I got a sense of the strong aesthetic design of Catskill Farms houses when I got lost on my fi rst visit to the home of Norah Lawlor and Jeffrey Bradford in Barryville, NY.
Following a rudimentary map, I turned into a driveway and saw a moss-green, two-story home that looked new. It was the color I was looking for, but having already seen some of Charles Petersheim's Catskill Farms houses, I was struck by the different appearance of this house. As it happened, I had made a wrong turn. I soon found the Bradford/Lawlor house, displaying all the Catskill Farms flavor, from Craftsman-style columns to a Dutch door entrance with a bluestone step. There wasn't a Home Depot door in the place.
From its tapered columns to its precise stonework and solid wood siding, the country cottage Catskill Farms built for the New York City couple oozes old country charm. But it's not actually old, and therein lies its charm for this busy professional couple who often entertain family and friends from faraway places. Jeffrey hails from Britain and Norah's family lives in Canada. They looked at houses in the Hamptons where many of Norah's clients vacation, but the smaller homes on their radar were too old and the bigger ones were too much maintenance. Besides, they were looking for a retreat—from maintenance issues as well as work. "New York is our hotel room compared to Barryville, which is home," says Jeffrey.
He found the riverside hamlet, and subsequently Catskill Farms, on an internet search while laid up from a broken leg. "It's critical" he says in his clipped accent, "to have an internet presence in this age." Indeed, the couple may never have settled here, where they love the cozy comfort of their 1,280-square-foot home, if not for Catskill Farms' accessible website. They looked at "literally 100 homes," says Jeffrey, from the Hamptons to Hunter Mountain, before Jeffery sustained the skiing injury that led him to couch-surf the internet and fi nd Catskill Farms.
The couple thoroughly researched the area, again online, and determined it was the "best-kept secret" in New York, says Norah. "The Hamptons are great," she says ,"but the social life is July and August." They come to Barryville to relax year-round, about two weekends a month. "We spend a lot of time at the house when we're here," she says. "It's so cozy, we don't want to go anywhere"— expect for antiquing runs into nearby towns like Honesdale, PA and to favorite spots in Narrowsburg, NY like Roasters and the River Gallery.
Although the home is relatively small, it has a roomy feel. Jeffrey marks this up to the home's proportions, which are well-considered. "The architect, Kevin Malone, is the secret of the story," says Jeffrey. The home was "engineered from a design aesthetic," according to builder Charles Petersheim, with wide plank floors and ceilings and a new/old look. It's a look especially attractive to second home-owners. "We have taken the sterility out of new construction," says Charles. "We give our houses the aesthetic feel of an old home with the fl ip side that it works. You're able to be out there grilling, not being your own contractor."
In 2003, Charles and his partners saw that people were buying fixer-uppers for second homes and having trouble managing when things went wrong with old systems. "It was counter-intuitive back then," he says, "to build small homes in the era of McMansions." But they did it anyway. Charles' first home purchase in the Catskills was his own fixer-upper, which he bought for $22,000 on a credit card. He found there was, and is, an increased demand for more modest, well-designed spaces.
Good things, smaller packages
"A fundamental tenet of the green movement," says Charles, "is right-sizing." That's what drives the small homes in his highly successful venture. Along with architect Kevin, Charles builds homes that fit the owners, their lifestyle and their budget. They are not interested in bigger as better. Catskill Farms builds a house every three weeks on average, according to Charles, and they have become the experts in small-home construction in the Catskills. But small is not the only word that describes the homes these partners build. In the past, Charles says, "if you wanted attention to detail, you had to buy big." Not so with Catskill Farms. Attention to detail is a hallmark of their building projects. They pick the land, site the footprint of the home, build it and sell it. They know every inch of each home.
In addition to the design esthetic, the home has a high efficiency propane gas heating system, and is insulated, like all of Charles' projects, with spray-in foam insulation made from an organic soy compound. The builder liked this product so much when he first used it that he bought the company. New technologies are everywhere in this new/old house, from the insulation to radiant heat to a system that contacts the owner or the oil company when the temperature inside dips into dangerous territory, a must for a year-round second home in the Catskill mountains.
The Lawlor/Bradfords appreciate the mix of salvaged barn beams with new materials that give their two bedroom, two-bath home the look of a hundred-year-old Catskills cottage without the headaches of old, outdated plumbing and electrical systems. Jeffrey especially loves the land around their home, which reminds him of the Lake District in Britain, where Londoners go to vacation. Weekends have kept him busy with creative projects like the low stone boundary wall and assorted plantings. He credits Charles with a knack for knowing where and how to site a home on its property. A pond is visible from the front porch through a stand of maple trees. Norah enjoys the pleasures of cooking at home, a change from their city pattern of eating out. "As soon as I walk in the house, I get a feeling of being home," she says.
That's exactly the feeling Charles envisions for all his clients. When asked what he enjoys most about building houses, the Donald Trump of small homes comes up with an altruistic motive that seems genuine. "I love opening the door to people who want to be here, giving them a respite from the day-to-day chaos of city life." His new/old small home philosophy is doing just that, at an affordable price. A 1,300-square-foot home like the Lawlor/ Bradford home will cost a new buyer about $320,000, while one of the new mini-cottages with two bedrooms and one bath goes for $185,000. The best part of buying a Catskill Farms home is that you have a "true understanding of what you are buying," says Charles. "All you have to do is hook up the phone and cable, and bring home the groceries."