How I Built This
Even the most devout city dwellers need a dose of wilderness every now and again. For Manhattanites Danielle and Ely Franko, that natural respite often came in the form of weekend trips to the Catskills, renting forest-dense vacation homes with friends.
A few years ago, lured by the prospect of fresh mountain air, the couple purchased their own escape from the city, one they could imbue with the cherished spirit of gathering. Their search didn’t last long. They looked at one house and were sold - a 1970s modified A-frame in Tannersville on a dead-end street near North-South Lake, about two minutes from the Kaaterskill Falls viewing platform.
Though it resembled a charming ski chalet, the dilapidated house was in disarray - with elements like linoleum stick-on tiles and a brown Formica-paneled bathroom. “The only part of the interior that we saved was a light leading up the stairs to the loft,” says Danielle. “We really renovated every single square inch of that house.”
The house’s saving grace was the sixteen-foot floor-to-ceiling windows that bathed the living room and kitchen in beautiful natural light. “When the trees are in full bloom in summer, it’s completely secluded and you see nothing but green,” says Ely, of the view that sealed the deal. “And then in winter you can see the silhouette of the surrounding mountains.”
For two years, the couple drove from Manhattan to the Catskills almost every weekend, teaching themselves everything from how to install plumbing and electrical work to how to shingle a roof. “It was a lot of trial and error, and making a lot of - in hindsight - really stupid mistakes,” says Ely.
Ever so slowly the Hunter Greenhouse came to life. The couple found their aesthetic during the renovation process, one that was inspired by the sylvan setting just beyond their massive window panes. “The only thing we had in mind was that it had to be really light and bright, and so we kept things very neutral and white,” says Ely. “We definitely leaned towards natural materials—a lot of wood tones and plants. We wanted to bring the outside and the surrounding area into the home.”
The Frankos managed to source everything on an impressively tight budget aside from the modern Chesterfield leather sofa in the living room. And if they couldn’t find something to fit their criteria, they ended up making it. “We thought it would be cool to have a reclaimed wood dining table,” says Danielle. “But then we realized it would be insanely expensive. So we went to Home Depot and stood for an hour picking through all the wood to find the most distressed, uglier pieces.” They then took the boards home, hit them with hammers, threw rocks at them, and scraped them with nails to achieve that extra patina.
Now fully renovated, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom abode sleeps six comfortably. A plant wall by the staircase offers an array of succulents in geometric planters, and the large kitchen opens into an airy living room where dappled sunlight spills in through the windows’ glass expanse. True to the spirit a ski chalet, there’s ample space for communing and playing board games, and if you prefer to curl up solo with a book, they’ve got hanging chairs and hammocks.
Danielle and Ely love spending time at the house whenever they’re able to leave New York City. The Hunter Greenhouse has also become a beloved dwelling on Airbnb. Being avid travelers themselves, the pair likes to ensure their home features the thoughtful touches they appreciate when they’re away. Luxe sheets, towels and bath products are essential, as are fluffy pillows. The kitchen is well stocked with often overlooked accoutrements, such as: sharp knives, a waffle iron, and (clearly catering to the New York crowd) five different ways to make coffee. Finally, they always welcome guests with a handwritten note. “It should feel like home,” says Ely. “Or maybe, your best version of home.”
The Hunter Greenhouse by Mikki Brammer
Photography by Sophie Fabbri