4 Creative Couples on Making Their Home in the Hudson Valley
With professions ranging from art and design to publishing and songwriting, these duos traded the big-city grind for upstate living.
Photography by JD Urban
Picturesque towns and small cities across the region are now the permanent base for creatives who were eager to leave their fast-paced big city life without losing its comforts. With its close proximity to NYC, a thriving restaurant scene, an emerging café culture, and a strong sense of community, the Hudson Valley offers an appealing quality of life for those keen to continue their career in a stimulating but slower-paced environment.
This changing demographic hasn’t been without controversy, and it’s sparked a common concern that the Hudson Valley is becoming “the new Hamptons.” But property prices tell a different story. Licensed Real Estate Broker Gary DiMauro, whose company serves the Mid-Hudson Valley, explained: “Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a trend of weekend homes transitioning into the primary residence, but the Hudson Valley is not the Hamptons. If anything, it’s the anti-Hamptons. There’s a more diverse community here, and we don’t see the excessive house prices of the Hamptons. There’s still a wide diversity of pricings here, from $300,000 to $3 million-plus, and an affordable range that suits the region’s demographic.”
Jennifer Grimes, broker and owner of Country House Realty and founder of Red Cottage Inc., shares similar sentiments: “It’s always been a false premise that the Hudson Valley aspires to be the next Hamptons; the social pressures that exist in the Hamptons just don’t exist here. We find that most of our clients move to the Hudson Valley to escape the pressures of keeping up.”
We spoke to several creative professionals who are now part of that demographic. Whether turning a weekend home into a permanent base, returning to the Valley after many years away, or taking a leap of faith thanks to word of mouth, they swapped concrete for countryside and made the Hudson Valley their home.
– Ngonda Badila and Ken Reichl –
When singer-songwriter Ngonda Badila auditioned for a performance at the Hudson Opera House in 2017, she felt inspired to make a significant life change: leave Brooklyn, and move back to Hudson — the small city she once called home.
Badila has a deep connection with Hudson: Her mother, father, and nine siblings are renowned as the African-American family that brought a creative energy to the struggling city in the 1990s. Her father, Elombe "Andre" Badila, a Congolese national, was a founding member of the National Ballet of Congo. He met Badila’s mother, a New York-born dancer, while touring in Paris, where Badila and her twin sister were born.
The family moved to Hudson in 1997 when Badila was 11. They settled in a three-bedroom apartment on 5th Street, the building of which Badila’s mother now owns, and over the years they engaged the community through upbeat, African-inspired dance performances and exhibitions.
But Badila remembers Hudson as being “a whole other place” back then. “A lot of the stores on Warren Street were boarded up, there were drug addicts everywhere, and I remember a shooting opposite our home,” she says.
Badila left Hudson in 2010 to study music at Hunter College in Manhattan, and to focus on her spiritual band, Lady Moon and the Eclipse, for which she is the lead singer (gonda means “moon” in Congolese). But the noise, pollution, and expense of New York City began taking their toll. So when Badila successfully auditioned for The Mother of Us All opera at the Hudson Opera House, which garnered rave reviews, she felt a strong instinct to relocate and use her talents to the city’s benefit once again. “The timing just felt right,” she said.
She’s now a teacher at Kite’s Nest (a multi-disciplinary educational center for children and teens) and a costume maker. And with her husband, Ken Reichl, who’s the drummer for Lady Moon and the Eclipse, she creates and promotes the inspirational songs for which the band is famous.
The pair frequently visit NYC to meet with other band members, but they enjoy returning to Hudson. Says Reichl: “There’s a healthy, growing music and performance art scene here in Hudson, and currently there is still a lot of room for musicians and bands to add to the fabric. I miss being closer to our band, still based in the City, and the late-night jam sessions there, but being away reminds me my ambition is strong. I have a healthier relationship with the City, not at the cost of my own peace, which I’m now finding in Hudson just by being close to nature.”
For Badila, returning to Hudson means plenty of chances to visit her old haunts: “I worked at the restaurant Swoon about 10 years ago, and I still love going back there!”
