Farmhouse In Shades of Blue | House Profiles | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Farmhouse In Shades of Blue 

Last Updated: 07/02/2019 4:45 pm
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Barrie Blue insists he's a ghost. The dapper, lively man always accompanied by his little white dog K.C. has made a living, and a life, by remaining behind the scenes and lending his talents as a writer and fashion designer to more well-known names.

"I prefer not to be in the spotlight," he explains. "When you're a ghost, without being attached to the outcome, you can be free."

He's no shrinking violet, but it's a role and philosophy that's allowed him to travel the world and successfully metamorph between multiple creative disciplines.


"I love chasing my shadow," Blue explains. "I've had a magical life, and my house is magical as well."

click to enlarge Barrie Blue and his Havanese, KC, in the upstairs living room of his 200-year-old converted horse barn home. When Blue bought it this original room still had a hole in the floor to drop hay to the horses below and he’s spent the past 30 years renovating the property. “It’s been my passion,” says Blue. Behind him a stained glass window, entitled “Hope,” was brought over from Europe and installed by a previous owner. “I always liked stained glass,” Blue says. “I thought there was hope that someone would put it there and we all have to have a little hope.” - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Barrie Blue and his Havanese, KC, in the upstairs living room of his 200-year-old converted horse barn home. When Blue bought it this original room still had a hole in the floor to drop hay to the horses below and he’s spent the past 30 years renovating the property. “It’s been my passion,” says Blue. Behind him a stained glass window, entitled “Hope,” was brought over from Europe and installed by a previous owner. “I always liked stained glass,” Blue says. “I thought there was hope that someone would put it there and we all have to have a little hope.”

Like its owner, Blue's four-and-a-half-acre property probably has a few stories to tell. Tucked away in the woods and built into the side of a hill, the original wood-and-stone structure was once the two-horse barn of a much larger farm. Blue believes it to be approximately 200 years old, "but they tell me they can't really trace it back," he explains.

click to enlarge The 4.5-acre property features many original historical details, including stone walls and the remnants of a stone guest cottage. There is even evidence that the painter Chagall lived very close by and kept his “muse” on the property. “We always hear about love stories and ghost stories, but we need to really see them,” says Blue. “To me, it’s very interesting that all these people pass through this region, and no one really knows about it.” - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The 4.5-acre property features many original historical details, including stone walls and the remnants of a stone guest cottage. There is even evidence that the painter Chagall lived very close by and kept his “muse” on the property. “We always hear about love stories and ghost stories, but we need to really see them,” says Blue. “To me, it’s very interesting that all these people pass through this region, and no one really knows about it.”

Surrounding the house, a large meadow is threaded with original stone walls and punctuated by old-growth trees, vibrant gardens springing forth with new life, stitching a green perimeter around the home. Blue bought the property in 1984 and has spent the past 30 years adding to and refining it, creating a rambling 2,000-square-foot space. With two living rooms, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms, it remains stylistically true to its origins and honors local history, while the multiple entryways leave it open for the next chapter.

"I've already forgotten what I don't remember."

"You know I never really tried to do anything in my life. Everything just sort of happened," Blue says. "It's been very serendipitous." Born in Manhattan to Eastern European immigrants, he spent his childhood going between his parent's house in Brooklyn and his grandparent's apartment on the Upper West Side.
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This was before Manhattan's gentrification, when both boroughs were rougher than they are today. "I was a street kid, but I was always reading and writing," remembers Blue. "I wasn't just inspired to write, I was compelled. All the poets were my heroes—everyone from Ferlinghetti to Joni Mitchell—I loved painting pictures with words."

