The House That Built The Beekman Boys

It all began with an annual apple-picking excursion in upstate New York that went beautifully awry. A couple of Manhattanites, lured every autumn to the Hudson Valley and its numerous orchards, took a different route than usual one evening in 2006 and found themselves parked on Route 20 near the town of Sharon Springs marveling at a stately white building they mistook for a museum. A year later, they were calling the nineteenth-century mansion home.

For Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, the serendipity of the discovery inspired much more than a move to the country. The couple has been instrumental in revitalizing the community of Sharon Springs by integrating its local tradespeople into their burgeoning business, Beekman 1802, which was named after William Beekman (their home

The House That Built The Beekman Boys

It all began with an annual apple-picking excursion in upstate New York that went beautifully awry. A couple of Manhattanites, lured every autumn to the Hudson Valley and its numerous orchards, took a different route than usual one evening in 2006 and found themselves parked on Route 20 near the town of Sharon Springs marveling at a stately white building they mistook for a museum. A year later, they were calling the nineteenth-century mansion home.

For Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, the serendipity of the discovery inspired much more than a move to the country. The couple has been instrumental in revitalizing the community of Sharon Springs by integrating its local tradespeople into their burgeoning business, Beekman 1802, which was named after William Beekman (their home’s original occupant) and the house’s incept date.

 

Purveying a variety of lifestyle goods, including handmade housewares, textiles and pantry items, Beekman 1802 was initially founded on the goat-milk products inspired by the livestock on their farm. A wide selection of natural soaps, cheeses, spreads and sauces – and now ice creams – are all infused with the luxurious milk of the Beekman goat herd managed by Farmer John Hall.

Recognizing the wealth of talent residing in Sharon Springs and its satellite communities, Brent and Josh were quick to incorporate this homegrown craftsmanship into their business. For Brent, it was the proud endurance of the Beekman mansion itself that inspired his commitment to supplying quality provisions that were made by hand.

“It was obvious that William Beekman was a person who cared very deeply about quality,” he says, referring to the home’s good bones. “The idea of making things that last – capable of being handed down to future generations – influences every single item that we design for Beekman 1802.”

Built between 1802 and 1804 for the family of Mr. Beekman, who was the first judge appointed to the Court of Common Pleas of Schoharie County, the house was based on the designs of Connecticut architects Asher Benjamin and William Spreatts. A Georgian/Federal hybrid with tall Palladian windows and a basic plan of four rooms over four, connected by a 14-foot wide central hall, the Beekman has stood handsomely against a backdrop of 60 acres of rolling hillsides and forest groves for over 200 years.

For six of those decades, however, the house lay dormant in a state of total abandonment and decay. Marred by vandals and decades of neglect, the house was a forgotten derelict. It was Eric Selch, a musicologist from Manhattan, and his wife Patricia who devoted themselves to its revival. Tearing down a lopsided kitchen wing, adding several chimneys and restoring the interiors, the Selches invested three-and-a-half years of renovation work. One of the Beekman’s trademark features today is its vast, wrap-around porch. This was not original to the house but was another of Selch’s modern additions, which he based on the architecture of the home’s original designers. The Selch’s owned the property from 1993 until 2005 when it was put up for sale shortly after Mr. Selch’s death.

“We had always thought we would get a ‘fixer-upper,” says Brent. “But after seeing how well this one had been ‘fixed’ we decided it was a much better plan. It really was a passion project for [Selch.] It’s yet another reason why we just feel like custodians of the property until the next generation of dreamers comes along.”

While Brent and Josh were initially looking for a vacation home – a place in the country where they could escape their busy city lives (Josh was a partner in the advertising firm SS & K and Brent was the Senior Vice President of Healthy Living at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) fate and circumstance had other plans. Not long after buying the home, the recession hit and saw them both unemployed, which began a two-year process of rethinking and reorganizing to eventually become full-time residents of the Beekman and – by extention and popular osmosis – ambassadors of Sharon Springs.

Having been stars of their own reality show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, which documented their transition to rural life, and subsequent winners of the 2012 season of The Amazing Race (both shows garnered a vast and devoted social-media following and fan base) the couple has been vociferously championing their new community, far and wide. They have organized seasonal festivals in Sharon Springs that have brought upwards of 10,000 people to the little town at one time, inspiring a new local economy that is showing signs of consistent growth with new inns, stores and restaurants peppering the town’s historic Main Street.

Among the most recent additions is the new Beekman 1802 Mercantile, which is now housed in the town’s original firehouse and meeting hall. It was formerly the town’s Village Hall Gallery and has now been completely renovated to reflect the Beekman brand’s commitment to quality. Brent confidently calls the location their flagship store.

It is the Beekman house itself, however, that cradles the hopes and passions of this innovative pair. Its interior decoration, by extention, reflects the couple’s tastes and interests. There is a fine and curated order to the home’s decor that is serenely simple with nods to enduring tradition and hits of modernity that speak to an appreciation of both the past and the future. Custom-built furniture mingles with flea-market finds to achieve a look that is formal but airy. Folk art, personal commissions and special pieces made by local artists accent the walls, which are kept either neutral or dressed in Cole & Son wallpaper in deep hues with delicate Chinoiserie patterns.

Despite the finery of his surroundings, Brent insists that buying an older home, aside from its splendid rewards, is a commitment not to be taken lightly. “Learn to fall in love with non-level floors and learn to do basic repairs,” he cautions. “In an old house, there are always repairs to be done!”

Outside, in a misty scrim of rain, Brent trims the grass around the barn while Josh tends to his garden. Sunday is chore day on the farm and there is always much to be done. The newest addition to their family is a lean canine beauty named Önder. Brent insists she will be an outdoor dog, even as he lovingly buries his face in her ebony fur. The puppy frolics along the fence, not sure what to make of the wide-eyed goats who are equally unsure of her.

Wind blows down from the hillside where the couple was married in June 2013 and as one takes in the vast beauty of this place one cannot help but be enamored of its residents: modern caretakers of a house that built their dreams.

 

To read the full story of how the Beekman found the boys, get your autographed copy of The Bucolic Plague, click here

 

PHOTOS BY JESSICA HODGSON

by Andrew

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