Susan Orlean Lists Her Upstate Retreat

Susan Orlean Lists Her Upstate Retreat

Bird nests may not be all that uncommon in the Hudson Valley. But in the rural retreat of Susan Orlean, the writer and writer of The New Yorker, who is known for her animal slapping, the most notable tangles of sticks and straw are not in trees, but in her kitchen, which is on a neat bluestone wall to the left of on the right is her refrigerator.

Blurring the boundaries between inside and outside seems a priority in Ms. Orlean's modernist mansion, whose towering windows look out on overlapping hills and whose knot-strewn Douglas fir walls appear to have just come out of a sawmill.

"One of the wonderful things about the house," said Ms. Orlean, "is that you never feel guilty when you are inside."

With three bedrooms, two full and one half baths, and an unusual two-sided indoor and outdoor fireplace, the 300-square-foot Columbia County home comes on the market for the first time since Ms. Orlean, 65. and her husband, John Gillespie, 67, a financial services company, built it on a former dairy farm in 2005.

The price of the property, which includes 56 acres of mostly cleared land, is $ 3.495 million, which is high for the region. Of the 430 single-family homes listed on in Columbia County in January, only 15 were more expensive.

While some Covid-tired New Yorkers are setting up camp upstate to test the limits of working from home, Ms. Orlean and Mr. Gillespie will actually spend more time in one city, in their case Los Angeles, their primary residence since 2011 Home There is a modern mid-century apartment by Rudolph Schindler from 1947.

Last year, Ms. Orlean, Mr. Gillespie, and their son Austin, 16, managed to stick to the tradition and spend the summer indoors, which also features sheep photos, a stuffed red fox, and Andy Warhol's four-print version of Jersey cows.

But “if you go through something as deep as a pandemic, you will re-examine everything. The raw fact of having a weekend home 3,000 miles away really came home to sleep, ”said Ms. Orlean, who added two dogs and a cat also make traveling difficult.

To get to the property, which is in the town of Gallatin, about two hours north of Manhattan, you'll need to navigate a corkscrew of a driveway and a dark and narrow entrance hall before entering the loft-like heart of the house, an open amalgam of the Living room, dining room and kitchen.

Providing such a "compression and release" experience is a favorite trick of house architect James Cutler, who compares it to the moment in "Wizard of Oz" when the film switches from black and white to Technicolor.

"There must have been a gasp in the theater when the audience unexpectedly saw something incredibly beautiful," said Seattle-based Mr. Cutler, who counts software billionaire Bill Gates among his clients.

If the bedrooms and bathrooms in Ms. Orleans' house seem small, it is because they are being unfairly compared to current standards. "There's just so much you need in life," Cutler said, "and America is a little wasteful."

Plus, the house has shown the ability to wrap guests. Two Murphy beds, discreetly hidden in a library and home office, help with hosting chores. If necessary, long window seats on the edges of the rooms can serve as sleeping areas. This happened once when a violent New Year's Eve storm forced 20 guests to spend the night.

"We had a really good time," said Ms. Orlean, whose guest list over the years has included writers like Jim Downey of Saturday Night Live, Jenji Kohan, who created "Orange is the new black," and Kurt Andersen, the author, heard of non-fiction books. Also hanging out were musicians, directors and comedians, as well as actress Meryl Streep, who stopped by in the 2002 film "Adaptation" a few years after Orlean. It is based on Orleans' book on flower poaching and obsession, "The Orchid Thief".

To Ms. Orlean, a focus on fauna – racing pigeons, lost dogs, and military mules – a common "rabbit Ebola" – does not seem superficial. As a farmer she got her hands dirty. She tended flocks of chickens, guinea fowl, and turkeys for a period of four years in the late 2000s while living in Gallatin full-time. (There were also Black Angus cattle, but they needed outside help.)

Today there is a large pond in the hilly landscape for kayaking and swimming. Nearby, in a shaded area, is a cozy prefabricated writing shed where Ms. Orlean was working on "The Library Book" about a devastating arson fire.

Her next listing, slated to be released this fall, seems truer, a collection of her best animal stories. However, the fate of the house's peasant memorabilia after the house is sold is less clear. "It seems so northeast to have dairy cows on the wall," she said, "so I don't know what's going to happen."

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