DIY cabin makeover in the Catskill Mountains just got interesting

DIY cabin makeover in the Catskill Mountains just got interesting

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Photo: Reagan Wood

In this four-part series, a novice DIYer and her friend transform a country estate into a “20s grandfather’s cabin” while dealing with a missing contractor, power outages, and plenty of hiccups along the way.

Reagan Wood was looking for him vacation home at Catskills for over a year, hoping to embark on a DIY cabin makeover. But when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, I learned how competitive the market can be. Her realtor told her, “It went from dead to phone cash offers and invisible. So I’m just warning you, it wasn’t the same market it was two months ago.”

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Photo: Reagan Wood

The Photographer based in Brooklyn I realized that the epidemic has turned North city market in madness. Wood needs to move quickly. She partnered with Tara Cox, a friend who has extensive experience renovating a home in New Orleans, and the two put together Scouts On high alert. Wood drove back and forth from Park Slope to the North once a week, and she saw a house hit the market and jump in her car an hour later. They have bid on four or five properties, but have found the competitive market to be an obstacle. “We were going to accept the offers, and 20 minutes later the broker would call, ‘We got a full cash offer over the phone for 20% more than asked,’” Wood recalls.

In September 2020, Wood found the perfect setting: It sits on an eight-acre lot with a rolling creek down a mountainside next to the house. The former hunting cabin, originally built in the 20th century and added several times, had a good price. Their offer was accepted, but the negotiations felt some relief when implementation of the contract began to take longer than expected. “I knew something had happened,” Wood says. “Someone must have broken in all the cash.”

A former fishing cabin awaiting renovation.

Photo: Reagan Wood

Wood, Heartbroken, decided to take a break from looking. But by late October, her broker had informed her that the cash offer had failed, and the sellers were willing to accept their offer. Immediately.

After the deal was completed, Wood and Cox began crafting their vision for the home. Wood knew she didn’t want to recreate the Brooklyn vibe of the North. Instead, she wanted the space to feel like an authentic cabin in the mountains, enveloped in rustic and rustic character. says Wood, who invented Pinterest mod boardfilled with pictures of mountain cottages and log cabins, with unique rustic touches and a shot of Willie Nelson thrown in.

The Inspiration: Rustic meets restorative, and just enough rustic vibes to keep it warm.

The Inspiration: Rustic meets restorative, and just enough rustic vibes to keep it warm.

Wood had fond memories of the summer at her grandparents’ lake house outside Chicago – the kind of place where wicker rocking chairs and crocheted blankets rest on the arms of the sofa – and she hoped she would infuse those memories, along with the “Rocky Mountain Ambiance” that embraced her love for the air. The outdoors. It totally worked for Cox: “I’m looking forward to a warm, cozy winter cabin for skiing and a cool mountain retreat away from the heat of Nola in the summer,” she says.

Reagan Wood's grandparents' wedding day.  The duo had a lake cabin that inspired a DIY cabin makeover.

Reagan Wood’s grandparents’ wedding day. The duo had a lake cabin that inspired a DIY cabin makeover.

Photo: Reagan Wood

But unfortunately! The cabin’s condition is similar to what Wood called “the burry house” thanks to the many additions made over the years: Although it looks like a traditional hut in the front, the back looks like a Bavarian log cabin. Magic alone cannot carry their new home into the 21st century. The space needs a great deal of work. While the contractor would take on the biggest jobs, Wood was dependent on doing some of the work himself. She didn’t let the fact that her DIY experiment failed to go beyond changing a lamp, painting some furniture, and re-upholstering things—too bad. “For realz,” says Wood. “When my mom would visit me in Brooklyn to help out with apartment matters, she would shake her head and say, ‘I had no idea raising a helpless daughter like that,'” Wood recalls of her home maintenance projects.

To transform the space into the “20s grandfather’s cabin” of her dreams, Wood began evaluating all the work that needed to be completed. With Cox’s experience and advice at home Reno, the duo took off for the summer. “We’ve worked together to take control of the land, and it’s second nature to me since I own a landscape design company,” Cox says. “We also pulled some rugs and nails together. It was fun to get into the business, and it helped Reagan gain more confidence about some of the projects she’s doing on her own.”

The house was previously seasonal, and needed to be prepared for the winter. The only heating system was an old wood stove and an old propane gas heater. There was no insulation or even inner walls, only the back side of the outer side. To do the heavy lifting, Wood hired a contractor recommended by a friend and prepared to begin renovations in March 2021. He did some demolition work, but after about four months he stopped answering texts and emails. “And then he ended up disappearing with our money,” Wood says.

After realizing they were back to square one, it took another six months to find a new contractor. Wood and Cox got a renewal mortgage to pay for most of the work, but by the time they found the new contractor, labor and material costs had tripled, forcing them to refinance. During that time, the house was empty. The dining room was filled with things that Wood optimistically brought home, believing they would be able to use them by the summer of 2021. Now, there were rat droppings and dead insects everywhere. Before they could do anything, the entire space needed to be cleaned and emptied, which Wood says is a “big job.”

However, the duo remains optimistic. “I find restoring older homes fun,” Cox says. “I look forward to seeing this old girl shine once she is finished.”

The master bedroom will have a fresh coat of paint and renovated windows.

The master bedroom will have a fresh coat of paint and renovated windows.

Photo: Reagan Wood

The living room will need new flooring, which Wood plans to sand and stain.

The living room will need new flooring, which Wood plans to sand and stain.

Photo: Reagan Wood

Kitchen cabinets are waiting for a fresh coat of paint.

Kitchen cabinets are waiting for a fresh coat of paint.

Photo: Reagan Wood

Over the next two months, Wood and Cox will handle several renovation projects, including:

  • windows update

  • Painting and coloring the original chalkboard in two bedrooms and the kitchen

  • Re-shine original cast iron basin

  • kitchen cabinet paint

  • Custom sanding and staining of ground floors (installed by contractor)

  • Supplying furniture and decorating interiors

So far, Wood says, “not much has been done.” She painted the newly cleaned dining room, as well as the one upstairs bedroom that has already been renovated and provided with insulation. But then it had to stop. Another challenge arose when the water and electricity were cut off for three weeks, leaving the contractor unable to get any work done. Ongoing waits have forced Wood and Cox to be more relaxed with their projected timeline for completion.

This was supposed to be done by the end of July. Well, it’s September, and I can tell we’re halfway through,” Wood explains. “This has been the aspect that I struggle with constantly. On my best days, I have a very loose grip. On the worst days of my life, I pull my hair out.”

See what happens as Renault continues the Catskills cabin in the next batch of DIY Diary.

Originally appeared in Architectural Digest

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