Developer Mimics That 'Old' Style
By Jeanne Sager
NARROWSBURG — November 28, 2003 – Charles Petersheim would call himself a bit of a pioneer.
The Fosterdale contractor is forging a path into new territory.
He's building farmhouses – not too far-fetched for Sullivan County – but Petersheim plans to sell these homes to second homeowners.
He's looking to appeal to those who are looking for a farmhouse without all the hassles of renovating an old house.
"If you can emulate the feel of an old house, make a new house feel like an old house, you have the perfect project," Petersheim explained.
With a background in construction, when Petersheim moved out of the city, he started doing work on old homes purchased by other city residents to use on weekends and during the summer.
He's seen the county's housing market boom since moving to the area full-time shortly after Sept. 11.
"People were buying these houses that were really labor- and time-intensive," Petersheim explained.
It was a stressor on the buyers who were buying houses and putting thousands of dollars into them to make them liveable, waiting up to a year before they could actually spend time in their new home.
And to top it off, the owners were a few hours away, making phone calls to contractors they'd never met and traveling back and forth from the city with no place to stay while waiting for their house to be completed.
"They were taking them down to their bones, which weren't necessarily that good either," Petersheim explained.
So Petersheim had an epiphany. He could get into the housing game, buy a few properties, and build some houses that would be in move-in condition.
Taking the concepts of the old farmhouses – with the wraparound porches and the fireplaces, the stone foundations and the omnipresence of wood – Petersheim's company, Catskill Farms, got to work.
The first house in Livingston Manor was like a rough draft for the company.
"It was a little too modern, although it's still a great modern retro farmhouse," he said.
On the next house, the second one, completed in Narrowsburg, they pulled back and focused more on the authenticity.
The result is a home nestled in the woods near Crystal Lake worthy of its $400,000 price tag.
The deviations from the traditional farmhouse plans aren't obvious – changes were made more in size and structural integrity based on today's technology.
The porch was extended from the average 4 or 5 feet in width of most farmhouses to about 8 feet, big enough for someone to throw a barbecue and fit plenty of their friends.
The windows are styled much like those on authentic old houses, but they have double panes and are built to be airtight – a vast difference from the drafty old windows you'd find in most houses from the turn of the century.
"You make some compromises," Petersheim explained. "There's your aesthetic, and your trade-off is warmth."
The ceilings are a "study in imperfection," Petersheim said.
To make them similar to what's overhead in a real old home, the contractors purchased rough-hewn boards and put them in place.
"The question is really, how do you make it look imperfect when you're using good builders?" Petersheim explained. "You have to use imperfect materials."
But the focus has been using quality products to approximate the feel of an old home, he said.
The homes have radiant heat, Benjamin Moore paint, and the furniture inside is period-accurate but still in good shape.
To market the homes Petersheim has spoken with some real estate agents, but he has furnished the houses to be used in photo shoots by magazines interested in using a country home.
He's set a press junket in the city to kick the interest up a notch and hopefully attract people to Sullivan County.
"This is more than a house, it's a concept," Petersheim explained. "They're calling anything and everything a farmhouse these days because they're so popular.
"We're testing the market right now," he continued. "We know Sullivan County is wide open right now – we know [developer Steve] Dubrovsky can sell million-dollar homes and there's a market for that.
"But we're pioneering a new market," Petersheim explained. "There's such a lack of homes right now that people come, they look and they leave because they couldn't find what they were looking for."
But Sullivan County has potential for growth in real estate, he said, with the appeal of a real country home.
"There's no other place within two hours of New York City that's still the country," he explained. "It's not like we're pretending to be country.
"And this is a home for a demand that isn't here yet – it's a leisure home, but eventually as companies come to Sullivan County and expand, hopefully it will become more of an executive's home."
Right now, the future is pretty open, Petersheim said, which gives people the chance to try something different.
"One of the opportunities Sullivan County has right now is you can have fun with what you're doing," Petersheim explained.
So far, one of the homes has been sold, and there has been interest in a second. But there are still sites prime for development where Petersheim hopes to build.