Prior to moving upstate to open the Spruceton Inn, you were living and working in Brooklyn, but you’re also both well-traveled. What drew you to Upstate New York of all places?
Casey: After living abroad for a handful of years—China, Mali, Morocco, and more!—we moved to Brooklyn, but we still had the urge to escape every once in a while. We started heading up to the Catskills to do the same things we like to do internationally: explore, eat yummy food, meet new people, get a hit of the great outdoors, and have a beer by a beautiful body of water.
Steven: I’ve always wanted to live someplace where I can walk directly into the woods—it’s totally a fantasy of mine. Living upstate meant I could do that, along with illustrating and writing, while Casey opened her hotel.
Casey, did you have an “Aha!” moment when you decided to leave your career as a freelancer and become an innkeeper, and did it feel like a big risk at the time?
Casey: Yes and yes! My “Aha!” moment came on a miserable January night when I was working as a writer and received some edits I had been waiting eons for; they were uninspiring, and I thought, “I need more than this.” See, I had always figured that I wanted to be a writer, but in that moment I saw so clearly that I am at my happiest and am the most fulfilled and productive when I’m writing and doing something else, too.
When Steven and I lived in Morocco, I toyed with the idea of renovating an old riad and turning it into a guesthouse. For a lot of different reasons, we decided to move back to the States, but that idea stuck with me: renovating a place, decorating it, hosting people from around the world, and creating a beautiful haven that reflects its surroundings. On the night of my “Aha!” moment, I thought, “Man, I wish I could just open that guesthouse here,” and it turned out that I could—we have hotels in America, too. (laughing)
And, yes, it felt like a big risk at the time. But continuing on the path I was walking truly felt much scarier once I’d admitted to myself that it wasn’t enough. Besides, I didn’t have kids or a mortgage. It seemed like it was now or much later, and I wasn’t willing to wait for much later.
You both have backgrounds in creative fields: Casey as a graphic designer and writer, and Steven as an illustrator and writer. Through the Spruceton Inn, you offer a week-long Artist Residency. How does the residency work and what do you hope to provide to the artists who participate?
Casey: For our first year, we’ve chosen six 2-D artists and writers to come to Spruceton Inn for a week-long stay each, any time from February through April. The heart of the idea is that, during that time of year when things aren’t as busy here, we can spare a room and give artists the chance to escape their normal surroundings to either create or simply re-inspire themselves. A more selfish goal of the residency is to meet creative and talented people and learn about what they’re up to!
Steven: I hope the artists get the same kind of break from the city that I get every day. My set-up here is amazing: from my desk, I look out at the mountains. When I’m chewing over an idea, I walk through the woods. I actually feel a little guilty over the thought that not everyone gets to work in this same way. And, yes, this is a perfectly romantic setting for someone like me who writes and illustrates kids’ books—it’s cute to have a kids book author living in a storylike village—but I think that many different artists can benefit from spending time in this place.
Casey, you’re Head Innkeeper and Steven has continued a freelance career as an illustrator and writer, but is still very much involved around the Spruceton Inn. As a couple, you took on this huge task of restoring the inn. What was your biggest challenge, and what has been the most rewarding?
Casey: Going into this, I knew that it would be a big challenge to not let the inn take over our lives, both physically and emotionally. Some solutions have been as obvious as keeping a physical boundary between what belongs to the inn and what is private and for just us. And I try my damnedest to have a real weekend on Tuesdays and Wednesdays so that work isn’t my 24/7 state of being. Also, the moment we had the cash to hire an assistant for my days off, we did!
But the rewarding part isn’t always kicking back on a Tuesday afternoon in our private yard, even though I really love that, too! The rewarding part is felt most acutely when a guest is checking out, but just can’t bring him or herself to leave. So, instead, we keep talking, he or she pours more coffee for the road, and we laugh about something that happened at our bar the night before. That’s when I know that I’ve done a good job, when I know we’ve made a place that others enjoy as much as we do.
Steven: The biggest challenge has been making our own lives comfortable because we do so much to try to maximize the experiences of our guests. Sometimes that leads to us putting off basic things in our own home and lives. This winter we’ve refocused on our own comfort and maximizing our productivity within our own work spaces, which has been nice. Casey recently painted my studio and made it as nice as our rooms, and I love it.
I think the most rewarding thing is that we fucking did it. The inn is open!
Okay, one last question. What advice do you have for someone who is contemplating taking a leap to pursue a big dream?
Casey: Think big and small, abstract and concrete. If you look your “big dream” right in the eye, it’s enormous and vague. You have to break it down into bite-size bits that you can conquer one at a time.
Steven: Find a partner-in-crime. That’s a huge one. This is more abstract, but give yourself a lot of space—including time—to think about it. I often find that my first idea about something contains the core of what I’m trying to get at, but the final product doesn’t always resemble that first idea—time helps to shape it.
View more photos from our weekend at Spruceton Inn over at Exposure ↪
About Casey & Steven
Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg are the couple behind the Spruceton Inn: a Catskills Bed & Bar. Before opening the inn, Casey was a full-time writer and graphic designer, and Steven was, and still is, an illustrator and writer whose newest children’s book, Rex Finds an Egg! Egg! Egg! is due out on Simon & Schuster in February 2015. Casey and Steven live in West Kill, NY, with their hound, Waldo.
“The rewarding part is felt most acutely when a guest is checking out, but just can’t bring him or herself to leave…That’s when I know that I’ve done a good job, when I know we’ve made a place that others enjoy as much as we do.” / Casey