COCHECTON, NY — How do you know when you’ve come home?
Not the house you were raised in, but the house you were meant to have.
For Rachelle Carmack, the flat tire might have been a hint.
She was looking at houses, she said. And there was this house on farmland dotted with outbuildings. Inside one of the rooms was bright with stained glass. She saw endless possibilities.
But Sullivan County is full of interesting houses, and she got ready to go see more.
And didn’t. The car had a flat, which kept her there for hours, she said.
“I thought it was a sign that it didn’t want me to leave,” she said.
Today, we’re here to talk about that house, with its many curiosities, and about the life that brought Carmack here and kept her here.
The house is sunlit, the light streaming through windows and stained glass. Set on 10 acres of farmland, it looks like it has been part of the land for generations.
Which it has. “Part goes back to the early 20th century, and it was added to in the 1950s, then again in ‘93,” she said
Carmack raised her family on Long Island but, like a lot of city people, “had been here when I was younger,” she said. “At the Tamarack, at the Raleigh. I went to the Concord for Single’s Night.”
But it took her now ex-husband, who found a second home in Hurleyville, to start the path back to Sullivan County. He worked on the house and “I got into real estate projects,” she said.
But they still lived on Long Island, in a 6,000-square-foot house, and “all I did was work, work, work.” Then, “everything changed,” she said. Life upended.
Carmack started looking for a house of her own. She found it, here on the rolling farmland. In 2010, she and the kids made the move. Her daughter enrolled in school. “This is home to her.”
Carmack doesn’t feel that her daughter missed out by being here rather than on Long Island. “Kids are more well-rounded, more grounded [here]. Life on Long Island is not as deep—more superficial.”
Of course, there was a culture shock but “there’s something very special about living up here; people need each other,” Carmack said. “Both my kids are much better people for it.”
Meanwhile, “I hibernated for a few years.” And then slowly she went back to work. “Now I’m a chambermaid and a landscaper.”
So to speak. She owns property around Kauneonga Lake and rents that out; she rents out AirBnB homes. A neighbor grows hay on her land. She repairs the outbuildings and solves the problems that crop up.
And the house?
When she bought it in 2010, “the footprint of the house didn’t change, but I made some changes inside.”
We walk into the kitchen, modern with its stainless steel and its island, her puggle Mugz trailing us. The kitchen was the start of the big changes.
“I’d lived here six months,” she said. “It was a very country kitchen” back then. And while she was away, “a pipe broke. It ran for two weeks. Water was pouring out, the ceiling had collapsed... It took years to get the bones back together.”
But the result was more along the lines of what she wanted, anyway. And she put in an I-beam to add strength.
The magnificent great room was part of the 1993 addition. The piano against one wall belonged to Liberace, and she’d found it in the storied Algonquin Hotel. “My son plays,” she explains.
The decor and furnishings are “eclectic,” she said. “I like art deco, it looks great but it isn’t comfortable.” And comfort is good, too. The place is homey with things she’s collected over time, but “if I did another house, it would be totally minimalistic.”
We look in at the den, where Carmack’s office is, and then head upstairs to the second story.
Old houses have their quirks. “I had to go into the hallway to get into the bathroom,” she said. Even though her bedroom was right there. She tells me about a friend who had once asked her one of those questions that shifts your entire design worldview.
“Where do you want the walls?”
Because as long as it’s not weight-bearing, a wall can (usually) be moved.
“That’s the vision I have when I look at houses now,” Carmack said.
Although you can see remnants of the older house up here in the narrow hallway, changes were made. A clawfoot tub was removed from the bathroom and doors were rearranged. Part of a fourth bedroom was turned into a closet. (Because closets were not always a feature of older houses.)
The view up here is spectacular. Green fields stretch on over the horizon, the neighbor’s tractor moves through its work. The apple tree is bearing fruit, you can see it from here.
Turn 90 degrees and there are the French doors that lead to a balcony overlooking the great room. Color from the stained glass splashes on the floor. Down another set of stairs and outside to see the outbuildings. The 19th-century barn that still has elements of its previous job holding cows. The playhouses, built by a previous owner, maybe for grandchildren. The garden. We look at the old front door; a side door is now the front entrance.
“I’ve become a crunchy girl,” Carmack says with a laugh. “My friends can’t believe my life now. I love my lifestyle here. I feel like I belong.”
Her mood shifts as we wander into the carriage house, and look at the artifacts of Carmack’s life that she’s stored there.
“We as a culture are gluttonous,” Carmack says.
Five years ago, she spent time in Goa, India. “I lived in a grass hut for two weeks. It gave me such a sense of gratitude for what I have... I was totally off the grid and that changed my life.” She studies a reproduction wood-burning stove. “It all comes back to gluttony. That’s what I battle with now—more versus less.”
It’s a slow shift that her life is taking now and will leave its traces on her house, as possessions slide away and are replaced by space, and by people.
“Here, it’s a special place,” she said. “You’re part of the community.”