Every week, our House Calls feature takes you inside homes with eye-catching style and big personality. Today, we visit the Catskills home of homeware designer Bridie Picot, founder of Thing Industries. The petite cabin in Narrowsburg is just a three-hour drive from her weekday home in Brooklyn, but the transition is pronounced between city and country for the New Zealand expat, her British husband Harry Bugden, and their dog, Rabbit.
The loudest sound on this Narrowsburg, New York, property is birdsong, and on summer evenings a multitude of fireflies flicker in the trees that form a natural amphitheater around the back lawn.
The hamlet earns its name from its location. It’s situated on the narrowest, deepest bend of the Delaware River, with a picture-perfect main street bracketed by an industrial feed mill and the bridge across the river to Pennsylvania. Climb under the bridge, and there are broad, flat rocks to dive off or sunbathe on. "It’s exactly how I imagined a small American town when I was growing up in New Zealand," says Picot. "It’s also home to some incredibly welcoming people, and there are lots of exciting things happening here."
"The Shack", as she calls it, has a tiny footprint of just 502 square feet, and lies at the highest point of an eight-acre plot of land she bought in 2012, which runs from the unsealed access road along a ridge down to the river below—though most of it is so overgrown and woody she has only been down to the bottom a couple of times.
The Shack’s name is, of course, tongue-in-cheek. The structure, which comprises one bedroom, an open-plan kitchen and living room, and a narrow loft for a single bed located under the eaves and reached by a ladder, is actually a newly built "micro-cottage." Picot purchased it from Catskill Farms, a design-and-build firm founded by Pennsylvania native Charles Petersheim.
The enterprise is responsible for building more than 100 properties in the Catskills and surrounding areas, including 11 on Picot’s road alone.
"I love how symmetrical it is," says Picot. "It’s like a kid’s drawing of a house. Charles and I originally talked about adding a second bedroom, but that would have messed up the symmetry."
Typically, each homeowner chooses their plot of land first and then plans their home with Petersheim. But the Shack, originally a prototype for the smallest cabin available on his portfolio, was already in situ on this spot.
"Charles works with an architect, so his cabins are high-spec," explains Picot. "He uses reclaimed wood and old barn doors, things that look like they’ve been there for a while. Also, he’s really smart about where on the land the houses sit, and how best to position them for the plot of land they’re on. Nothing has been just plopped down. In New Zealand, we’d try to maximize sun exposure, but that would be unbearably hot here. He is also conscious of the neighbors, and having a good distance between one house and the next."
She recently had the company add a small guest annex on the periphery of the lawn, with a pitched roof over a simple, white-painted space just large enough for a bed and a chair. The frontage is simply a glass sliding door opening onto a tiny deck, and frames a perfect view of the surrounding trees. Facing at right angles to the Shack, it offers complete privacy.
One of the benefits of buying a readymade house, Picot says, is that all she needed to do was give it a lick of white paint and install appliances, and it was ready for move in. At the time of purchase, she had yet to meet Harry, and had recently sold her one-bedroom flat in London, where she worked as a producer at the British ad firm, Mother, before moving to the agency’s East Coast office in Hell’s Kitchen.
The contents of the flat were shipped straight to Narrowsburg and fitted neatly into the Shack’s dimensions.
While she had originally considered buying a classic saltbox-style cabin with a central chimney and two-story frontage that slopes sharply to the rear, she quickly found most were dark and needed serious renovation.
"Because I was buying a cabin on my own, I wanted something small and easy, not to spend my weekends working on an old, falling-down kind of place," she says. "I’d been to this area once before for their July 4 celebration with a mini tractor parade, but when I saw the Shack I didn’t realize Narrowsburg was the closest town."
At the same time as the ink was drying on the deal, Picot was starting up her homewares brand, Thing Industries. Over her years of moving around and setting up different apartments in New York and London she had seen a gap in the market for smart, space-saving pieces designed with itinerant living in mind.
Thing Industries’ witty, whimsical first collection officially launched at the 2013 edition of the ICFF, and Picot has showcased subsequent collections at the Site Unseen Offsite show, which often feature collaborations with other makers and designers, including Helen Levi, Lazy Mom, and Amanda Jasnowski.
There’s a clear point of reference between the moment she bought her first house in the USA and founding the business. One of her favorite occupations quickly became puttering around the Shack on weekends and designing small "things" that made best use of the limited space—in fact, one of her most popular products, a wall-mounted "Birdhouse" bookshelf with a pitched roof that holds your place, even resembles the cabin.
"I don’t remember which came first, actually," she laughs. "But what I found when I bought the Shack was that everything in my price range was either badly made or took itself far too seriously. My approach to design is based on an awareness of space, and ensuring the Things serve more than one purpose. They are neutral in the sense that they can be styled or work in different ways. For example, the Upside Down Shelf is a mini display shelf that could be decorative or hold things in the bathroom, and it has soft edges so it can’t catch on your sweater if it’s in a tight space."
Picot recently recently launched Thing’s third collection, and another collaboration, this time with New Zealand fashion designer Kate Sylvester, is poised for September.