Twenty years ago after a long search in rural upstate New York, we found an old farmhouse on a hill with an incredible view of the Catskills. After years of unsuccessful searching, we had driven up a long driveway between a picture-perfect stone wall on one side and a row of old maple and chestnut trees on the other and seen the breathtaking view. As we stood looking at the northern Catskills, Big Dome off to the east, my husband said we still have to find the realtor and see the inside of the house. I said back, completely mesmerized, it doesn't matter what the house is like inside.
It was the weekend before Memorial Day, the house had been on the market since November through a very bad winter; we had seen it from a distance then and it was too expensive for us, according to our realtor. Now, here it stood, deserted and still for sale. We thought we better take a day off mid-week, come up to see the house and decide if we could afford it before the upcoming holiday weekend drew other potential buyers. We did that.
When we were led into the house over the front porch with flagstone floor, the house was a puzzling mix of lovely Upper East Side living room with a beautiful mantel, bookcases and shutters, then, up two steps was the original farmhouse, the beamed main room, now a country dining room with a huge bay window looking over the mountains. Tucked behind a stairway and the dining room, the kitchen was pine paneled, had a breakfast nook with a country table and banquet seating, and a wood burning cook stove which was the only oven. The kitchen had no basement and had clearly been a former shed or barn attached to the house to avoid winter cold. Three modest bedrooms and one bath completed the small place. The house was yellow and brown outside, dark blue in the living room, while gold peacocks preened on the expensive dining room wallpaper. What a mixture of old country and elegant living; WHO had lived here?
There were two other buildings on that hill which made it less attractive for us; what maintenance would this whole place need? The garage/studio was a few hundred feet from the house, down a few flag stone steps and past a tall pump. This other building was mostly just a huge room; pine paneled with a beamed cathedral ceiling, but with an industrial feel with multiple electric outlets midway up the walls. In contrast, deer and fox tapestries hung on the east end. Steps led to a bedroom. A barn with stables was near the studio/ garage; that too had big, multi-paned picture windows looking out over the mountains. We noticed as we walked back to the house that a flagstone shaped heart was centered on the porch at the front door with 1953 carved in the middle. Another flagstone on the back porch was carved with old script: W Cook, 1869.
This was the place the realtor had told us we could not afford, but over those nine months the price had dropped almost by half; we just might be able to do this. It was an estate sale; the place had been owned by German immigrants who had come to the United States before World War II and started a high-end women's clothing business with shops all over the Northeast. \Workers in the studio/loft had sewn suits, thus the row of plugs. We didn't even bother to go see three other buildings: another barn, stable and a caretaker's cottage, all down the hill on over 100 acres. At this point, the woman who had inherited just wanted to sell the estate, had drastically lowered the price and we made an offer that day. It was accepted, and the following weekend when we came back to look at what we had done, notes fluttered from the door where two other potential buyers had left phone numbers. The place was enchanting; it was isolated, rural, and had too many buildings, but it also had an unmatched natural beauty and serenity and we wanted to settle into the middle of that.