|The New York
By Tina Traster
May 28, 2009 -- What's a downtown hipster like Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. doing in the Catskills? "It all started because I bought a Range Rover," the whippet-thin musician says while walking around his custom-built country lair in Eldred, NY, his two little dogs trailing at his heels.
After several weekend drives upstate, Hammond knew he wanted a second home far different from his two-bedroom co-op in the East Village. (That downtown apartment is currently on the market for $899,000.)
"I never thought I'd buy a place in the country, and everybody I know said I was crazy," says Hammond, 29, who opted for a three-bedroom, 19th-century-style farmhouse. "But this is exactly what I need to slow things down; to feed my creativity and my soul."
And for those times when Hammond feels creative, his 10 acres of land also includes a barn with a recording studio.
Rather than choosing a trendy locale with a luxury second-home market, Hammond opted for a true country experience about 90 miles northwest of Manhattan. There are no baristas, cheese-mongers, spas or wine bars in this anonymous town situated 5 miles east of the Delaware River in Sullivan County. In fact, there's nothing like that anywhere close to Hammond's farmhouse. About the only hipster-friendly destination nearby is Bethel Woods, the concert arena on the old Woodstock farm, 20 minutes away.
But what the region lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in natural beauty. The Delaware Valley is a playground for kayakers, hikers, cyclists and skiers. And more recently, tree-starved artsy New Yorkers. Two dozen of them have colonized Eldred and nearby Barryville in a new development called Catskill Farms.
At first, developer Chuck Petersheim had been turning out large, turn-of-the-century-style homes for Catskill Farms that went for more than $500,000. And he still has spacious farmhouses available for more than $400,000.
But in early 2007, Petersheim felt the seismic real estate shift even before the actual fallout. Taking a page from noted architect Sarah Susanka, author of "The Not So Big House," he scaled things back, building one- and two-bedroom homes, Arts & Crafts cottages and mid-century Ranches that measure 950 to 1,300 square feet. The open floor-plan houses, situated on 5- to 8-acre parcels with views of streams, ponds and the Catskill Mountains, are priced for around $220,000 to $350,000.
"Where can you buy a turn-key second home 90 miles from the city for that price?" says Petersheim, a former New York City construction manager who fled the city after 9/11 and moved to Sullivan County. He lived in a 600-square-foot cabin without running water for several years while he built his business.
Petersheim says the soured real estate market has not hurt him.
There's a short waiting list for Catskill Farms homes, even though the developer does not list his properties with brokers. He says people find him through friends who've bought houses or through his Web site, catskillfarms.com.
Hammond heard about the development from a New York City neighbor, actor and comedian David Cross, who also has a Catskill Farms home.
"It's been word of mouth, viral," Petersheim says. "People who want self-exile, who want the anti-destination second home, get why this is great value."
He might be on to something.
Many builders say the McMansion era could finally be over. Kermit Baker, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects, says there's a shift toward smaller houses, which are friendlier to the environment. A smaller footprint disturbs less habitat; a smaller house is more energy-efficient.
But wouldn't the greenest option be to move into an already existing home? Well, not everybody is cut out for a rambling old house in need of an upgrade or constant maintenance.
"People buying these houses are not looking to paint and putter around and fix stuff all weekend long," says Petersheim. "They want stress-relief getaways from their city life."
Each custom house is designed with vintage details such as clapboard siding, wide-plank floors, old-school radiators, salvaged hand-hewn beams, bead-board wainscoting, claw-foot tubs, fireplaces, shaker-style cabinets and rocking-chair porches. (As a nod to city neuroses, the houses are equipped with security systems.)
There are ceiling fans, but there's no air conditioning. Houses are heated with propane. Plumbing relies on septic systems.
Neighbors are rarely in sight, except, of course, for raccoons, deer, porcupines and the occasional bear.
There's not a lot of anything except for a slower way of life. Hammond, though, isn't concerned about a lack of amenities.
"When I want to go out to a restaurant or a hip nightclub, I can go back to Manhattan," he says.
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