“Most people who I talked to during this process thought I was crazy. They said, ‘The Catskills? Are you nuts? So many people have tried to do things there since its heyday and failed, there’s no way that’s going to work,'” said Drew Lang, principal of the New York architecture firm bearing his name. “But the area met a lot of the criteria for us. It’s within 100 miles of New York City, remote but connected. And it’s beautiful — inherently, naturally beautiful.”
The Catskills haven’t been a major vacation destination since the ’70s. In the decades that preceded its decline, the Catskills (often known as “The Borscht Belt” or “Jewish Alps”), were ripe with resorts, summer camps and bungalows for (primarily Jewish) vacationing New Yorkers. Lang’s latest development, Hudson Woods, is a decidedly different approach that flips the concept of the second home on its head. He hopes it will make the Catskills, once again, a destination for New Yorkers.
Hudson Woods is something of a housing development. Lang’s land is comprised of 26 lots, each settled with a three-bed, two-bath 2,800-square-foot home. Each home has the same basic layout, designed to make the most of the space. It’s a turnkey development, one that customers can personalize themselves by adding pools, gardens, guest homes, powder rooms and other various upgrades.
Lang chose a development-like business model because it takes the stress and guesswork out of buying a vacation home. “Our buyers here can see clearly what we’re doing — they see the product,” he said. It also keeps costs realistic for those looking for a second home. “When we design homes for our clients that are custom, one-off homes, they’re often expensive and inefficient because we’re doing something for the first time and we’re only doing it once. But here it is about design and high quality, but also efficiency and, as a result, value.”
“We’re developing Hudson Woods in a way that’s integral with the existing landscape, rather than deleting it.”
Lang is also quick to point out where his homes are different from a more traditional housing development model — leveling the land and building up from a blank palate. “There’s a reaction against what we generally see in housing developments: the stripping of the landscape, the recreation of the environment that becomes somewhat antiseptic,” he says. “We’re developing Hudson Woods in a way that’s integral with the existing landscape rather than deleting it.”
This is, at least in Lang’s eyes, a form of “vernacular architecture.” Lang is, for the most part, building the homes into the geography of the place and, along the way, taking “cues” from the existing land. “We want the landscape to read in a more primary way than the homes themselves, with the materials we’ve chosen. So we used lots of natural materials and local materials.”
Most notably, the stone used for retaining walls, driveways, draining and other parts of construction was quarried on site. “It doesn’t get more local than that,” says Lang. Hudson Woods homes are also built using wood from Pennsylvania. “It’s close, but not right next door because we identified an incredible source in Pennsylvania,” Lang explained. “It comes from a fourth-generation family that owns and manages their own forest sustainably, and mills their own lumber and sells to us directly.”
“I like using the term American. Though I’m influenced by worldwide architecture, this particular design we have in the end is very American and very rooted in the Catskills.”
The traditional definition of vernacular architecture is to take cues from the local architecture, incorporating it into the final product. Logic would dictate that Lang’s homes would be modeled after traditional residential homes and cottages from the area, but inspiration struck from a more commercial source. “I’m more interested in the agriculture buildings in the area — sheds and barns — than the homes,” Lang said.
You see that in the extensive use of white oak in the walls and floors, as well as the open floor plan. Lang considers the design American Modernist. “I like using the term ‘American,'” Lang said. “Though I’m influenced by worldwide architecture, this particular design we have in the end is very American and very rooted in the Catskills.”
As of writing, about a third of Hudson Woods is available for sale and basic homes start at $765,000. As a second home option for a certain set of New Yorkers, it makes a lot of sense. A straightforward buying process makes it simpler than searching for and renovating preexisting properties, and as a getaway the Catskills couldn’t be any more anti-city (despite being a mere two-hour drive away from NYC). Throw in Hudson Woods’ clean, modern design and quality materials, and it’s easy to hear the whisper of the Catskills calling.