For the Birds: A Restored Cabin & Field in Delhi | House Profiles | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Dan Shurey is nesting for the winter. He's perched along a spare kitchen countertop in his kitchen—with an open view for miles over the surrounding woodlands. Rows of handcrafted ash cabinetry, sans doors, reveal a cache of neatly stacked pots, pans, dishes, and cooking equipment; one simple ash shelf runs the length of the room, displaying a clutch of hand-thrown mugs; wide-open windows offer an even wider vantage of the western Catskills. Shurey's dog, Marfa, sits in a patch of sunshine on the white-washed floorboards, a crisp shade—Shurey refers to it as "polar white"—that extends up the wall boards to the ceiling. This polar-white-on-blonde-wood-on-silver-on-beige scenario is interrupted only by the occasional flashes of Shurey's bright, color-drenched oil paintings.

It's the very beginning of November, which means this far up in the Catskills there's already a bit of snow on the ground and, with the leaves mostly gone, the glistening landscape is a mix of dark and light grey, soft browns and straggly bits of yellow, and patches of white—November's palette—and it seems as if the interior of Shurey's home is just a slightly lighter, warmer extension of the surrounding landscape.

click to enlarge For the Birds: A Restored Cabin & Field in Delhi
Winona Barton-Ballentine
Shurey, an environmental geoscientist specializingin grassland and peatland restoration, rewilded the six- acre property tearing out invasive species and then introducing native plants. His efforts have resulted in a thriving ecosystem, inviting other native species into his yard. “Since the grasses and flowers have taken over, I’ve noticed a multitude of awesome and sometimes threatened species of grassland birds move in, including bobolinks, American kestrels, and horned larks,” he says.

But then, right outside Shurey's back door, there's the meadow. The grasses are dead, fallen in on themselves and stacked like unkept hay, and matted through with crusty snow and dead leaves. The occasional bird box juts out of the lumps at odd angles. Although the landscape seems quiet, the pulse of it vibrates through the surrounding air. "There's plenty going on beneath the surface," explains Shurey. "Insects burrow in and make nests. Soon, the winter birds will start appearing."

Former farmland, the six-acre meadow was lost to invasive species when Shurey bought the property with his former partner Nick Morese in the beginning of 2020. Along with the gut renovation of the 2,000-square-foot log cabin, Shurey took on the rewilding of the native meadow, and in the process, managed to rewild himself. The wild meadow is surrounded by forever wild forest and, even with the bare November view, there's barely another home in sight. It's just Shurey, Marfa, and the birds.

Great Migrations

Shurey first discovered the western Catskills on a bike trip with his brother in 2014. "I'd just moved to New York from London and we decided to take our bikes on the train to Poughkeepsie," he says. The brothers cycled up into the mountains through the tiny villages in Delaware County. "I couldn't get over the raw, authentic beauty of the Catskills," he explains. "There were great little bars and cafes, farmhouses everywhere, and friendly people. I kept thinking, 'What's the catch?'"

click to enlarge For the Birds: A Restored Cabin & Field in Delhi
Winona Barton-Ballentine
Shurey and his former partner Nick Morese took the 1992 cabin down to the studs and then reimagined it with afocus on simplicity, utility, and straight lines, using sustainable materials throughout. By removing an oversized soapstone fireplace, they created a TV nook in the living room’s back corner. Decorated with a mismatch of couches, one of Shurey’s colorful oil paintings—depicting Morese and his dog, Marfa—hangs along the wall.

The area reminded Shurey of his native Cornwall, where he spent his childhood exploring the natural world and photographing native birds and butterflies. After majoring in Environmental Geoscience at the University of Bristol, he went into finance, focusing on nature based carbon sequestration. The career first led him to London and then New York City, where he learned about the complex possibilities of offsetting carbon emissions by restoring natural wetlands, grasslands, and forests.

Shurey loved his work but always felt there was a piece of himself missing. "For me, living in London and New York, I lost my connection to nature," he says. He wanted to return to the Catskills and visited regularly over the years. Finally, in 2019 he had some career flexibility and with Morese, began searching the area for a home. The three-bedroom, three-bath log cabin needed work, but they loved the location. They bought it and took roost in March of 2020—entering their six-acre bubble just as the world was locking down.

Skeletons in the Log Cabin

"We lived in an empty house for three months," explains Shurey. "We couldn't get any supplies, and so we slept on an air mattress in the middle of the floor." Over the following year they slowly gleaned furniture from Facebook Marketplace, and in 2021 they decided to remodel one of the home's three bathrooms. "We quickly realized that materials were in short supply and our builder, Patrick Sullivan of Fine Finishes, already had accrued two or three years of contracts," says Shurey. So the two decided to go whole hog, gutting the place and then reimagining the layout for better flow and a minimalist tone that mixes a Danish aesthetic with cabin vibes. "The design focuses on simplicity, utility, local sustainable materials and sharp, smart, simple lines," says Shurey.

click to enlarge For the Birds: A Restored Cabin & Field in Delhi
Shurey enjoying his open concept kitchen with Marfa. “The kitchen started off as a sketch on the back of an envelope. My brother, who is an architect-turned-woodmaker in Denmark, helped to turn my fluffy kitchen idea into a highly specced blueprint.” Designed to be ultra-open, the cabinetry was crafted from local ash.

