Review: In the Catskills, A Tiny House Resort Looms Large
Two hours north of NYC is an oasis at the forefront of a new hospitality trend
Sometimes less is more. This paradox explains our appreciation for haiku, in-laws and falsetto singing. Recently, it has gained traction in the world of high-end lodging.
In 2017, Bob Malkin opened Think Big! A Tiny House Resort. Named after the iconic pop-art store he operated in Soho for decades, the resort features 11 custom-built tiny homes set on 40 pristine acres in the heart of the Catskills. Guests are engulfed in nature, but this is not camping or glamping. It’s an experience that marries the privacy and serenity of the great outdoors with comfort and amenities.
“What makes us unique,” Bob’s daughter Margie says, “is that our houses are luxury tiny houses.” Margie and her daughter, Melissa, run the resort with a dedicated staff. While the pandemic has crippled many hospitality businesses, Think Big! has flourished.
“Let’s put it this way. We could use a vacation,” Margie says. “By accident, we’re just designed perfectly for social distancing. You could walk the property and not see another soul.”
The resort’s proximity to New York City is what makes it so appealing for many guests. Seeking an accessible escape, my wife and I recently visited. They’re dog friendly, so we brought our lab, too.
South Cairo, New York, is an easy two-hour drive from the city. If you’re traveling sans car, you can hop a train to Hudson — just 10 miles east of the resort — and then grab an Uber.
The ride gave us a chance to imbibe the beauty of the Hudson Valley with its rolling fields and bursting foliage. South Cairo itself is a bit tired. Like many towns in the Catskills, it peaked in the middle of the 20th century before falling on hard times. Ongoing redevelopment efforts offer hope that it’s following a similar upward trajectory to Beacon and Hudson.
But we weren’t visiting for the town. We wanted to experience the tiny house and immerse ourselves in natural beauty. As we pulled up to the office, we were greeted by a merry band of free-range hens. Margie welcomed us with a carton of fresh eggs and gave us the lay of the land.
The soft earth slopes gently from the road down to Catskill Creek, a Hudson tributary that looks more like its own river than a creek. With a half-mile of water frontage, guests can enjoy swimming, tubing and kayaking during the warmer seasons. There’s also good trout fishing to be had. A heated pool is open from May through October.
The houses are situated on two tiers of elevation. Seven houses are spaced along the upper ridge. They are occasionally rented by groups and can sleep up to 29 guests. These houses boast the best views. The four houses on the lower level, however, are closer to the water, so you can’t go wrong. Margie says that they plan to add two more houses this winter.
Goats, ducks and bunnies reside in enclosures in the center of the resort. Guests are encouraged to pet the goats and are always invited to join their daily walk just before sunset. In the “Garden of Eating,” a bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables are available to pick.
Although there is a supermarket a mile away, the resort shop is well stocked with snacks and provisions. The store is unstaffed and runs on the honor system. Guests can leave cash or use Venmo. Ditto for the firewood stations located next to each house; the wood is chopped and milled onsite.
Welcome to Your Tiny House
Every house is different. Margie and Melissa work with ESCAPE, an award-winning manufacturer, to design each one. They vary in size, accommodating anywhere from two to six guests. Although the houses are unique, they all have the same architectural emphasis.
“The main focus is on windows and glass,” Margie says. “Windows create a very open experience for people. Our goal is for nature to be brought in.”
Having never stayed in a tiny house, we were impressed by its size and thoughtful ergonomics. Our house had a queen bedroom downstairs and lofted bedrooms at each end. The main living area, with a plush couch and television, was spacious. Every inch seemed intended to maximize comfort and storage. The bathroom had a tub and shower where the water was hot and the pressure was prosperous.
The kitchen was fully loaded with a gas range and oven, and the cabinets contained all the hardware needed to prepare a feast. You could enjoy your meal at the table overlooking the window, but I’d suggest the patio as long as the weather cooperates. Each house has a private outdoor dining area, grill and firepit. Several houses also feature their own gazebos with cushioned couches.
There are plenty of restaurants nearby, and most of them deliver. We enjoy cooking, so we showed up with our own ingredients. Flank steaks, apple crisp and two bottles of cabernet sauvignon made for an indulgent evening.
How to Spend Your Visit
Even though South Cairo isn’t exactly a draw, there are many nearby attractions. The bohemian enclave of Woodstock is only 20 minutes away. Local orchards and farms make for fun excursions, and there are multiple skiing destinations within a half-hour. But Margie says that most guests never leave the resort. We didn’t.
Unlike other nature-inspired getaways, Think Big! is not selling experiential disconnection. You can certainly unplug if you want, but each house is wired with internet and cable. Many guests work and play during their stay.
Shortly after we arrived, for instance, my wife hopped on a Zoom meeting. The dog and I took each other for a long walk. We traipsed through well-maintained trails and stopped at the bottom of a scenic waterfall. (If you’re into Instagram, this is the spot.) On the way back, we hit the dog park. I prepared a charcuterie board as my wife finished her meeting. When she clocked out, we uncorked the wine and spent some time in our books.
Think Big! makes for an ideal romantic sojourn, but it also works for individuals seeking solitude or a group of friends looking to reconnect in the country. You could be happily lazy like us, or you could take a more active approach.
Each season presents different opportunities. The creek is a fountain of bliss during the warmer months. Autumn is heaven for leaf peepers, while winter offers a different allure. Snowshoeing and sledding are popular activities, but many guests opt to simply lounge in the toasty comfort of their tiny house. Regardless of the season, there is no shame in enjoying the simple pleasure of existing in a beautiful place and doing nothing.
The resort was full during our stay, but we didn’t encounter another guest. That’s what made it so special. Privacy without isolation, nature without the trek. This was different than staying at a five-star hotel. It was a fresh take on luxury. A simple, aesthetic kind of luxury. And it was utterly delightful.
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