How an N.Y.C. Couple Turned a Cabin in the Woods Into Their Rustic Escape

Natale Adgnot didn’t always see the appeal of owning a cabin in the woods.

For years, her husband, Sebastien Adgnot, browsed listings for rustic homes in upstate New York and New Jersey from the couple’s apartment in Brooklyn. “But my wife told me, ‘There’s no way I’m going to spend my weekends in a lake house somewhere,’” said Mr. Adgnot, 45, who works in internet technology and is an avid fly fisherman.

“I really am such a city person,” said Ms. Adgnot, 49, an artist. The idea of buying a house in the country was a nonstarter because she loved the energy and artistic community in New York, assumed she could produce work only in an urban studio and disliked the idea of spending money on a second home.

The arrival of the pandemic gave Mr. Adgnot an opening. When living and working at home with their child, Esmé, now 16, began to feel cramped, Ms. Adgnot agreed to try renting a house in Livingston Manor, N.Y., for a month in the summer of 2020.

And once she got there, she fell in love. “I dragged all my art supplies up there and had this revelation: I can actually do my work outside of New York City,” she said. She also discovered that the area had a flourishing art scene. And she had to admit there was something nice about waking up among the trees.

By the time that month was up, the couple had decided to find a house they could buy — and discovered that there were countless other New Yorkers doing the same thing. With few properties available, they took a closer look at a disheveled log house in New Paltz, built from a kit in the 1980s, that they had previously ruled out after looking at the listing photos.

“The interiors were like ‘Twin Peaks,’” Ms. Adgnot said. “Wood on wood on wood, in a very terrifying way. You really had to have some imagination.”

When they saw the house in person, it was as dark and dingy as they expected. But they liked that there was a private pond directly behind it and that it had a two-car garage, also built from logs, which Ms. Adgnot could convert into a studio. With few other options, they bought it, closing that October for $540,000.

Mr. Adgnot’s first task as a homeowner: dragging a dead deer out of the pond with rope on their first afternoon in the house.

“Welcome to homeownership,” he said. “I brought the deer into the woods, and two days later there was nothing left. There are tons of animals in these woods, and they took care of the problem for me.”

After that, things started to fall into place. They moved into the house temporarily while looking for professionals to help renovate it. Searching online, Ms. Adgnot found Lynn Gaffney, an architect based in New York City. Not only was Ms. Gaffney excited by the project, but she and Ms. Adgnot discovered they were already neighbors in Brooklyn — their studios happened to be in the same building.

“Just by the way they talked about their space and their style, I knew they were going to be great clients,” Ms. Gaffney said. “The house itself was going to be a challenge.”

Together, they planned to substantially renovate the main cabin, add a mudroom, convert the garage into a studio for Ms. Adgnot and build a covered walkway to tie the structures together.

To enter the 2,800-square-foot house, renovated by Pro-line Home Improvements, you now pass through a small flat-roofed addition that contains a mudroom finished with white-oak paneling, shoe shelves and an integrated bench. The rest of the living space is one step up.

“That’s the genkan,” Ms. Adgnot said, using the Japanese word for entryway and explaining that their family lived in Tokyo for three years. “In Japan, even in the smallest places, you step up to go into the home, because that’s how you leave your shoes and the dirt on them outside.”

In the living room and kitchen, they took down walls and decorative logs that had divided the space, opening it up and coating the remaining wood in white paint. They enclosed and insulated what used to be a porch to create a dining room and second sitting area, adding a built-in bench where there’d been a patio slider.

Construction began in July 2021 and was mostly finished by March 2022, at a cost of about $400,000. Since then, the couple have tackled landscaping, added a wood-fired cedar hot tub outside, stocked the pond with fish and bought a small boat so Mr. Adgnot can practice his fly-fishing.

With the work now complete, “there’s an idyllic aspect to it,” Mr. Adgnot said of their rustic escape. “We pushed the envelope of what this house could be and made it everything we wanted.”

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