The living room in particular needed to be brought back to life. Dominated by a massive soap stone fireplace in one corner and a large TV in another, the space didn't flow. "You'd walk in and the first thing you'd hit was the back of a sofa," explains Shurey. "There was just dead space around the fireplace because you couldn't put furniture there, so you were always jumping around things, and having this giant stone in the corner set the tone of the room. It was like a mausoleum in there." Shurey and Morese decided to tear out the fireplace, opening up the room into two distinct spaces. Along the home's front wall they created a sitting area around a modern wood stove and then had a local fabricator craft a steel base that doubles as wood storage. At the opposite end of the room, a small alcove hides a TV along one wall, and one of Shurey's oil paintings hangs over a mix of seating in another corner.

Shurey and Morese took a dark, fiberglass molded bathroom on the home's first floor and transformed it into an elegant respite for contemplating nature. After tearing out the original tub and fixtures, their contractor cut a window in the south-facing wall. "I couldn't even watch when our builder took a chainsaw to the wood," says Shurey. After gutting the space, the two chose dark gray Moroccan Zellige tiles for the floors. Minimalist white fixtures and a shelf for plants emphasize the natural setting. Shurey and Morese sourced a clawfoot tub and added it under the newly installed window to capture the view.

click to enlarge For the Birds: A Restored Cabin & Field in Delhi
Winona Barton-Ballentine
In the sunny first-floor guest room, Shurey and Morese were aiming for “a Danish hotel feel,” explains Shurey. Carved-block bedside tables and minimal sconce lighting pair with a sheepskin from a local farm. To add extra light, Shurey and Morese turned a window into a full glass door with access to the deck. Two works by artist Mark Doherty add splashes of color to the monochromatic design.

Home Range

The kitchen was also Shurey and Morese's design, based on Shurey's experiences moonlighting in restaurants. "I loved the feeling of having everything I needed easily accessible," he says. "I wanted to replicate that ease in this space." "Shurey first drew up the designs himself and then shared them with his brother, Nicholas Shurey, an architect and sculptor based in Copenhagen. Nicholas Shurey formalized the design and then sent them to a New York-based millworker who constructed the cabinetry and shelf from local ash.

Shurey and Morese reimagined the home's chopped-up basement as a light filled bonus room. "It was a windowless, dark and lifeless storage floor with a series of corridors and porky rooms," says Shurey. Inspired by the single room design and indirect light of a Japanese ryokan, the two pulled out all the basement's dividing walls and added an extra bathroom and laundry along the edges, accessed by frameless doors. "Now it flows freely between an art studio, a study, a gym, and a yoga space with a single polished concrete floor," says Shurey. The whole space is illuminated by 16-foot sliding glass doors facing southeast. "The single room design emphasizes function and naturally draws the eye to the mountain panorama," says Shurey. "It also creates interesting shadows for painting."

click to enlarge For the Birds: A Restored Cabin & Field in Delhi
Winona Barton-Ballentine
Shurey and Morese tore out dividing walls from the walkout basement and added 16-foot glass sliders to create a flowing, airy multi-purpose room inspired by a Japanese ryokan. Along with ad hoc work and exercise spaces, Shurey has a painting studio with a bird’s-eye view ofthe mountains, meadow,and wildlife. “Since moving here I’ve become a bit ofa bird enthusiast,” Shurey admits. “Along with my painting, I bought a camera and tripod. Whenever I can, I just watch the birds come and go.”

Outside the sliders, the meadow almost edges the house. When Shurey and Morese bought the property, it was completely taken over with wild rose and autumn olive, both invasive. "I removed truckloads of the wild rose," explains Shurey. "And I've spent the last three years restoring the wildflower and grassland meadows that surround the house, planting a variety of native grasses and flowers in their place." As the wildflower meadow has matured into bushland and the beginnings of a young forest, Shurey has noted the return of multiple species. "We've had nesting Eastern bluebirds, phoebes, and swallows in the field," he says. "Kestrels started hunting here and a family of bobolinks moved in this summer, which is great because they're very rare. Red-winged blackbirds patrol the meadow perimeter every spring."

With the help of fellow scientists, Shurey has identified very rare butterfly and moth species taking residence in the meadow as well. Not only is the meadow beautiful, Shurey's rewilding project has been a way to bring his professional life full circle. "The best part is ecological succession is vital for carbon sequestration," he says. "Native grasslands and wetland plants promote soil health and enhance soil biology, creating porous pockets that store carbon for many years to come."

Mary Angeles Armstrong

Mary writes about home design, real estate, sustainability, and health. Upstate, she's lived in Swiss style chalets, a 1970's hand-built home, a converted barn, and a two hundred year old home full of art. Now she lives with her son in a stone cottage outside Woodstock.
Comments (0)
Add a Comment
  • or

Support Chronogram