About a year ago now, Kat and I first saw this house. We walked in to the entryway and everything smelled old. Like dust and mold and like air that hadn’t moved in a very long time. It was a freezing day, but it was sunny and the house felt surprisingly warm. “Stone houses stay warm because of the thick walls”, the realtor told us. It was like going back in time, the furniture (early american), the wallpaper (horse and carriage). I turned to Kat and could see it in her eyes immediately, though, this was going to be our challenge - this was going to be our home.This is "the before"
To understand the history of the house, you have to understand at least a little bit about the history of Kingston, NY (all of which I’ve learned in the past year). Kingston was originally a pre-independence Dutch settlement called Wiltwijck, and in 1658 Peter Stuyvesant (then the Director General of New Netherland) forced the loose collection of settlers in the Esopus valley to gather into a walled town surrounded by a wooden fence (or Stockade). Our house (or at least part of it) was constructed not long after, inside what is now know as the Stockade district, by the Van Keuren family. The wall is gone, but the same streets in this map from 1695 are still present.
The original house was probably a mostly wooden structure which was then replaced by a stone structure around 1680. In October 1777, after the Battle of Saratoga, a troop of British soldiers marched into Kingston and burned many of the houses including ours. Most of the stone structure remained intact and in fact, the support beams in the basement that support the first floor are charred black and remain from that period.
The house remained in the same family until 1923 when the Carl family purchased the home and worked with prominent local architect, Myron Teller to “restore” it. “Restore” is in quotes because Teller had a very specific style and agenda and while he kept much of the original character of the home, he added a number of features (more windows, doors, walls, covered porch, etc) that definitely weren’t part of the original Dutch design.
After the Carl's finished the renovations in the mid 1930’s, other then a new stove and maybe a new toilet in the 1960’s the house really was not touched until we bought it.
When we started looking up here a year ago, we had to get really used to answering the question of why we would want to move here from Brooklyn. I lived in Brooklyn most of my life (with some hiatus’s in Massachusetts and California) and will forever be a Brooklynite no matter where I go, though the lure of something better was just too strong. Kat and I spent a bunch of time coming up to the Hudson Valley and Catskills throughout our relationship. We even got engaged up here (almost 7 years ago if I can believe it).
don't didn’t really have many friends up here. We just loved the natural beauty of the area, the relaxed nature of the towns, and the artistic and bohemian vibe that Kingston especially had.
Along Came Magnus
The real reason we left the city and came up here is a little more complicated. For the past 5 years I was the CTO of a fast growing product company that went from 5 people to more than 100. It was constantly challenging and I really gave it my all. That meant many 80+ hour weeks, traveling every month, and generally working every waking hour I had. I loved working with my team, solving big problems and watching us succeed.
A lot of good friends had warned me that having a child changes you, but I didn’t really understand until it happened to me (I guess you can’t, really). So along came Magnus and even though every ounce of me wanted to just spend time with him I had to make a choice daily and stay late and push through and basically see him for a couple minutes each morning and on weekends.
It wasn’t a single moment, or a snap, but rather a dull throb growing louder. I was burnt out. The feeling is more than being tired, it’s a numbness and a sadness. I was angry at everything and frustrated with myself for wasting any moment of my day. Most of all, the motivation and passion I had, not just for my work, but for anything seemed to have disappeared. This was the hardest thing, because I’ve basically defined my entire self by my ability to be excited and passionate.
So in Jan 2014, overwhelmed by my underwhelmedness, I pushed myself to make a change. By the summer, I had helped Paperless Post find a new CTO and Kat and I had found this house, moved all our stuff and were living out of boxes in a single room while a team of contractors worked away.
The renovation consumed us. Kat did an amazing job basically single handedly redesigning the entire house (more pics). We really didn’t touch any of the historical details, but it’s amazing what a difference a new kitchen, new bathrooms and a couple coats of paint will do.
I continued to work full time for Paperless in my new role as Chief Scientist. Instead of only managing people I was working on writing code again, and managed to help ship a really big piece of infrastructure that helped us get through the 2014 holiday season without a hitch. I wasn’t any less exhausted, though, even though I was much more removed from the day to day operations.
After what seemed like months of being buried in snow (this city kid had to learn how to shovel a driveway [many many many times]), the snow is finally all gone and things are changing all over again.
I felt I needed to step back even further and start to explore some new challenges. I’m still Chief Scientist at Paperless Post, but I’m working part time. In the rest of the time I’m dedicated to other things: Spending time with Magnus and Kat (Fridays have become DADA days), getting better as a cook (and a baker), and starting to take on some new projects as a consultant.
I’m looking forward to putting a lot of the skills I’ve honed over the past couple of years to use with new projects and people. I put together a little site to describe the type of work I’m looking for. I’m still happy to be a part of Paperless but also excited to test my expertise on new challenges.
For the longest time, I was sure that I had a very specific track ahead of me, that each job was a step in an upward career. Life is weird and awesome, though, and happiness and success are not only on a single path.