“I don’t ever think any more in terms of weekdays and weekends… I don’t ever feel the need to book a vacation any more because to me it’s all here.”
Esther De Jong, model, real estate agent and fine artist lives full-time in the Catskills after relocating from her native Holland via a life and career based in New York City.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
What made you move here?
Being pregnant. I was eight months pregnant in August of 2006 and I just couldn’t imagine having to spend August in New York City. I couldn’t deal with the thought of sticky pavements and smell of garbage. I was already so uncomfortable and wanted to breathe. So I rented a house and bought a place and then my daughter was born in 2006. I did the weekend thing for a few years and moved full-time in 2009 and never looked back really.
What do you do for work?
I do a lot of things for work but back then I was doing fashion modeling. I’ve been doing that for eighteen years now and after I moved here in 2009, I really started to think about how I could stay here. I was travelling a lot for work – going back and forth to airports – and I got a bit tired of it. I had my art, which was an outlet, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to be able to make a living, so in 2012 I decided to get my real estate licence, because I thought I could do that perfectly from here and use my connections in the city, and be able to be there for my daughter with her school hours. So I started working with Timberland Properties and I’ve been doing that ever since. I also started a new company in January with my partner Michael called Green Label Home and we offer vacation rentals and provide concierge services for people coming up from the city for the weekend, who might want to have some groceries waiting for them when they get in, or need to have their heat turned on, things like that. And then of course, my painting…
Yes, your wonderful art. How do you fit that in?
Well, I guess you just have to get used to switching hats multiple times a day, which I’ve really learned how to do. I can work on real estate for an hour, and then I’ll be working on some property management stuff and then I’ll have my easel set up in the studio so that’s always ready to go. You have to compartmentalize your day and be flexible and ready to switch things around. And then, at night, my agent might call and tell me I have to come to the city the next day to do an appointment and so, I’ll be doing that the next day.
How’s the real estate?
I sell the modular homes through Timberland Properties, that’s my niche. I contacted this Canadian company, Mekaworld, because I really like the homes that they make. They’re modern and have a lot of nice wood and glass. They’re shipping container size, but not made with them, which allows them to be on regular transport, so they don’t have to travel on the oversize transportation.
It strikes me as the perfect kind of structure to have in these elements.
Yes, exactly it is and for some reason, you don’t see them a lot in this area. I thought this area could use some providers and actually now there are some, but there weren’t any a year and a half ago. I saw that gap in the market here, so I contacted Mekaworld. The owner gave me the exclusive rights to sell their product in this area. I’m hoping that we’ll have one coming up soon so that people can see it.
They are a lot faster to build and you can make them smaller and more energy efficient. People are becoming aware that they don’t need to have this huge 4,000 sq ft house that they have to heat and take care of.
You’re never busier than when you move to the country.
Absolutely, because your workday isn’t 9-5. It’s always ongoing. If you want to have a basic 9-5 life, it’s very hard to make a living up here unless you find a decent job, but there aren’t that many around, so you have to make your own plans, your own work and your own way of living. I’ve found a way to do it and its working well. I’m very happy this way. I don’t get bored ever.
Is there such a thing as a day off in country life?
If you feel like you’re working all day then you do need a day off. A day off for me means that I will go for a walk, but inevitably I will get inspired by something and have to write a poem about it. I don’t ever think any more in terms of weekdays and weekends, except the mother part, whether my daughter will be in or out of school, but other than that, it’s all the same. I don’t ever feel the need to book a vacation any more because to me it’s all here.
I’m asking this question of everybody lately: what is work?
To me, work is a lifestyle that I’m happy with. So it’s not work in the sense of a 9-5 job, but a lifestyle in which I feel good all the time and also provide for basic needs like pay the bills and eat good, healthy food and do the things I love to do. To me, it’s not work, it’s lifestyle and really finding a balance in it. Enjoying the every day.
Do you still model?
I do, but my jobs are no longer three-week trips somewhere. The jobs have become a bit smaller and closer.
How do you juggle everything?
By having wonderful friends and a good support group, so that if I have to go to work I have great people who I can rely on for my daughter. Up here, the sense of community is very prominent and I have a lot of girlfriends that are always there for me if I need them because my family are all still very far away in Holland.
What inspires you most about the Catskills?
Just a sense of space, and the landscape is just gorgeous. It really has everything that I wanted as far a place to live. I love the seasons, even though the winter is a bit cold. It’s still close enough to a big city where you have a culture that’s reachable, but then you have just an incredible amount of space in nature and that’s something that I need on a daily basis.
Do you miss city life at all?
No, not at all. I really don’t at all. There’s nothing that the city has that I would want or need every single day, only things I would like occasionally, like Opera. I love opera, but here we have the most amazing Phoenicia Festival of the Voice in the summer anyway. We have so many wonderful restaurants here. There are so many wonderful places to go.