Catskill Farms: Weekend Getaway Homes in The Catskills

Freelance Project

The Catskill Farms office sits tucked off of an unassuming two-lane road in the 800 or so resident, Sullivan-County town of Eldred, NY. Once a repair shop for local school buses, it’s now a beautifully reconstructed base for where entrepreneur and visionary builder Charles Petersheim mélanges an ingenious marriage of traditional and modern-chic design to create a paradigm of the perfect weekend-home getaway.

For nearly ten years, Petersheim’s concept of the “new-old” home —think turn-of-the-century inspired architecture of barns and cottages mixed with contemporary conveniences and stylish, antique backsplashes— has progressively reinvented real estate in the Catskills region despite being in the threshold of an economic downturn, and thanks to an innovative building formula, a rare customer-based relationship and a price that almost seems too good to be true, Catskill Farms has thrived beyond anybody’s expectations. Yet after more than 100 homes built and sold, the same simple principle has unfailingly remained: listen to your customers and cater to their needs and wants, and then build a quality, personalized home that speaks for itself. All in less than six months.

And just like the rusty crank-beams that still rest underfoot at the Catskill Farms office or the collection of antique typewriters that are perched above Petersheim’s desk, the ode to a by-gone age and simpler times is embedded in the Catskill Farms promise. It’s the ideal “power getaway” for a powerful clientele that seeks a recharge sanctuary without the hassles of actually getting there, and without the pressures typically associated with putting that vision to fruition. Charles Petersheim and team have taken the negative realties of the prototypical “this old house” fantasy out of the equation, and instead, provided the purist who wants the romance and emotiveness of an older home with a very sensible solution: take the architecture and design of that inspiring old home, and infuse it with personality. “You don’t want to be chopping wood, fixing a leaky roof, or talking to the plumber ten times a week at Thanksgiving. So that’s what we saw as a market opportunity; we were able to see through what people actually wanted, which was to spend time with their family in a great kitchen and on their porch,” Petersheim says. “Why take these people who just want to get up here and relax and make them go through a renovation or something stressful to earn that ability to relax? It’s the idea of coming up here and succeeding in that alternative lifestyle immediately.”

Born and raised in Lancaster, PA, Petersheim is the perfect anecdote for the “short-sleeve millionaire,” a hard-working, blue-collar guy who has found success because he took a risk and honed in on a very obvious opportunity. After 9/11, with the economy plummeting, a complete lull in construction work, and with a his NYC apartment lease reaching it’s end, he moved 100 miles north to Sullivan County and bought his first house, a shack without plumping and heating, for $23,000 on his credit card. Through picking up renovation jobs and seeing the unexpected suffering, expenses and time that people went through, the genesis of Catskill Farms was born. “That’s been the history of our business, willingness to take a risk to see if our hypothesis is true. The entire nine, ten years have been about constantly experimenting to probe an unmet demand in the marketplace, something that hasn’t been discovered yet.”

Nestled by the Delaware River Valley and the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, woodsy, picturesque Sullivan County is less than two hours from New York City but still maintains the feel of uncharted territory. You have wonderful, unique distractions if you want them, but it’s not a constant “Come here!” bombardment; there’s no missing-out syndrome. “People aren’t coming here to feel like they’re missing out on anything besides the time they’re spending with their families and friends,” Petersheim says of the region his homes inhabit, which is now spreading to nearby Ulster County and hotspot towns like Woodstock and Saugerties. “They’re coming up here for a very traditional experience, in terms of home, family, nature, cooking and eating in, sitting on the porch and barbequing- that’s the aspiration, to turn to that traditionalism.”

It’s a traditionalism that’s packaged in a unique home-building process that is as much of a testament as any to the character implanted in Catskill Farms. In an age defined by in-between-the-line schemes, Charles Petersheim provides a contract of integrity, trust, and fairness- no gotch-ya-nomics. The company absorbs the risks and unforeseeables attached to building a custom home and instead guarantees that the buyer gets exactly what was agreed upon for the exact same price, no surprises. It’s a process Petersheim bases on trust and intuition.

“We pick up on people’s design lead pretty quickly, so they don’t have to overexpose it to us,” he says. “Typically you design on a piece of paper and you have this long contract of details about every single thing in the house, and then you change everything. We do the exact opposite. It’s almost because we don’t define anything, we’re not changing anything, and that ability to improvise and organically design a house takes a lot of trust. It’s a real meeting of the minds.”

Most unusual, though, is the genuine fervor of the man behind the name. From surveying and selecting a piece of land, personally showing and selling homes and the actual home placement and construction — he even stays in every home he sells for least 24 hours, as a final routine check-up— Charles Petersheim is Catskill Farms, and the passion and artistry he breathes into every step of a home’s execution shows. “My life is my business, and I am committed to making sure this promise that I’m making to people, which is that our homes work and you’re going to enjoy them, is true,” he says. “It’s embarrassingly earnest. I wholly believe that we’re doing the right thing and creating this amazing opportunity for people.”

Petersheim is committed to listening and getting to know his customer and their needs like no builder out there; there are no insulating layers or market reports. “I’m really hearing what they have to say,” he says. “I’m not trying to fit them into my box, I’m trying to fit into their box.” From what the men and women want, to what the children and parents want, he aims to fulfill all the competing desires. It’s this authentic customer relationship that Petersheim attributes as his secret to success in many ways. With a mere three re-sales in the past decade, it’s a success and approval that is voiced every time a home sells. And the fact that an intelligent, well-to-do and well-known clientele has seen and taken advantage of the opportunity Catskill Farms offers only further goes to show that people are catching on for a reason.

“They’re just some really smart people with active brains, so give them a little bit of space, and the brain goes in directions it isn’t given the space or time to go in the workweek,” Petersheim says about his customers, who in many ways, are a pie chart of successful, go-get-em-type New Yorkers. From artists, bankers, art curators and well-known musicians and writers, to structural engineers, lawyers, and gallery owners, over time, a very creative, entrepreneurial-minded urban professional defined that the “second way of life” behind Catskill Farms was the quintessential counterpart to their city existence. It’s the pot-of-gold for those questing for traditionalism in a stimulant-heavy, fast-paced world. Like a Catskill Farms resident said, the homes are like a big hug: comforting and welcoming, no matter how crazy life gets.

“If our customers are able to build lives around their second homes or augment and improve their professional lives in the city by having these escapes or raising families up here,” Petersheim says, “and if these homes have provided a backdrop for people to really experience a different side of life and the homes are still standing and working well, that’s the legacy.”