When the Weekend House Becomes a Full-Time Home

When the Weekend House Becomes a Full-Time Home

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“We loved the access to the outdoors and the natural glow of the light,” Mr. Smith said. “On certain days, you can feel like you’re in Provence.”

After a bit of reshuffling of their work schedules — Ms. Berliner works from home, but Mr. Smith commutes — they were ready. They moved out full-time in January, saying goodbye to Brooklyn, where they had lived for 12 years.

Their Brooklyn friends thought they were crazy, but they immediately felt at home. “Our life was so much calmer,” Ms. Berliner said.

Others who have fallen for the region’s corn fields, berry picking and fresh-caught fish have also left their city lives behind for a decidedly quieter existence. They say they worry less about what they’re missing in the city and focus more on what they’re gaining: year-round access to the beach and what they describe as an agricultural Shangri-La, where farm stands outnumber suburban strip malls and boats — not just cars — are parked in driveways.

They say they have found a place where harried city children can live as free-range as the chickens roaming the corner farm, and where the fixings for a dinner party can be sourced locally, perhaps within a short bike ride. For those priced out of housing markets in Manhattan and Brooklyn (and perhaps, the South Fork), the lifestyle of the North Fork seems more attainable; it’s still possible to find a three-bedroom home there for less than $500,000.

Franceska and Aaron Earls are only the fifth family to live in this Peconic home, which was built in 1870. On warm nights, they often eat dinner on this cozy side porch, which features a light fixture original to the home.

Credit
Tara Striano for The New York Times

But moving 85 miles away from Manhattan has one big challenge: work. It’s too far for a daily commute, and there aren’t enough high-paying jobs in the region to match the salaries of those who buy weekend homes.

So couples are getting creative, finding ways to divide their time, perhaps commuting into the city a day or two a week for meetings, in what some refer to as “the flip.” Rather than spending two days a week in the country and five in the city, they do the reverse, sometimes even opting to pay for a hotel if they have multiple days of meetings in Manhattan.

When Mr. Smith, who recently left his law firm to start a governance advisory business, has meetings at the United Nations on Wednesdays, he sometimes sleeps in a spare bedroom at his cousin’s Brooklyn apartment. The rest of the time, he mostly works out of a detached art studio and office that Ms. Berliner’s stepfather built in their backyard.

The desire to move to the North Fork often happens as the summer winds down, when the reality of returning home sets in.

Ian Wile, 45, and his wife, Rosalie Rung, 44, bought their Greenport summer house in 2002, but it wasn’t until Mr. Wile, who was between film-editing jobs, spent an entire summer there with his son in 2011 that they considered relocating. After weeks of daily kayaking and beach trips, he dreaded going back to their TriBeCa apartment.

When he saw a town notice in the local paper offering aquaculture grants to anyone interested in bringing oysters back to the Peconic Bay, he applied on a whim. “I didn’t know anything about oysters, I was just thinking, ‘How can I extend my time here?’” he said.

He got the grant — he was apparently the first to call — which included the use of 10 farmable acres in the Peconic Bay. Since it takes about a year for an oyster farm to produce, he reluctantly returned to the city and got a freelance job with a production company in contract with the Food Network. On weekends, he and Ms. Rung would head east and tend the oysters.

In 2013, with their son finishing elementary school and a vague goal of growing the oyster farm, they moved year-round to a two-family home in the village of Greenport.

“We just realized we needed to be near the water,” said Ms. Rung, a former digital media executive. At first, she commuted to the city three days a week. Then she was laid off — “thankfully,” she added, glad to be done with the grueling commute.

They found the transition otherwise fairly easy, in part because of the walkability of Greenport. “It’s not like you’re going into the deep woods,” Mr. Wile said. They could still walk to pick up groceries or to a dinner out, and the Long Island Rail Road stop was a few blocks away. “For us, it ticked all of the same boxes. It was just 100 miles east of where we were drawing our circle,” he said.

Sara Berliner and Ulysses Smith moved into their Cutchogue “tree house,” a raised ranch in the exclusive Nassau Point neighborhood, last January. Ms. Berliner’s stepfather built a detached art studio in the backyard (seen here), where Mr. Smith works from home when he is not commuting to the city.

Credit
Tara Striano for The New York Times

Channeling their entrepreneurial spirit, the couple rented a 100-year-old bait shop on the Greenport waterfront in the spring of 2014. “We decided to see what we could do with it,” Mr. Wile said. It has since become Little Creek Oysters, a popular regional tasting room, where you can order up to 20 varieties of locally raised oysters while sipping a craft beer.

Customers are often curious about how to make the shift east, he said. His answer: It’s about letting go of “a number,” or whatever salary they identify with. “What I make at the restaurant is much less than what I used to make,” he said. “But my expenses are that much lower, so it evens out.”

The couple also field a lot of questions about the schools. Their 15-year-old son, Jackson, attends the public Greenport High School, which has a 77 percent graduation rate. They believe Jackson has benefited from having friends from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, something that was not the case at his public elementary school in TriBeCa.

