Introducing: About the Folks!

John's Stone House

For years now, I’ve had this idea about doing something on my blog other than just talk about myself and whatever I’m doing. Enough about me*. Let’s dish about other people.

(*I recognize I also owe you updates about me. life has been insane and I have a lot to tell you.)

When I moved to Kingston in 2013, I had barely spent any time here and didn’t know a soul aside from my realtor and the lawyer I hired for closing on the house, neither of whom seemed super excited to be best friends with their most recent 23-year-old client. Up to that point I had been laser-focused on the house itself and wanting to fix it up, which left very little consideration for the surrounding city or the risk of social isolation we were running by taking up residence in it.

I’ll never forget that first night. We (myself and my then-boyfriend, Max) had no working plumbing in the house, and no electricity on the second floor. We considered sleeping down in the living room—where the benefit of electric lighting made things slightly less creepy—but we didn’t have curtains, and Max worried that somebody might look in and see us cuddled on an air mattress and quickly hate-crime us, and our hideous murders would cut this adventure short before it even really began.

And so, groggy from a terrible night’s sleep on an air-mattress in our unfamiliar, pitch-black house, we set out the next morning in pursuit of coffee. The thing you have to understand about Max and I at this time is that we looked like a couple of adorable skeletal teenagers who accidentally parachuted in from Brooklyn. This was years before the mass Brooklyn exodus to Kingston that has gone berserk during the pandemic, so a pair of cute trendy gay boys walking down the sidewalk stuck out at the time. It was one of those gorgeous dewy spring mornings—crisp air, birds chirping, perfect blue sky breaking through the clouds—ya know. We walked by this beautiful old stone house with an incredibly lush garden behind a small picket fence. A man was outside tending the plants, and my vaguely southern manners demanded that I tell him how lovely his home was. So I did. His name was John.

I liked John the second I met him. His southern twang—diluted by years of northern living, but still plenty strong—immediately charmed me, and he emanated this rare warmth you don’t usually get from complete strangers. He wasn’t annoyed that my incorrigible impulse to chit-chat was disturbing his workflow, and if he was, he didn’t let on. He was—as you’ll see—handsome, kind, clearly bestowed with good taste and homemaking abilities (two things we desperately aspired to at that moment)—and mention of a boyfriend confirmed that this trifecta of qualities did, in fact, mean what I thought it might mean. John was was a distinguished elder-gay, we were charming little twinks tackling what we later found out was a home that had caught the attention and adoration of the community of old-house enthusiasts here in Kingston, and a friendship was born. He invited us over for dinner later that night, and we accepted. So within 10 minutes of walking out our front door for the first time, we’d made a friend and booked a free homemade meal. It was a warm welcome to Kingston that instantly made it feel like home.

Months prior, on our very first trip to Kingston—the fateful one during which I laid eyes, for the first time, on what would become my home—we stayed in an airbnb that our friends had booked. We knew the name of the owner of the house—Julian—but hadn’t met him, but we found out at dinner that John had. They were actually close personal friends, and John’s love of Kingston was really the reason Julian followed suit and bought his house in the first place. So John brought Julian to Kingston, and Julian inadvertently brought us to Kingston, so by transitive property John was the whole reason my life took this turn. Now I knew who to thank, or blame, depending on the day.

The inside of John’s home was as magnificent as the outside, and—of course—he’s also an excellent cook. Soon he started introducing us to his group of friends, who quickly became our friends, and all of a sudden we had a community. We had friends in Brooklyn—where we were still living about 5 days a week—but the thing about living in a big city like New York is that you’ll have dozens of friends that you never actually see. Everyone is too overworked and underpaid to want to hang out at the end of a long day, and nobody wants to take the train an hour to visit a friend—who technically lives only a few miles away—who had the audacity to rent a shitty apartment in a different borough. Life moved a little slower in Kingston. The cost of living was significantly lower, and being able to get in your own car and drive a short distance made socializing a thing that actually happened on a regular basis. It wasn’t long before we went from content weekenders to aspiring full-timers. This remains, in my mind, all John’s fault.

John is a fascinating person. He was born and raised on the family farm out in Tennessee—like way out in the country. Think tractors and pigs and stuff. Following the urge to get the hell out of there, he became an optometrist. He spent years living in Dallas, came to New York, eventually bought a property upstate, renovated and sold it years later, did it again (that second one an 80s split-level that he turned into a masterclass of mid-century modern design), finally landing at what was historically known as the Elmendorf Tavern, a 1723 stone building on the outskirts of Kingston’s original Dutch settlement called the Stockade District. His was, historically, a house of debauchery and good times, which is kind of perfect for John and the enormous social network you garner when you’re…well…John. John throws the best parties, and his home is such a cozy and fabulous backdrop to host them in. Everyone knows and loves John, and everyone knows and loves John’s house. The fact that he’s done what he has with it—on nights and weekends and days off, purely with research and a willingness to learn and a drive to honor the history of his home—is really something.

