parties where everyone sits around and talks about their kids".

There you have. Party is On in the Country.