The musical pair hope to eventually tour overseas with the band, but for now, Hudson is home. Says Badila: “I see the changes, all the fancy cars and the Airbnbs, and it bothers me a little. But I also see familiar faces here who inspire me every day. Right now, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.”
The family at Lodger
– Leon Johnson and Audra Wolowiec –
For Leon Johnson and Audra Wolowiec, the city of Newburgh represents new beginnings. It’s the birthplace of their daughter, Isobel; the location of their new business; and the backdrop for their next creative chapter of life.
Johnson hails from Cape Town, South Africa, and since moving to the United States 40 years ago, he’s become an award-winning educator and artist, a chef, and a bookbinder. Michigan-born Wolowiec is a renowned interdisciplinary artist and educator, with exhibitions at venues including MASS MoCA. Their respective careers have taken them to U.S. cities such as New York City and Detroit, but the multi-talented pair felt a need to relocate to a place where they could combine their creativity with their passion for community engagement.
Wolowiec in her studio
“We wanted to move to the Hudson Valley, for more space to live and work, with proximity to New York City,” says Johnson. “We knew about the artists’ community in Newburgh through Audra’s work with Dia: Beacon, so we started there.”
It was a good starting point: As well as finding an apartment and art studio in close proximity, they stumbled across a small venue that allows them to engage the community in unique ways. They took over the tenancy, named the venue Lodger, and opened for business in August 2018, which coincided with the arrival of Isobel.
Johnson's artwork includes paper signatures for the Book & Bread event at Lodger (left) and Crushed Chalice (right).
Behind Lodger’s Victorian-era storefront is just one high-ceilinged room, one long table, and a small kitchen. But on weekend evenings, Johnson and Wolowiec transform Lodger into a cozy, welcoming den, where they host dinners and events. At these dinners, guests from as far as France gather around the long table to converse, and dine on Johnson’s spice-laden, slow-baked dishes filled with locally sourced produce. Other events they have hosted include film screenings, poetry readings, bookbinding dinners, and more.
Wolowiec's artwork includes private space in a public time, a sound installation at MASS MoCA (above), and Concrete Sound (below).
Johnson refers to Lodger as a “new model for community engagement,” which is appropriate given the revitalization taking place in Newburgh. This engagement also extends to the city’s youth community — earlier this year, three teenagers from the Newburgh Free Academy spent eight months under Johnson’s guidance, during which they learned the various aspects of cooking, business, and community initiatives as part of his Kitchen Lab Internship Program.
As well as running a business and raising a child, the pair still find time to enjoy the benefits of their new surroundings. Wolowiec’s commute to her teaching position at Parsons School of Design in NYC now begins with a ferry ride, and the couple enjoys connecting with suppliers at local farms. Says Johnson: “We really love the strong community spirit here. We’ll stay for as long as we can!”
– David Curcurito and Jessica Musumeci –
When you meet David Curcurito, it’s hard to know what to be impressed by first: the fact that he was once called into the White House on assignment with Esquire, or the fact that after years of working in a fast-paced office in Manhattan, he now works from home — and that home is a sprawling property in scenic Stone Ridge.
For almost 12 years, Curcurito was the award-winning design director for Esquire, responsible for the overall look of the Esquire brand. The Albany native thrived in the high-pressure role, but knew exactly where to go to unwind. Initially, it was to his weekend home in High Falls, where he indulged his love of rock climbing and hiking. But in 2012, he and his wife, Jessica Musumeci, the former creative director for Seventeen magazine, began looking for a different property in the area.
While searching in nearby Stone Ridge, Musumeci discovered their ideal home: an open-plan, light-filled house set on three acres, and built by two artists in 2002. It was a uniquely contemporary property, even boasting a skywalk connecting the main house to the guest area. “We host a ton of guests,” says Musumeci. “People love to escape the City, and when they do, they seem to stay here.”
The 2,800-sq-ft property was a welcome weekend change from their small Upper West Side apartment. But it now has a much bigger role — it’s their full-time home and the base for their new business, Works Well With Others.