Blue began writing poetry and aphorisms while he was still in school. After graduation, his talent for wordsmithing, along with his attraction to the "economy of a good one-liner" led him into the world of songwriting. "Song lyrics are really poetry, you just have to figure out a tagline," he explains. A connection in Los Angeles got him a job with a record company writing lyrics for rock 'n' roll bands. It was his first chance to "be a ghost," and he found that working behind the scenes suited him. "It was the time when A&M Records was occupying the Charlie Chaplin Studios," he remembers. "All of the record companies had 40 ghost writers on staff."

click to enlarge Year by year, as his success as a designer - grew, Blue added onto the house, always trying to stay true to the home’s original spirit. After a fire in the late ’80s, he added this downstairs dining area with vaulted ceilings and installed salvaged French doors from Zaborski’s Emporium in Kingston. He also - added a new exterior deck. “I renovated it in stages of my life,” he says. - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Year by year, as his success as a designergrew, Blue added onto the house, always trying to stay true to the home’s original spirit. After a fire in the late ’80s, he added this downstairs dining area with vaulted ceilings and installed salvaged French doors from Zaborski’s Emporium in Kingston. He alsoadded a new exterior deck. “I renovated it in stages of my life,” he says.

Laurel Canyon became his haunt, and he spent his nights out and about rubbing shoulders with all kinds of people. "I could go into any club and meet anybody just sitting there," he remembers. However, soon the lifestyle and the heavy drug use of the era began to get to him. "It wasn't in my nature to be partying like that. I wanted to be high, but not get high," he says. But his time in Los Angeles had helped him blossom from a poet into a writer.

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"You breath in, you breath out. If you stop breathing you're not here."

Blue left the music scene and took a job as a journalist with the Herald Tribune, which first landed him in Paris, then sent him to India. Blue's move to India would be a major turning point in his life, becoming his part-time home for the next 18 years. "I fell in love with India instantaneously," he explains. "It propelled me into designing. It's where I really learned to be a citizen of the world." For the Tribune, Blue worked as a stringer covering newsworthy events, and, when he wasn't writing, he began practicing meditation. "I loved the whole idea of it. In meditation, the breath is everything. Meditation got me high without drugs."

When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi severely restricted the press and Blue had to find a new job, it was his meditation practice that gave him his next idea. "In the old days, Indians and yogis wore oversized kurtas and loose pajama-like pants to meditate," he explains.

click to enlarge “Everything was very rustic,” remembers Blue, - describing the home’s original first floor. Originally small horse barn, Blue sealed it and sheetrocked part of the interior to keep out dirt. However, he was able to preserve the space’s original stone walls and oak beams. The original horse entrance was converted into windows. - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • “Everything was very rustic,” remembers Blue,describing the home’s original first floor. Originally small horse barn, Blue sealed it and sheetrocked part of the interior to keep out dirt. However, he was able to preserve the space’s original stone walls and oak beams. The original horse entrance was converted into windows.
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Blue was also fascinated by the history behind Indian textiles. "India has lots of hands and a lot of poor people. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to bring back the art of spinning, but it was more than just the art, he wanted to give people something to do. The fabric is often so irregular because it's all handmade."

Inspired by what he'd seen, Blue moved back to the US and designed his own line of meditation clothing. He was living in Provincetown, Massachusetts and studying with writer Norman Mailer when his line of meditationwear caught the attention of Bloomingdale's head buyer. "I was just designing the clothes as a hobby," Blue remembers. "But he told me, 'I think you may have a calling.'" So Blue flew back to India and began working with local tailors to design what was to become the brand Kensington Blue. "I was the first contemporary designer to synthesize meditation and fashion into a product," he explains. The line was a great success, supporting him as an artist, winning him awards, and taking him everywhere from Portugal to Hong Kong.

"My grandfather said, 'Buy things you love and don't sell them.'"

After years of globetrotting, Blue decided he wanted a New York base and a quiet place to continue with his writing. He found Manhattan too distracting, and a friend suggested High Falls. "When I came up to the Hudson Valley, I thought it was fantastic. I could have acres of land, buy rustic old houses and antiques, and I could play with the Woodstock artists," he remembers. The creative pedigree of High Falls with its plethora of actors, artists, and musicians—including a neighboring property where the painter Chagall once lived—also inspired him. "It's full of characters," Blue explains. "And I'm a character."

