It was a weekend jaunt to the bucolic hills of Bovina in 2011 that planted the seed of yearning for Sohail Zandi and Sara Elbert, a once Brooklyn-based couple who now own farm-to-table restaurant Brushland Eating House in Bovina. “So it goes with a lot of people that come to visit, you get up here and try to figure out how to stay here full time,” says Sara.
The next three years were spent inching their way north. After a brief stint in Martha’s Vineyard – Sohail making cheese in Chilmark and Sara working on a flower farm – the pair found kismet in a building for sale on Main Street in Bovina with a commercial space on the first floor and two sizeable apartments upstairs. At first, the couple rented the front apartment as an airbnb and lived in the back until May of 2015 when they bought a house just across the street, turning the rear space into a second airbnb.
Today, the two apartments – that can sleep anywhere from four to eight people – almost never go unoccupied, having gained traction via word-of-mouth recommendations and an ever growing following on Brushland Eating House’s delectable Instagram. The pair filled their many rooms with a delightful collection of estate sale treasures mixed in with personal items that hold special meaning. “We really thought about things in a way that they would be welcoming or comfortable or playful,” says Sara. “People have embraced us and we feel really lucky that we’ve built something that people believe in as well.”
- Location: Bovina Center, NY
- Each Airbnb features:
a full kitchen
freshly ground Peddler coffee
Every item in their apartments has a story, pieced together from estate sales and different periods in each of the couple’s lives. “The table is the table Sohail grew up eating on; it’s his childhood table,” says Sara. And the phonograph was purchased by Sohail “from a stinky Frenchman on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn,” just one of four things he was able to salvage from his garden apartment after it flooded during Sandy. “He lost just about everything in Sandy, which is the straw that broke the Brooklyn story. We left right after,” she recalls.
Deciding which airbnb to stay in, Sara believes, is a matter of choosing between heavenly morning light or the evening’s bright orange glow. “The first thing I think of when someone is trying to decide between the two apartments is ‘when do you prefer your light.’ They’re both so charming and I think that the thing that divides them the most is the light. It’s drastically different depending upon how it’s positioned, so I always ask, ‘What time of day are you?’”
“There are a few things that made sense when we went to do the restaurant,” says Sara, referring her decision to serve Peddler Coffee from her cousin’s roasting plant in Philly at their soulful, classic eatery Brushland Eating House, located just downstairs from the apartments. Above, is a tiny watercolor of Brushland Eating House when it was Main Street Bovina cafe, one of three daytime cafes (Heaven, Two Little Tarts) that belong to the building’s history.
The stack of vintage games in the corner? “That’s a collection from an estate sale. The answer will probably always be an estate sale. None of them are post ‘85,” says Sara, whose airbnb’s are carefully curated showcases of estate sale finds. “Sometimes you end up at estate sales and there’s nothing and sometimes you go and you can end up with like 25 things, so I think that’s where a lot of the stuff came from.”
If each pocket of the Catskills has a strong suit, Bovina’s is its picturesque landscape of low rolling hills and scenic farmland. “You come to Bovina because you love the hills, you love the agriculture, you want to be quiet,” says Sara. “You’ll find that it is a different set of people. it’s much more of an escape, you’re much more removed from an inkling of city life, I mean there’s none of it left up here, which is why it’s so beautiful.”
The top of the stairwell of the first apartment acts as a small porch, perfect for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee.
The couple has a quirky, yet sophisticated design aesthetic. The gold can in the living room is an old Utz pretzel container. The coffee table was once a chicken crate. The pot of a female torso is by cult ceramacist Universal Isaac. “There are some things about our style that’s clean or really polished and other times we really like to be a little playful. We’re like that. We like the kitsch. In every aspect of our life, we don’t like to take things too seriously.”
“People ask us constantly for itineraries,” says Sara. “Our favorite one is, bring lots of wine, lots of snacks and hang. That’s the best thing about coming up here and being disconnected. We want people to come here and make their fun.”
The coyote pelt on the bed and a deer hide on the magazine rack are quite beloved by Sohail, acquired from a reclusive pelt dealer in Catskill park. The pair had the opportunity to visit his barn and hand select a red fox and a skunk pelt in addition to the two pictured here.
“Sohail has some amazing Persian rug connections through his uncle,” says Sara, referring to the multitude of colorfully patterned rugs scattered throughout the apartments. “We also have a problem with lighting, we love lamps and are constantly picking up lamps and the joke was for a while was ‘if we could only find a sofa or dining room chairs’…we could never find the big pieces, but we’d always come home with an abundance of lighting.”
“That’s a travelers room. It feels a bit Marrakesh Express with the suitcases and the Persian rug.”
“The great thing about these apartments is that they’re a collection of time spent trying to stay here,” Sara exclaims. “Some of these pieces are from a time when we just lived at home and we were saving money seriously and hunting for objects and some are from previous owners of the building and some are from local antique stores.”