Renters: He Visited the Catskills and Decided to Stay

Renters: He Visited the Catskills and Decided to Stay

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The renovated hunting cabin, which he rents for $1,000 a month (a little less than half of his Williamsburg rent), lies down a long dirt driveway, off a quiet country road. It’s surrounded by a large lawn — he devotes about an hour each week to mowing it — which slopes down to a marshy pond.

Part of the desire to stay is professional. Quitting his job in advertising and embarking on a road trip led Mr. Collignon to his new venture, an artisanal food business. He ate a lot of freeze-dried “astronaut” ice cream while he was on the road, and discovered that the ingredients in his favorite treat were somewhat alarming. He now makes organic, freeze-dried ice cream bars out of a commercial space that he rents for $450 a month in nearby Margaretville. “Try finding that in Brooklyn,” he said. He hopes to start selling his Cosmik Ice Cream bars this fall.

But like his two cats, who were once confined to his Brooklyn one-bedroom but now prowl indoors and out — catching, by his estimate, two mice a day, in addition to the occasional rabbit and snake — Mr. Collignon has come to love the rural life.

The cabin rents for $1,000 a month and is surrounded by a large lawn that takes about an hour each week to mow.

Credit
Preston Schlebusch for The New York Times

“The property is growing on me. In the spring, all of a sudden baby animals are everywhere. The birds all came back, and I watched the geese grow up,” he said. “I sit here in the mornings, drinking coffee, and I can’t complain.”

The cabin is small, about 600 square feet, with one bedroom downstairs and a low-ceilinged loft, reached by a ladderlike staircase, that runs the length of the building. It is unusual for the area, he said, both in its size and aesthetic. The space has modern, airy feel — large windows offer expansive views of the surrounding mountains — and the walls and wood floors have been painted white.

Name: Robert Collignon

Age: 35Occupation: Entrepreneur — Mr. Collignon is starting Cosmik Ice Cream, which will sell organic, freeze-dried “astronaut” ice cream bars beginning this fall. He also does freelance advertising work.Rent: $1,000 a month.But then there are the snowplow expenses: The driveway is long enough that five or six times last winter, Mr. Collignon had to pay $70 to have it plowed.Hobart, N.Y.: is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from New York and not accessible by train. The town is known for its used bookstores, clustered in a radius of a few blocks.Where he’s from: Berkeley, Calif. He never lived in the country before moving to Delaware County, but loved the childhood camping trips he took with his family in a Volkswagen Westfalia.The dangers of Netflix DVDs: “I went through a phase of trying to watch the top 100 movies of all time. I got really sick of old movies.”Why astronaut ice cream? He has always loved it and used to make pilgrimages to REI in SoHo to buy out the stock. His realization that the available offerings were high on additives and low on ingredients you’d expect to see in a pint of good ice cream came about just as the first at-home professional freeze-drier was hitting the market.

“Most stuff up here is like ski lodges or vacation houses; it’s much larger. And I didn’t need or a want a three-bedroom log cabin. This is better for a single person,” said Mr. Collignon, who found his place through a local broker he discovered on Craigslist. “I didn’t see anything else like this, either. It was all either grandma-chic, with drapes and doilies everywhere, or decorated like a hunting lodge.”

Even so, it took a little while to get used to some aspects of country life, like hearing strange rustlings in the bushes at night and seeing people with shotguns walking on the side of the road in the morning when he was driving to work. “Hunters,” he’d remind himself. The closest movie theater is an hour away, and most of the area restaurants are closed Monday through Wednesday.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block, however, has been the lack of internet service. The cabin gets only satellite service, which means no streaming movies or binge-watching television shows. “I have to get Netflix DVDs in the mail. That’s basically the evening entertainment. That and cooking. It’s lonely at times, for sure,” said Mr. Collignon, adding that he does his best to entice friends to visit, an easier task in summer than winter.

One frequent visitor has been his girlfriend, a film editor who lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The two met at a Williamsburg bowling alley. Mr. Collignon, wearing an astronaut suit, was there to shoot the video for Cosmik Ice Cream’s Kickstarter campaign.

The living room in Mr. Collignon’s cabin.

Credit
Preston Schlebusch for The New York Times

The early stages of their courtship were a little complicated, but now, in some ways, they have the best of both real estate worlds. He has an apartment where he can stay in the city and she has a country house. She has even hinted that she might be willing to join him upstate someday — if the internet situation were to improve. (So she could work from upstate, that is.)

“At first, I really missed the city and wanted to go down a lot and see people, but at some point it flipped,” Mr. Collignon said. “I miss my friends now, but I don’t really miss Brooklyn.”

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