There aren’t many alternatives to the public schools on the North Fork. Until 2012, when the Peconic Community School opened, there were only a few private options, all of them with religious affiliations.

Liz Casey Searl, who grew up in Mattituck, a town halfway between Riverhead and Greenport, started the school with her sister and another local parent when her own children were school age. “It’s not that the public schools aren’t good,” she said. “It’s just that some of us wanted something different.”

Ms. Casey Searl also had a hunch that some of the city weekenders frequenting local businesses throughout the summer might consider staying year-round if there was a progressive private school option. (The Hamptons has at least two, the Ross School and the Hayground School.)

Today, teachers at the school follow a project-based curriculum that draws heavily from the farms and waters of the North Fork, and they rely on experiential learning to bring the curriculum to life. “We had this hunch that if we build it, they will come,” she said.

City parents certainly seem interested. Of the 30 families with children enrolled in early childhood through sixth grade at the school, 10 moved to the North Fork from the city, including the family of Mr. Smith and Ms. Berliner. Ms. Casey Searl said she gets several calls a month from parents in Brooklyn and Manhattan who are considering the move east. “And why wouldn’t they? It’s a wonderful place to raise children,” she said.

And perhaps stay for life. Jerry Cibulski, whose first job was moving irrigation pipes in potato farms while he was attending Mattituck High School, has been selling real estate in the region for 13 years. Mr. Cibulski, a realtor with Century 21 Albertson, said he often sells to families from Garden City or the Gold Coast suburbs of Nassau County who are looking for a summer home, to retirees looking for a year-round home or to what he calls “Park Slope creatives,” who buy a house and then find ways to split their workweek between home and the city.

He believes the changing demographics are breathing new life into the towns he has frequented since he was a child. “There’s a different vibe here now,” he said.

When driving to work or going for a run on the North Fork, it’s common to pass marshlands and narrow waterways, popular with kayakers and stand-up paddle-boarders.

Credit
Tara Striano for The New York Times

But what happens when the newly transplanted find the crisp fall days coming to an end? Some say they appreciate the winters, that the quiet is nice after the crowds and summer traffic. When they need a little something more, the city is an easy Hampton Jitney ride away. Others, however, find the winter months a challenge.

In 2011, when Erin Johnson left Fort Green, Brooklyn, to open Fork and Anchor, a gourmet sandwich shop and general store in East Marion, she and her partner, Lucy Muellner, dreamed of being the “Barefoot Contessa ladies” of the North Fork. She found herself at open-air farm dinners with a fascinating group of foodie entrepreneurs and farmers, and she couldn’t have been more inspired.

A year later, she met her husband, Mike Johnson, a local who owned a tree-cutting business. They married in 2013 and moved into his Orient home at the eastern tip of the North Fork. Today, they have two children, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. And Fork and Anchor has been featured in Vogue, Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living.

Still, despite the success of the business and her love of living in the sparkly summer community, Ms. Johnson, 38, finds the winters isolating. Last year, for the first time, she and Ms. Muellner closed the deli for two months beginning in January, when few people would come in. Ms. Muellner missed her husband, who continues to live full-time in Brooklyn. Craving a change of scenery, Ms. Johnson convinced her husband to take a three-week trip to Los Angeles. “I love the North Fork, but I’m not sure I’m a lifer,” she said. “I’m still figuring that out.”

Franceska and Aaron Earls, on the other hand, loved their first winter on the North Fork. “We were just thankful the boys weren’t playing soccer in the hallways of our city apartment,” Ms. Earls, 40, said.

In 2015, they knew they were outgrowing their Gramercy life, and they had good friends in the city who had moved to the North Fork, commuting in part-time for work. While visiting their friends, they would sometimes go to the Winemaker’s Studio, a tasting room in Peconic, and daydream about the house across the street: “What if we could move into that beautiful Victorian?” Ms. Earls would say.

Then the Victorian came up for sale. They decided to jump on it, and they moved in a year later. Ms. Earls works from home, designing for Augden, a Bolivian artist collective she founded that produces handmade sweaters (among those who wear them are the actress Jessica Chastain and the singer Gwen Stefani).

Mr. Earls, 45, said he looks forward to returning to Peconic whenever he commutes into the city to his sports content company, Sportuu, often two or three days a week. “There’s just so much to do,” he said of life in Peconic. “On our street alone, there are two tasting rooms, a vineyard, a big park and a craft brewery.”

In some ways, they say, living there feels like being on a permanent vacation. Ms. Earls enjoys shopping in the small villages. Their sons, who are 8 and 5 and attend Peconic Community School, get a kick out of sitting in the car at a stoplight behind a huge tractor.

On their way to the store, they pass fields of sunflowers. And Ms. Earl has found endless inspiration for her design work.

“If I get a creative block, I take a walk to the beach or take the kids to see the sunset,” she said. “For me, it doesn’t get old.”

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