John had already been working on his house for a number of years when I met him so I never had a chance to see it before he started working his magic, but I have some sense of it. The building had been used as a doctor’s office for nearly a century before John took ownership—complete with basement rooms filled with old-timey medicine jars and some truly horrifying gynecological equipment—so there was quite a lot to do just to make it back into a home. He removed heavy curtains and wallpaper, wall-to-wall carpet that covered the original wide-plank floorboards, and put a kitchen in what had been the waiting room for patients. When I rolled in, the house was in a stripped-down rustic state, which was fabulous. John had exposed the original lime plaster in a few rooms (I think he sealed it with something to control dust, though it still flaked), and some of the wide pine flooring had been scraped down to raw, untreated wood. Most people wouldn’t really have an inkling that this was a work in progress, which I’ve always admired about John’s approach—he makes it look good at every stage. So it’s been exciting (and, at times, confounding) to watch John continue to change things up—everything from adding wainscoting and a hand-painted mural where the raw plaster had looked so good before in the dining room, to constructing one of the most creative bathroom designs I’ve ever seen (wait’ll you see it!). Everything is so goddamn clever and thoughtful, and it’s really taught me some great lessons. It’s OK—good, even!—for houses to change and evolve. As current stewards, we’re not the end of the history but an integral part of it, and getting creative and putting your own tasteful stamp on things is the fun of it. Houses—even ones that are 300 years old—are not supposed to be precious time capsules. They’re supposed to tell the story of their occupants and grow alongside them.

So anyway. Over the years, John has become one of my very closest friends. He’s been a sounding board for my own renovation ideas, and I’m honored that I’ve become one for his, too. He’s been a shoulder to cry on more times than I care to admit, and has been present for pretty much every major occasion in my life for almost a decade now. I love him dearly, and I’m so excited for you to love him, too!

Which brings us to…wait what’s this now? While John is an impossible act to follow, he’s far from the only person I know locally who’s doing some pretty incredible stuff with their old houses, and it feels unfair that I know about these people and you don’t. I want to share and celebrate their work, but I also want to share and celebrate them for making it happen. Because isn’t that what we love about old houses? The superficial surface-level stuff, sure, but the history of the occupants and evolution of the home over the years because of those occupants is what makes these places so richly layered and uniquely interesting. We often focus on original builders and owners, but I think folks re-making and reimagining these homes in the modern era is just as interesting and worth showing off!

In looking at old local newspaper archives for information about my house, I kept coming across this column from around the turn of the century called About the Folks. It was usually super short and very boring—often just dealing with comings and goings. This person went to spend a few days with relatives in Accord (only 30 minutes away by car nowadays) or that person came home to visit their dad before returning to NYC. There was other stuff too, though. So-and-so’s condition is improving in hospital after an accident at the brickyards. That lady had a baby, this family is going abroad for a year on a steamship sailing to Italy. It was the Facebook timeline a century before there was a Facebook timeline.

And so, because I lack creativity and original ideas, I thought it was a nice name for this series.

Originally I thought these would just be blog posts with pictures. Then my darling platonic wife Juliet and I started talking about a video element being nice, which then turned into 3 days of shooting and hours and hours of footage—there’s so much to see; the house is that good! Juliet has now spent months editing my little seedling of an idea into a four part documentary miniseries, and honestly? It’s REALLY GOOD. I think I’m allowed to say that because I had very little to do with it. I’m so proud of what we (she) created and so happy it’s ready for release! You’re gonna love it.

We’re releasing episodes every Monday for the next few weeks, with access a week early for Patreon subscribers…and the first episode is live now! For just $5/month you can see About the Folks as soon as the episodes drop, catch up on past exclusive Patreon content, and have the endless satisfaction of knowing you are supporting the creation of more content like it (which is much appreciated!). Sign-up is easy, and I hope to see ya on the other side! And if not, don’t worry—the first episode will be available for the general public in 1/31/22!

A huge thank you to my brother Jeremy for designing the titles, and another HUGE thanks to John for trusting us with his story and letting us treat him as our guinea pig for this project.

And a REALLY REALLY HUGE thank you to Juliet for all her work on this—it turned out beyond my wildest expectations and I’m endlessly in awe of her talents! Head on over to Patreon to check it out!!

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About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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Archives: 2010-2022

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30 Comments

  1. 1.24.22
    Sara L. said:

    Watched it and loved it! (Although I am a little sad we won’t get some big deep dive blog entries, because I do love your writing….don’t worry, I’ll get over it!) Can’t wait until next Monday!

