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Home Life They Traded Southern California for Upstate New York (and a Barn)

They Traded Southern California for Upstate New York (and a Barn)

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Davy Newkirk and Robbie Rivers were happy living in Los Angeles for many years, until the pandemic changed everything. “We were living in an area that became extreme with crime,” Mr. Newkirk said, “and we just wanted to get out.”

At the same time, Mr. Newkirk, who is in his 40s and works as a celebrity hairstylist — his clients include Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba and Robert Downey Jr. — found his work coming to a standstill. With Mr. Rivers, a marketing consultant in his 30s, working from home, they had few reasons to remain in the city.

For some time, the couple had toyed with the idea of buying a small second home in the Northeast, after becoming enamored with the Hamptons. In the early months of the pandemic, however, they devised a more drastic plan: They would sell their house in Los Angeles and move to the East Coast full time.

As they began looking at houses during the white-hot market of 2020, though, they realized that the Hamptons was out of reach. Not only were prices extraordinarily high, but even lackluster properties were being snapped up by eager buyers.

Aware that communities around the Catskill Mountains were seeing a creative resurgence, they decided to look upstate instead. “We were like, ‘Let’s just go to the Hudson Valley for 10 days” to look at houses, Mr. Newkirk said, “even though we had never been there.”

As the couple toured numerous houses each day, it didn’t take long to see that the real estate market upstate was nearly as frenzied as it was in the Hamptons. “I told Robbie, ‘I don’t want to overpay to fight with a New Yorker over a farmhouse that isn’t actually worth anything and needs all this work done to it,’” Mr. Newkirk said.

Just as they were getting ready to give up, a friend sent them a listing for a 2,800-square-foot brick bungalow built in 1967 on the outskirts of Kingston. It was in serious need of updating and didn’t have finished floors in many rooms, but it did have a barn, a grassy 1.5-acre lot and a view to the Hudson River. There were also a few original details they liked, including pecky cypress wood paneling in some rooms and floral wallpaper in the dining room.

“I walked in and said, ‘This is the house,’” Mr. Newkirk said. They offered the full asking price of $349,000 and closed that November.

Then Mr. Newkirk turned to Kishani Perera, a close friend and the interior designer who had worked on the couple’s house in Los Angeles. Ms. Perera wasn’t prepared to get on a plane during the pandemic, so they all made plans to collaborate remotely: Mr. Newkirk would be the eyes and ears on the ground, responsible for directing contractors, and Ms. Perera would provide guidance via email, text and daily video calls.

“We wanted it to feel like a midcentury cabin, but with very elevated pieces punctuated with high-end designer stuff, for a little bit of glam,” Ms. Perera said.

Or, as Mr. Newkirk put it: “I wanted it to be very classic New York — because I love classic New York, and this is the first New York property that I’ve owned — but also very luxe.”

One of the biggest changes they made was adding four pairs of French doors along the back of the house, opening to a new 1,000-square-foot deck. “It’s this beautiful view, but the house had these small, horizontal windows, so you couldn’t even see it,” Mr. Newkirk said. “Now, from every room, you look out the doors and it’s like a postcard.”

They gutted and rebuilt the kitchen with simple materials, including Shaker-style cabinets, a backsplash of square white tiles with black grout, and Carrara marble counters. They refreshed the bathrooms with more white tile and white marble. And they put down engineered oak flooring in a smoky gray color where there had been subfloor or old carpet.

They kept the original doors, but ebonized them for contrast against the freshly painted pale-gray walls. Mr. Newkirk and Mr. Rivers also spent weeks sanding and refinishing the pecky cypress paneling themselves, to get rid of its orange hue. And they informed every contractor who set foot in the house that the dining room wallpaper needed to be protected.

To furnish their new home, they installed a mix of pieces from their house in Los Angeles, many of which Mr. Newkirk had found while traveling for work; newly bought pieces approved by Ms. Perera, including a coveted vintage Togo settee and ottoman from Ligne Roset for the sitting room; and gifts from Mr. Newkirk’s clients, including a vintage lamp from the actress Rebecca Romijn and an artwork by Mr. Downey.

The couple moved in as soon as the kitchen was complete, in early 2021, and lived through the rest of construction as supply-chain disruptions and price hikes hampered the renovation. By the time the project was complete that September, they had blown through their anticipated budget of $150,000, and spent a total of roughly $400,000.

Now that Mr. Newkirk’s work has picked up again in Los Angeles, he and Mr. Rivers recently bought a new house there — but this time, a second home. The house in Kingston remains their primary home, Mr. Newkirk said.

“We adore this house. It’s so comfortable, and everyone who comes over is just blown away,” he said. “Coming from L.A., it’s just a breath of fresh air.”

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