It could be because we all get sucked into reno shows on HGTV, or it could be because there’s a ton of property out there with big-time potential that’s yet to be realized, but we’ve all found ourselves scouring the real estate listings of some quaint country town looking for the perfect fixer-upper. Well, this couple not only scoured, but also scored, and they scored big time with this cabin in upstate New York. Following a two-year renovation project they completed entirely on their own, The Hunter Greenhouse is officially open for overnight stays.
Located just a couple hours north of NYC in Tannersville, this gorgeous glass-faced cabin has been refitted from top to bottom and is hitting all our design requirements. There’s an indoor hammock, a living wall, a cozy living space with a hanging swing, and so much more. We recently caught up with the couple behind the design and reno, and got the full scoop on what it takes to pull off such a massive project. Read on for all the dirty details from Danielle and Ely in the jump below.
Tell us how The Hunter Greenhouse came to be: Were you looking for a remodel job?
Our desire for a relaxing weekend retreat came directly from the realities of living in New York City. We love it here, but after 5 years it didn't take much convincing that it would be nice to spend some time in a place with more grass than asphalt. The truth is, we looked at the numbers and realized the only way we could afford to buy a vacation home was to find something that needed a lot of work and do the work ourselves. And then rent it out to at least cover expenses.
What was the cabin like when you got ownership?
It was bad. Really, really, bad. There were water stains everywhere. It was dirty. And old. The floors were scratched up, the bathrooms had laminate paneling and stick-on floors, and the kitchen was beyond redemption. The house was in such bad condition, in fact, that when the realtor took us to see it we spent all of five minutes in the space before deciding it wasn't the house for us and left. We saw this other property that we fell in love with (that was much more expensive) and put an offer in. When that fell through (thankfully) we decided to buy this one, practically sight unseen. Sometimes being impulsive is the only way to move forward.
How did you decide where to begin?
After closing, we went into the house and went room by room with a notebook and pen and wrote down everything that needed to be changed. Which, in the end, meant every single thing except for one small light fixture above the stairs. We got a dumpster and a big hammer and went to work. After the space was cleared out the renovation really began. So much sanding, and then so much painting, and then so much tiling. Cabinets and appliances and fixtures. Thinking back on it, I don’t know how it took 2 years. But since we live in NYC, we only had the weekends so the process was very slow.
What was your design inspiration?
We went into it with no vision or expectations. No mood boards. We knew right off the bat there were so many basic things that needed to be done that we couldn’t worry about design just yet. The beams were painted brown which was such a waste of beautiful wood grain, so we sanded them all down. The walls were covered in water stains, so they had to be painted. All the baseboards and trim and outlets and light fixtures were so ugly we just ripped them out and replaced them. I don’t think we really gave much thought to any of it because it was all just obvious stuff that had to be done.
Once the space started taking shape we looked around at furniture stores and bought things we liked and that fit the space. Practicality really drove a lot of our decisions. This was always going to be a rental property, so it had to be practical for a group. We needed an open layout with a lot of seating and entertainment options. We needed it to be relaxing and dreamy and cozy. And we needed it to be special so that people felt like they were on vacation.
How did you learn how to do each project?
The painful and expensive answer to this question is trial and error. We didn’t really know how to do any of it, so we had to figure it out as we went. Like I said, sometimes being impulsive is the only way forward and that manifested itself constantly. I remember starting to tile the upstairs bathroom at 9pm one night because we were frustrated that things weren’t moving fast enough. We mixed up a batch of mortar and started laying down the flooring and not-quickly-enough realized that nothing was straight or lining up. So, we tore it all up and started again. I have a story like that for way too much of the house. But, guests don’t really care about the process, they only care about what it looks like in the end. If it’s not nice, it’s not nice, no matter how much work you put into it.
What was the hardest part/biggest obstacle you faced?
Finding the time to get everything done was a huge challenge that we never really got around. There’s a fixed amount of time in a day and we quickly learned we have a finite amount of energy (physical and mental) to do work.
Do you have any advice for homeowners looking to do a similar project?
There are two opposing ideologies that must work in tandem to be successful. Stay as organized as possible, make every list imaginable, and take great pleasure in crossing those items of the list. But, know when to throw the list away (not literally, that check list is gold). What I really mean is be flexible – just because it’s written down doesn’t mean that’s the best option. Keep your head up at all times and constantly think about and consider alternate scenarios. I can’t tell you how many decisions we thought we were making in stone that we later completely changed. Hindsight reveals all, and we sometimes talk about our original plans for certain parts of the house and cringe.
It's done, beautiful and rentable! What is your favorite part of the home?
Sitting on that hanging chair in the living room, while a record spins and there’s a cold drink in my hand and I prop my feet up on the adjacent chair and gently sway while taking in the entire space. All the plants and the huge windows and all the different materials and textures that come together to create a dreamy, cozy place I never want to leave.
Book your stay at The Hunter Greenhouse →