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Empty Nesting in Downtown Poughkeepsie 

Loft Life

Sampling of art collection includes six Mexican folk Huichol yarn paintings and two large paintings by Linda Marston-Reid

Deborah Degraffenreid

Sampling of art collection includes six Mexican folk Huichol yarn paintings and two large paintings by Linda Marston-Reid

In the fall of 2011, California native Linda Marston-Reid took over as president of the Dutchess County Arts Council. The job meant Marston-Reid and Scott, her husband of 30 years—a corporate headhunter and sometime bartender—needed to relocate to Poughkeepsie from Bedford-Stuyvesant, where they had lived since 2003.

Although the Marston-Reids knew "the Queen City of the Hudson" had a seriously hip, urban swath, Brooklyn was a tough act to follow. But the couple was ecstatic when they quickly found a light-filled downtown loft on Craig's List. Their apartment is one of eight units in The M. Shwartz Building, 9 Main Street, built circa 1868 to house a clothing store for men and boys. The 1,300-square-foot one-bedroom, one-bath loft has an open kitchen and moveable interior walls that double as shelf storage. They pay $1,250 a month in rent, in keeping with the high end of the local market, but it feels like a bargain to the socially active empty nesters, who have four adult children.

"The building is filled with artists, and it's owned by an architect and his wife. We've had a wonderful 15 months getting to know the residents. My office is just around the corner," says Marston-Reid, adding that it's great to go for days at a time without needing to drive. The Marston-Reids share their loft with two well-behaved Scottish Terriers, Wallace and Seamus.

Security is not a particular concern. The building has a video entry system. "As with Bed-Stuy, there's an enduring perception that there's a lot of crime in downtown Poughkeepsie, when in fact, that's no longer true," says Marston-Reid. "Because I have dogs, I'm out late at night and early in the morning walking them, and I've never seen anything, never had a problem."

click to enlarge The dining area includes photos by internationally exhibited artists Billy Name and Robin Schwartz. The bookshelf is stacked with Mexican folk art. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah Degraffenreid
  • The dining area includes photos by internationally exhibited artists Billy Name and Robin Schwartz. The bookshelf is stacked with Mexican folk art.

Steve and Lisa Aronson own the building, which was abandoned when they bought it in 1999. They spent several years on the remodel, incorporating recycled building materials whenever possible. Aronson designed the unusual room dividers, which also serve as portable closets; because they're on casters, it's easy to reconfigure the layout of rooms inside the loft.

Marston-Reid said she's engaged professionally with making downtown Poughkeepsie a better place to live and do business, in part by stimulating and assisting the creative community. Case in point: a big community art show, just down the street. The Dutchess County Art Council's "Luck of the Draw" member exhibit, featuring work by 21 local artists, will be on view through the end of December at Poughkeepsie's Mid-Hudson Heritage Center, at 317 Main Street.

"I live what I support, which is a vibrant, livable downtown. On Wednesday nights, I host an open artists' meeting at nearby restaurants and bars," says Marston-Reid. "Anyone interested in the visual arts or spoken word is welcome to attend."

Andy Arkun, the new owner of the Bull and Buddha, an upscale Latin-Asian fusion restaurant known for its water wall, giant Buddha statue, and jazz brunches, just moved into the Shwartz building. Marston-Reid told him about the loft vacancy, and he signed a lease that same day.

Living in Poughkeepsie is convenient in so many ways, says Marston-Reid. "Poughkeepsie is the county seat of Dutchess County, so most of the people I need to see come here. But we also serve Ulster County, and I can just zip over the bridge and be in Kingston in a few minutes," she says.

click to enlarge The building housing the Marston-Reid’s loft. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID

A Showcase Place

In her capacity as leader of the 48-year-old nonprofit arts service organization, Marston-Reid must occasionally host cocktail parties. She also regularly holds out-of-office meetings with major donors, local officials, and artists in need of encouragement or direction. For these reasons, the Marston-Reids needed to lease a space that would be good for her business entertaining. "We just had a huge fundraiser here; it was very successful. I'm sure it helps people to understand our passion for art when they see how much we have personally, and the ways we have found to display it," says Marston-Reid.

In fact it's challenging to imagine how any more art could be effectively squeezed into their gallery-like living space, with its high ceilings, exposed brick wall, industrial vibe (visible pipes), and large expanses of walls painted a cooperative white. "Our home is a showcase for our art collection," says Marston-Reid. "We have folkloric pieces from Mexico, including Huichol 'yarn paintings'; wood carvings from Oaxaca; and we collect contemporary Mexican artists such as Lorenzo Martinez, Rene del Toro, and Saulo Moreno."

They've hung wall art in such a way as to cause minimum damage. Colorful wooden lizards, and an exquisite papier-mâché rooster, rest on ledges here and there. The rooster and a lively crow were made by Moreno and are museum-quality pieces, says Marston-Reid.

"In the space I call my studio, we're going to put up a sheet of Homasote, fiber wall board that we can constantly stick pushpins in, however, so we don't upset the landlord," says Marston-Reid.

The couple began collecting art seriously on a trip to Mexico 20 years ago. In addition to myriad paintings in a variety of styles, they own a number of masks, plus a dramatic calaveritas sculpture of a skeleton playing a musical instrument. Mexican art often deals directly—and playfully—with the subject of death. A dark but whimsical taste, unafraid of color or bold form, ties the many parts together. They only buy art together and usually after much discussion.

The Marston-Reids' art collection is rounded off with a few choice contemporary American works and Linda's own paintings. Linda is particularly fond of a Robin Schwartz photograph of a French bulldog; Schwartz is widely known for her visual exploration of "interspecies relationships" and has works in many major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

click to enlarge On the wall, a collection of Talavera plates, copper work, and ceramic masks from Mexico. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah Degraffenreid
  • On the wall, a collection of Talavera plates, copper work, and ceramic masks from Mexico.

No Yardwork or Snow Shoveling

"We used to live in a 2,800-square-foot Victorian house in Virginia—that's where we raised our family," says Marston-Reid. "It was built in 1930 and had all the old-house issues, which I don't miss."

The Marston-Reids drastically thinned their possessions when they sold the family home. "Initially it was difficult to part with all our stuff—we sold it at garage sales and through an auction house. I did not even ask what the auctioneers thought they could get for various furniture items, I just wanted to get rid of them," says Marston-Reid. "We also told the kids they could take what they wanted—so they have all my best paintings."

Marston-Reid says that although she sometimes reminisces about the large garden she used to cultivate, neither she nor her husband longs to "shovel snow, rake leaves, or clip grass." "It's the perfect living situation for us at this time in our lives," says Marston-Reid.

Because both have jobs which take them frequently to bars and restaurants, they make dinner at home whenever possible. "My husband bakes bread," she says.

The arts advocate says her long marriage is thriving in this very modern space. But she doesn't own much clothing or many pairs of shoes. "I'm now a firm believer in the one-year rule for my wardrobe," she says.

"We've really fallen in love with loft living," says Marston-Reid. "There's a certain simplicity. But we keep changing where we put the bed. You don't have that kind of flexibility in a conventional space."

click to enlarge In the foreground, a sculpture by Tanya Kukucka, recently added to the art collection. Painting on wall, Gathering Forces, by Linda Marston-Reid. On bookshelf, rooster and crow paper-mache sculptures by renowned Mexican sculptor Saulo Moreno. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah Degraffenreid
  • In the foreground, a sculpture by Tanya Kukucka, recently added to the art collection. Painting on wall, Gathering Forces, by Linda Marston-Reid. On bookshelf, rooster and crow paper-mache sculptures by renowned Mexican sculptor Saulo Moreno.

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