Mind Your Manors

3.20.2013

By Aaron Hicklin

How the Fabulous Beekman Boys turned a pastoral country home into a model for the community.


The Beekman Mansion in Winter

Today, Beekman 1802 is a kind of umbrella brand for regional craftsmanship -- 22 local artisans are represented on their website and at their Sharon Springs mercantile store (purchased with their Amazing Race winnings). A key part of their philosophy is that in a throwaway society there’s infinite reward in creating things that are sustainable and built to last -- much like their home. “This house has been here for 212 years, for 60 years of which it was completely abandoned -- and it’s still standing,” says Ridge. “I think about houses that are built today that would never stand for 200 years, and aren’t even designed with that in mind.” This respect for the history of their home has influenced their design philosophy. Or, as Kilmer-Purcell puts it, “When someone gives you a wooden bowl that they hand-carved from a tree that was on your property, it becomes the centerpiece of your room.”

For Ridge, the key is to avoid turning their home into a museum. “One of the things we always love about going into old homes is seeing a detail or a piece of furniture that was created just for that house,” he says. “So we’ve designed a lot of fixtures ourselves with the hope they’ll still be in the house a hundred years from now.”

Although this model of fine country living may not appear, at first glance, to have a broader political subtext, there is something empowering about the example Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge provide of two gay men not simply engaged in their rural community, but standing at the very center of it. “Just by being ourselves and being visible without taking any sort of stance publicly is a much better form of activism for us than to position ourselves as America’s gay couple,” says Kilmer-Purcell, who believes it’s time to rethink our perception of the American heartland as a bastion of prejudice. “Of course homophobia exists, but there’s another side -- we were just in Nebraska [as headliners at the Omaha Home & Garden Expo], and the number 1 question we got asked was, ‘When are you getting married?’ ”

Just one more question the fabulous Beekman Boys are now qualified to answer.

SLIDESHOW: See the Beekman Mansion Up Close

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