We got a lovely note in the comments section of our survey from a reader who got addicted to Upstater while searching for a home in Ulster County. She and her husband bit the bullet in August and have been toiling away on renovations for last six months. And since there’s nothing we like more than a restored bungalow, we invited her to show and tell us about the renovation. Photos and words below.
One Year Later
This time last year, we took the plunge. We’ve always loved the Catskills, and for the last ten years, we took frequent trips upstate to visit with friends and enjoy the splendor of the great outdoors, but we never wholly intended to be upstaters. We were pretty adept at freeloading. My husband, an architect, even designed a house for friends in Olive (featured here in Upstate House Magazine) with an open invitation for weekend visits.
But in early 2012 a studio above our apartment in Fort Greene opened up and started a conversation. What might we get if we purchased upstairs versus what we might get if we purchased upstate? As you can imagine, it was a slippery slope. The exploration soon became a fait accompli — upstate was the hands-down winner.
We probably looked at 40 properties over four months with our intrepid agent — with New Paltz as our southern border and Palenville our northern — all west of the river. In our most obsessive moments, we created spreadsheets to demonstrate the value of one property over another to each other. We ideally wanted to pay around $200K so we knew we couldn’t have it all. In June last year we made an offer on our favorite. It scored high on our list with great land, privacy, proximity to village(s) and the Thruway. It was small — a one bedroom, one bath — but it sat on 3+ beautiful acres between Saugerties and Woodstock with a park-like lawn to one side, dappled woods to the other, and a picturesque ruin of an old concrete structure that we affectionately coined the grotto. It also had a sweet little guest cottage (with no heat or water). If we saved our pennies, we could expand in years to come.
After navigating negotiations and closing in August, we settled on a roughly $20K budget for the first round of renovations. We divided scopes between ourselves and a fantastic contractor, Mark Zackelmayer of Chestnut Hill Renovations, who was recommended by Megan Oldenburger, aka Upstate Jane. Mark would perform the gut overhaul to the bathroom (including installation of a skylight to bring natural light to small, interior room), install a big sliding window in the bedroom, replace the countertop and sink in the kitchen, and install new lighting in the living room. We would paint every inch of the house, refinish the floors, demo and rebuild two closets and a gear room, as well as well as tighten up the building envelop with some weatherization work.
The kitchen was first. In an attempt to reuse what we had, as well as retain its bungalow charm, we decided to keep everything but the countertop and sink, and brighten it up with color on the walls, cabinets and floors. Mark installed an Ikea oak countertop and farmhouse sink. He did a beautiful job working with the challenges of the worn-in original cabinets to make everything plumb and level. An antique art deco pendant from Fed On Lights in Saugerties gave the room a little extra something. (Side note: for anyone looking for antique lighting or bath fixtures, this place is a quirky gem!)
The bedroom was next. My husband demolished the existing row of closets and Mark installed a 5’ x 5’ sliding window from the Door Jam in Shokan. This is another upstate treasure. They have a big selection of doors and windows from all the top manufacturers that weren’t made to perfect specifications as well as a huge selection of salvaged items. The staff is wonderful and prices are great, plus you are saving stock from going to waste. Win. Win. Win. We now have a view of Overlook Mountain in the winter months, which is pretty sweet. The mid-century modern dresser to the left was a fun find from Hudson Valley Craigslist.
The last project was our tiny, dark bathroom. This was a full gut down to the studs. It became clear during our renovation that the bungalow was probably a DIY project when originally built, so Mark had to demolish not one, or two, but three layers of ceiling and structure before getting to the metal roof to cut in the skylight. During demo, we realized we had four structural beams that needed to stay, but we loved the warm character of the wood. My husband played off of the exposed rough-hewn beams by designing a rustic frame for the mirror that Mark built for us. In another attempt to work with what was there, we left the existing vanity and installed a soapstone countertop from Caliber Granite in Kingston. All the tiles were purchased from the fabulous folks at Functional Tile Shop in Catskill. Steve Roberto Plumbing, who we also highly recommend, installed all new pipes and installed the new shower, sink, and low-flow toilet. Mark and Steve would probably attest that salvaging the vanity cabinet was perhaps not worth the effort, but we’re happy with the mix of old and new and are loving the natural light from the skylight and the extra feeling of space we got from opening up the ceilings and getting rid of the tub.
One year later, with spring in the air and the first round of renovations under our belt, we are turning our attention to the landscape. We are thinking about transforming the grotto into a series of outdoor rooms (we already purchased a used projector off of eBay for movie nights), building some raised garden beds for vegetables, planting some Northern Spy apple trees, and attempting to return over half of the yard to pasture and transform it into a no-mow meadow. If anyone has any recommendations on how to build/plant raised garden beds, develop a mini orchard, or snuff out grass to make a meadow, we are all ears!
Special thanks to Mark and Steve for all the beautiful work, as well as Vince at Woodstock Hardware, who made us feel like a part of the community from day one and was always at the ready with helpful recommendations during our many, many, many visits.