Michael Belanger remembers driving by this 1959 ranch-style house on Mt. Merino just south of Hudson “literally as the Realtor was hammering the FOR SALE sign into the lawn. I screeched on the brakes, and that was that.” At the time, his find was the “ugliest house on Mt. Merino,” he says, laughing. That was almost 20 years ago. It took a while for Belanger and his husband, Jeff Hayenga, to get around to fixing it up, much less moving into it.
Belanger, an artist-designer and former modern and antiques dealer, and Hayenga, an actor, have been together for 24 years; they are serial renovators. There was the barn in Livingston, the water-tank house in Germantown, as well as another mid-century house in Los Angeles, where they moved for five years shortly after buying this Mt. Merino place; there, Belanger opened a shop in Silver Lake.
But they kept thinking about coming back to this one to live. It was only on a half-acre lot, but the views across the Hudson River to the Catskills were magnificent. And more and more it fit with the life they wanted to have. “I have had quite a number of houses,” he notes. “Each house has gotten successively smaller.”
Back at last from the West Coast, “we basically built a new house here,” he says, while keeping a pied-à-terre in Manhattan. “There was no real plan,” Belanger says of the décor. “I had a shop in Hudson and one in L.A., so these are all pieces I have squirreled away on our buying trips; it’s a real mix.”
To keep the costs down, they did most of the finishes themselves. The one thing they vowed was that everything be low maintenance; so much so that there would be no painted surfaces inside or out. “I just thought, I want something that is really going to age well, and we’ll never have to do anything to it.”
Take the cedar shingles they put on the outside: “They’re just left to age,” he says. “They’re turning gray at roughly the same rate we are, so it’s all working out.”
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