“We took a year off in 2017 to recharge,” says Curcurito. “We love this area, and we were spending more time up here, so we made the big decision to move here permanently and slowly start our business.”
From their office with spectacular views, they manage the design and publishing needs for clients including Golf, Indian Motorcycles, Hearst, and Airbnb. For client meetings or social gatherings in the city, they commute via the Adirondack Trailways bus. But there’s one perk of being his own boss that Curcurito thoroughly enjoys: “I never schedule a meeting before 11 a.m.,” he says.
Musumeci also enjoys the advantages of their new lifestyle: “Living and working here is quite peaceful. I used to love hearing all the noise and hustle that makes up the City, but I no longer need the push of the city to keep me moving. I’m now obsessed with landscaping, and my goal is to have an infinity pool at some point. But for now, I’ve been chipping away at our land, clearing out vines, planting new trees, and transplanting old ones. It’s really therapeutic.”
The low-key Stone Ridge social scene also provides opportunities for the couple to unwind, and to connect with like-minded souls. Says Curcurito: “We’ve noticed that a lot of folks from the City are moving to this area, and many are photographers, writers, and actors. Hasbrouck House is our local hangout, and we’ve met many strangers there who’ve become great friends.”
Gary Delemeester and Jeff Daly at their new house in Ancramdale (also pictured below), which was designed by Delemeester.
– Jeff Daly and Gary Delemeester –
Jeff Daly and Gary Delemeester had more reason than most to find a weekend escape from Manhattan. For 30 years, Daly was the renowned head of design at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, overseeing every meticulous detail of its world-famous galleries, while Delemeester, a producer at BBDO ad agency, worked with multimillion-dollar budgets to create some of the most memorable Super Bowl commercials. He then went on to become a director of product development for Tiffany & Co.
At the end of their intense working weeks, the married pair escaped to Ancramdale — an area that Troy-born Daly knew well. But since retiring in 2010, they’ve made the Columbia County hamlet their permanent home.
“We decided to buy land and build a home there in 1994, just as the area was picking up after the economic downturn,” says Daly. “We chose Ancramdale because we wanted to be far enough away from Manhattan where prices would come down, but close enough to commute. And we love the open farmland here.”
They bought a seven-acre plot with woodland, meadow, and sprawling views for $6,000 an acre, and built a small hilltop home. In 2010, they expanded it with architect Dennis Wedlick.
But now, 25 years later, they’re on the move — to a four-acre meadow at the bottom of that same hill. Their house went on the market in 2018, and sold almost immediately to a buyer from the City. Delemeester designed their new one-level home, and while it was under construction by Germantown contractor Robert Reed, they rented a nearby property belonging to friend and flutist Eugenia Zuckerman and her husband, Dick Novik.
Daly in an exhibit he renovated for The Ringling Museum of Art in Florida.
In October, they finally moved in to their new abode. Says Daly: “We wanted a house for the next 20 years, and one that’s easier to maintain and within walking distance of the village businesses. We worked on placing the house and the main rooms to open out onto a private terrace with a view to the meadow.”
Instead of spending quiet retirement days in Ancramdale, Daly and Delemeester are as busy as ever. Daly’s design expertise is in constant demand: His consulting projects include renovations at museums nationwide, and, more recently, an exhibit for the Hispanic Society Museum and Library in NYC, which opens at the Park Avenue Armory’s Winter Show on January 24.
The couple with neighbor Eugenia Zuckerman, an internationally renowned flutist.
Delemeester manages the budgets and logistics for each project, and enjoys lending his planning expertise to organizations including Great Camp Sagamore in the Adirondacks.
They drive to Manhattan for project meetings, but it’s to the peace and quiet of Ancramdale they return, and to its attractions, including the Ancram Opera House. They’re in no shortage of good company, as close neighbors now include friends and colleagues from The Met, MoMA, and the Neue Galerie. Says Daly: “We often entertain, and we always end up talking shop!”