Cottagers Bottom constitutes The Lovely Brothers’ first venture into the rural landscape of Trump country. Perched on one-and-a-half acres in the destination village of Bovina, it comprises of two conjoined structures, each of an entirely different 19th century vernacular. At some murky point in history the original tannery that squatted here dissolved in its own chemistry and was replaced by a tiny two-floor cottage to which was stitched a separate three-floor house, thus inaugurating a difficult marriage that persists to this day. For 150 years this hobbled structure has clung to the lip of Main Street, resisting the combined forces of gravity, poverty and debauchery, each bent upon propelling it down the slope into the stream below. Stone foundations buckled, sills evaporated, walls and floors wandered off in opposite directions; and the whole eccentric coalition warped into a masterpiece of accidental Expressionism reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
When we took possession, the house had been fleetingly occupied by transient tenants and was held together by cat hair and pubes. Insulation was exclusively accumulated mouse-shit, drop-ceilings sagged under earlier drop-ceilings, walls levitated inches above foundations. Windows were painted shut, their panes held together by superglue or stuffed with PriceChopper bags. Over the course of four months we tore out 30 years of getting-by, retaining the old bones, adding ligaments and a boatload of connective tissue. New structures were built within the existing frame to shore up the integrity of the building and allow for luxuries like shelves that that didn’t instantly disgorge their contents on the floor and doors that open. Heating was added, plumbing and electricity dragged writhing from the Machine Age. Fire-Sale-at-Home-Depot eccentricities were discarded, along with the bone-dry, pedal-operated, free-standing lavatory in the corner of the main bedroom; a masterpiece of the Fucking Disgusting movement. Ceilings were taken back to beams and plaster, the bathroom exorcized. Floors, however, retain their perilous gradient, each sloping south to the stream and fields beyond. A marble dropped in the kitchen can be found months later thumbing a ride on route 28 east of Woodstock.
As with every Lovely Brothers’ renovation, the array of ghouls lurking behind the veneer of habitability was hair-raising. Battle-hardened carpenters, plasterers, plumbers, electricians and engineers stared long at Cottagers Bottom and wondered aloud why we didn’t burn the bastard to the ground.
Four dumpsters and several generations of abandoned pharmaceuticals later, it’s done. We live here; and when we don’t, others can.
The soul of the house is the old telephone operator’s cottage, now a single large room with open kitchen and adjoining living room. Short of sleeping, urinating and showering, life can be undertaken entirely within its confines. The kitchen has a Viking stove, bowling alley countertops, repurposed floorboard shelves, an Italian fridge and farmhouse table of planks from a Scottish distillery. 18 years of friends have carved their names into it. In keeping with Il buco della suora in Venice, there are no cupboards, no closets. Everything is to hand; supplies – canned, packaged, fresh, dry – and an extensive array of kitchen equipment. This includes copper and steel pans, cast-iron cookware, a Vitamix, ice-cream machine, espresso makers, rice-cooker, food processor, stand-mixer, pasta-roller and all the knives, tools and accessories needed for a devout cook to feel completely at home. Oh, and a never-ending supply of PG Tips and Branston Pickle.
And while some cook, others lounge; kitchen and living room are one large entity. The vintage Dual turntable, Pioneer receiver, Klipsch speakers and vinyl collection service both. Fire up the woodstove (we provide plentiful firewood) and – once your beans are on toast – ease into the old leather couch and dine at the movies, with the full-wall projection-screen deployed at the press of a button. Our subscription to Filmstruck affords access to the entire Criterion Collection, along with a canon of classic films from Antonioni through Zorba the Greek. There’s also Netflix, Hulu and iTunes. In high winds, with the stream in flood and the Bovina natives rebelling, watching Fitzcarraldo is an experience of deep visceral empathy.
When it’s time to sleep, simply pass out. Or if a bed is appealing, there are three of them, two doubles and a king, each in its own bedroom. Sheets are from Muji. The largest bedroom has its own claw-foot tub, for alfresco bathing a mere amble from the bed.
The main bathroom has a claw-foot tub and full shower, along with the ultimate in undercarriage hygiene (and source of deep contentment): the Japanese washlet toilet. A warm seat, front and rear jets of fresh Catskills water at whatever velocity, temperature and rate of oscillation your antipodes fancy. And to finish, a heated blow-dry and set. Towels, soap, shampoo, hair-dryer.
The office has an extensive library of books and an Apple Thunderbolt display for visitors’ Macbooks. There’s also an iMac in the downstairs bedroom. And wireless fibre-optic internet throughout the house. A washer and dryer lurk in the basement.
The land behind the house occupies the old tannery basin, rolling down to the stream, fields and hills beyond. Dairy cows from Bovina Creamery graze the meadows across the stream and contribute significant John Constable ambiance to the setting. There’s a covered porch beside an open deck with beer-garden table, benches and ceramic grill fired by charcoal. In the land below there is a bonfire pit, open stone grill and stream-side picnic table.
The name of the house refers to an area at the bottom of the hill, at a bend in the Little Delaware River where immigrants from Dumfriesshire – the Cottagers – built simple homes in the 1820’s. Cheap land, fertile, but susceptible to flooding. Bovina Cottagers, often disguised as ‘calico indians’ played a significant role in the anti-rent war protests of 1844-45. Indeed, Cottager Phillip MacRevice is said to have positioned himself directly behind assassin Warren Scudder during the killing Sheriff Osman Steele; a seminal event in Delaware County history, which marked the turning point in establishing tenant farmers’ rights across the State of New York.