    • 1.24.22
      Deb said:

      Love the new concept!! But miss your posts dearly. Found your blog a couple years ago,read it from beginning to end and have followed it since. Pretty much hands down my favorite!! And I read/follow a lot of remodeling blogs.

    • 1.24.22

      Thank you, Deb! Really going to try to get back into it, because I miss it too! It’s been a wild couple of years and I’ve been awful about prioritizing time to write and put these posts together!

    • 1.24.22

      Haha! This post is almost 2,000 words!! I think each one will need a written component, so don’t fear! :)

  2. 1.24.22
    RO said:

    I have frequently come back to your blog to look at the pictures of John’s house that you posted previously, so am excited to go watch the video!

  3. 1.24.22
    Jen said:

    LOVE this, Daniel!

  4. 1.24.22
    Stephen MacNeal said:

    I love your blog, I’m looking forward to watching this and I’m a big fan of your IG stories. You have a great way of telling a story when you write, informative and funny.

  5. 1.24.22
    Jonathan Sondergeld said:

    Fantastic! I should add: please do add captioning for those that are deaf and hard of hearing, like myself. Don’t let automated captions mangle the beautiful message!

    Look forward to seeing this series

    • 1.25.22

      No worries, Juliet did that too!! You just have to hit the CC button on youtube—Juliet transcribed and timed them with the video, so they aren’t automatic! Hope you enjoy! :)

  6. 1.24.22
    Erin said:

    Eeeeek! So excited to watch this! For the past two years”“since WFH full time”“I have spent my lunch hour watching your stories on instagram (thanks for being my unwitting lunch buddy) and always get a bit morose when I run down all the little tick marks. To have something long(er) form to kick back with is going to be such a treat! Congrats Daniel and Juliet on your new endeavor!

  7. 1.24.22

    Fantastic! Excited for you – and me! Love your content. Wish you had your own show. Now you do!

  8. 1.25.22
    Jo said:

    Watched it. Loved it. Can’t wait for the next instalment.
    Fabulous work!

  9. 1.25.22
    RebeccaNYC said:

    So excited about this! I love this house and always wondered about it. Thank you!!!

  10. 1.25.22
    Brenda said:

    Couldn’t be more excited about the post and the video!! You’re a fabulous writer and Juilet is splendid!!

  11. 1.25.22
    Deb said:

    SO excited for this! Congratulations to you on this endeavor!

  12. 1.25.22
    Caitlin said:

    This is fabulous!! I can not wait to watch the whole series.

  13. 1.25.22
    Jenn said:

    I’m just so excited. Love reading your words, watching your progress, and cannot wait!

  14. 1.25.22
    Mom said:

    SOOO much better than I even imagined. IF ONLY GOOGLE would quit blocking your CONTENT!
    (If everyone hits the send feedback button, one of the choices is that they are blocking content. Let’s all tell them!!

  15. 1.25.22
    Kelly said:

    This is so exciting! Can’t wait to watch!

  16. 1.25.22
    Lara said:

    Absolutely delightful episode! I really loved it and cannot wait to see more. I am shaking my empty cocktail glass at you and everything.

  17. 1.25.22
    Alix said:

    So excited to see a blog post from you. I check back all the time. Keen to watch this series too!

  18. 1.25.22
    Pat said:

    I watched the first video cast to my TV so I could see John’s house in something larger than my phone. It is glorious. I also LOVED reading this blog post! I enjoy your stories on Instagram, but damn you can write and I’ve missed reading it. Bravo to you and your brother and to Juliet. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the series.

    • 1.25.22
      Pam said:

      it was such fun to watch, and to listen to you two chat about… everything!

  19. 1.25.22
    Heidi said:

    Oooooh, so exciting!!!

  20. 1.25.22
    Annie said:

    (Scarlett O’Hara accent) Why, I do declare your lil’ ole trailer just whet my appetite!
    (Normal accent) Can’t WAIT!

  21. 1.26.22
    Amanda said:

    I can’t wait! Love the trailer. I just adore your focus on community. It is what we all needed even before a global pandemic kept (is keeping) us away from each other.

  22. 1.26.22
    Linda said:

    Truly lovely video. Well done by you and the faux missus. It’s clear you know homes, and this homeowner.

  23. 2.1.22
    LD said:

    Bravo!!! You are a true talent. This Bronx girl, now in Georgia, misses everything NY even after 30 years. You have been my connection back to my home state for so many years. I love the natural progression of your talent and thank you for sharing!! One of our best friends has been going to Kingston every summer since he was a kid. The stories!! Love to read yours.

  24. 2.4.22
    Adrianne said:

    Love this so much.

  25. 2.19.22
    ELLISON HEATH said:

    Thank you for sharing all that you do. Truly enjoy it all and appreciate all the work you put into filming for IG and now this series. Truly lovely to watch.

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