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October 23, 2014
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At home in a country inn: Restoring past glories

One wall of the renovated kitchen in Lesser’s own living space is a blackboard, where friends and neighbors leave notes for her to find.

By Jonathan Fox

Travel down any number of country roads throughout the Catskills and one can discover architecture that exemplifies what life was like during the heyday, when the region was known as a playground for those seeking respite from the workaday world of city life. Boarding houses, hotels, bungalows and inns were scattered across Sullivan County, and among them, The Old North Branch Inn stood proud. Built in 1868, the inn was only one of a number of hotels in the area, and North Branch was a destination, nestled in the hills, welcoming guests who traveled by rail to Callicoon, NY to spend a few days or an entire season relaxing by the pool fed by natural water flow, or simply sitting on the veranda, watching the world go by. Since many similar establishments popped up along the way, each had its own unique flavor that made it stand out in a variety of ways, and this little inn was no exception. Boasting a two-lane bowling alley and four intimate rooms on the second floor, the inn was a popular stop for those who desired vacationing on an intimate scale. With the advent of the automobile, followed by the lowered cost of air travel, travelers began to expand their horizons, setting their sights on seeing the USA or more exotic locales across the world, and “Grande Dames” like the inn fell out of favor.

While this charming Victorian jewel changed hands over the years, it did remain open to the public for a great deal of the time, eventually becoming a private residence and falling into disrepair, until designer Victoria Lesser stumbled across the place while searching for a new project to fuel her creative energy. Lesser’s website (www.victorialesser.com) reflects the sentiment shared by those who know her best as a creative dynamo who never stops. No stranger to the press, Lesser has also been described as the “designer to the stars,” having created original fashion for Bill Cosby, the Bee Gees, Barbara Mandrell and Aerosmith, but interior design and architectural restoration are a passion that has fueled her soul for decades, whether it’s a loft in Key West, or creating stunning vacation getaways for DIY television network’s popular “Blog Cabin,” which features top-to-bottom renovations, or new construction from the ground up.