click to enlarge Blue added an additional bedroom to the home, searching salvage markets in the area for antique wood beams and windows. “I tried to pick pieces that made sense,” he says. Whenever he couldn’t find something suitable, he worked with local craftspeople - to create pieces that matched the home’s aesthetic, though he admits, “It’s hard maintaining all the wood in this environment, with the constant contraction and expansion—it’s sort of like our lives.” - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Blue added an additional bedroom to the home, searching salvage markets in the area for antique wood beams and windows. “I tried to pick pieces that made sense,” he says. Whenever he couldn’t find something suitable, he worked with local craftspeopleto create pieces that matched the home’s aesthetic, though he admits, “It’s hard maintaining all the wood in this environment, with the constant contraction and expansion—it’s sort of like our lives.”

When he found his rustic two-horse barn, he took to it right away. "This was a place I could write," he remembers. Owned at the time by jazz composer and trombonist Don Sebesky, the house's two upstairs rooms were dominated by the original stone fireplace and still had a hole in the floor (with a ladder) where hay was once dropped to the animals below. Sebesky had added an antique European stained glass window next to the home's original red round-top Dutch door, as well as a bedroom downstairs. Another previous owner, the painter Ben Bishop, had outfitted the original barn with a small kitchen space and a small bathroom. Blue bought the property from Sebesky in 1984, negotiating to keep the stained glass at the entrance.

"Adopt, don't shop."

Over the ensuing decades, Blue developed a career as a "ghost" fashion designer. He worked behind the scenes designing and advising for Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, eventually becoming a creative director for Coogee and FUBU. With each new success, he gradually added onto the house and the surrounding grounds, always trying to remain true to the spirit of the original property. Throughout the house, Blue salvaged all the original rough-hewn oak floors and beams and scoured vintage stores and antique markets for furniture and art to fill the interiors. He put in extensive gardens around the perimeter of the home and added a deck with a hot tub and a jacuzzi.

click to enlarge Blue has filled the home with art and mementos he collected over the years, including pieces found during his many years in India. “I like history being told through art,” he says. - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Blue has filled the home with art and mementos he collected over the years, including pieces found during his many years in India. “I like history being told through art,” he says.

In the late '80s, a fire—started by the frayed wiring of an antique clock—burned part of the home's interior. With the help of firefighters, Blue was able to save most of the home and turned the mishap into an opportunity to add to the space. He remodeled the existing kitchen and bathroom and then added a new bedroom suite with a full bathroom, decorating the spaces with artifacts from his time in India and family photos. Blue finally closed up the hole in the main floor and added a new staircase to the downstairs, utilizing salvaged windows, frames, doors, and wood that he found at Zaborski Emporium in Kingston. He also added multiple new entranceways to the downstairs as well as new exterior decks.

click to enlarge Blue salvaged two antique windows from a church in Vermont and put them in one of the home’s bedrooms. “I used to go antique hunting and buy stuff at auction,” he explains. “The whole house is filled with art I found over - the years.” However, he is ready to let the stuff go and now focus on living things—most especially rescuing animals worldwide. “I’m selling the art. When you collect things, you don’t own them anymore, they own you.” - PHOTO: DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Photo: Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Blue salvaged two antique windows from a church in Vermont and put them in one of the home’s bedrooms. “I used to go antique hunting and buy stuff at auction,” he explains. “The whole house is filled with art I found overthe years.” However, he is ready to let the stuff go and now focus on living things—most especially rescuing animals worldwide. “I’m selling the art. When you collect things, you don’t own them anymore, they own you.”

While Blue is still involved in the fashion world, he sees his next gig as ghosting for animals. He was first moved by the plight of other sentient creatures—everything from elephants to the subcontinent's nine indigenous dog species—when he was living in India. He has since helped shut down circus acts and supported many no-kill animal shelters. He is also currently working on a project telling the story of the Havanese dog breed-inspired by his pup KC. "Often," he explains, "it's the animals that rescue us." He's happy to trust wherever this path takes him next. "Tomorrows have a habit of becoming todays, todays have a habit of slipping away. That's why I prefer to live in the moment."

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The original print version of this article was titled:
"House Profile: Barrie Blue (High Falls)"

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