Inside a 22-Person Pandemic Pod in the Hudson Valley

In late spring 2020, when most hotels across the country were empty, the Suminski Innski, a three-story Italian-style mansion converted into a guesthouse, was packed to capacity. In room 2, a WNYC reporter – who by then had been there for months spent his days recording in a makeshift studio. Next door, in room 4, two children, aged 10 and 13, were recovering from particularly severe cases of COVID. Downstairs, an elderly Bard had taken over the veranda to complete their senior project – a 14-and-a-half-foot sculpture of a nun.

The Suminski Innski opened in 2009 in Tivoli, New York – a then quiet town in the Hudson Valley where locals coexisted with professors and students from Bard College who rented homes off campus. In 2003, Tim Voell was a bartender at Black Swan – the town’s local bar – when he fell in love with the mansion, which was in disrepair. He consulted the property tax records at the town hall and sent a typed letter to its owner, a 93-year-old woman named Josephine de Nigris. Widow and concert pianist who lived alone, de Nigris received the note and arranged a meeting with Voell at home. He volunteered to restore it, she said yes, and he moved in and started working. In the end, the two got married – she needed someone to take care of her in her old age, and Tim did just that, lovingly caring for her as a friend. When she died two years later, he opened the mansion as an inn. There were four real bedrooms and a wraparound porch that overlooked the Hudson.

From the start, Voell made a point of hiring long-term guests as well as short-term guests to maintain income and a sense of community during the cold and calm winter months of the North. State. Bard students rented rooms for entire semesters. Artists came for quasi-residences, Tim’s friends, teachers and young people looking for work in exchange for a room. So it made sense that when COVID hit – and the hostel’s short-term guests fell to zero – Voell would fill the place with people looking for a place to stay.

“We started with six people in March,” says Ryan Voell, Tim’s nephew. “David escaped from Mexico and came here. Jim escaped from Brooklyn. In May, Talulah moved from Durango, Colorado; Ksenia, an editor, and her son, Yarosha, have arrived from town. In June, Theophila, Reese, Roo, Vita and Emma – two bard graduates and three bard students – joined us. Then came Kelly and Carolyn, editor at Lapham’s Quarterly and a curator of rare books and manuscripts at the New York Public Library, respectively, along with their 6-week-old baby, Hadwin. As of July, the hostel’s population was 22. Every imaginable space had become a bedroom: the two living rooms, the outdoor camper van for the summer months and the veranda. Voell gave up his own bedroom to accommodate everyone, sleeping on the veranda on a mattress for a while before eventually moving to a hotel across the river for most of the winter. They had karaoke marathons, poker nights every Friday, and group Thanksgiving and New Years celebrations.

In May, Voell reopened the hostel to short-stay guests. This means that the pandemic residents who continued to live there now bounce between rooms, staying wherever there is room for them. Many, however, have gone elsewhere – to the city, to their parents’ homes. “At that time,” Voell says, “the inn was a ship, a cruise liner, or something like that. I was the captain. And then it became a life raft, and we squeezed as many people as we could for as long as we could. “

Tim Voell is the hostel owner. Every weekend throughout the pandemic, he would bring home pastries and make breakfast for the entire group of 22 people.

Ksenia Semenov (right) and Yarosha (left) decided to move to the hostel after the Yarosha school closed. Semenov first heard about the place from his friend Lena Siyanko, the director of PS21, who lived at the hostel for some time in the early years. “Yarosha was going to school in Manhattan and had a hard time with English,” Ksenia says. “When he came here he learned English so quickly, like in two months, perfect English. Dark, who is around 50, became his best friend – they spent the whole summer together.

Dark, writer, producer and director, has lived at the inn for 11 years. He met Tim in 2006 at a July 4th poolside party in the Hudson Valley right after Tim and Josephine’s wedding.

Jim O’Grady spent six months from March to August 2020 recording a nine-episode podcast, Blind Spot: The road of September 11, for History Channel and WNYC Studios in Room 2 – a 130 square foot space, which he shared with his wife, Clara, editor at NYU Press.

“Sometimes I worry that Tim won’t stand up for himself or say what he needs,” says David Sater, an aspiring alchemist, writer, collector and visual artist who has lived at the hostel occasionally since 2015. “Like, he goes to sleep on the couch or for a while slept on the veranda which really got him tired. There is a kind of nobility in that. But when you do yourself a disservice it sometimes affects others around. from you. “

“It could get claustrophobic, and that’s why going down to the river was good, even for our own relationship,” says Luca Santana (left) of the hostel’s room 4 – which they shared with their partner, Jacob Frandsen (right), for most of their senior year at Bard College. “We would normally have had a healthier dynamic of time alone, time in class and time with friends. “

Carolyn Vega (left), curator of rare books and manuscripts at the New York Public Library, and Kelly Burdick (right), editor at Lapham’s Quarterly, joined the group with their 6 week old baby, Hadwin, in early summer. Fourteen people were already living at the hostel when they moved in. “I was working at the breakfast table with the governess’s son, who was attending distance school,” says Kelly.

“We would have these special nights every Tuesday where, if the residents wanted, they would perform,” says Talulah Gilroy, who moved to the hostel in May 2020 from Durango, Colo., To work in her brother’s neighboring mushroom farm. . “Dark and Coco would sing, Roo would do his dance recital, and David would set up all his candles and everyone would perform.”

Ryan Voell, Tim’s nephew, moved into the hostel five years ago (“I thought it was going to be a two week stay,” he says). Ryan has worked as a carpenter, gardener, and chef for the inn – and now manages summer reservations from a tent platform he and his uncle built in the backyard.

Student bards Theophila Barickman (left) and Theresa “Reese” Allore (right) live in an RV behind the hostel in exchange for a job. The two wintered the motorhome (whose aesthetic Theophila qualifies as a “dykecore hunting hut”) with used carpet and fitted it with Wi-Fi for Zoom School, albeit during the months of winter they spent most of their time inside the hostel because it was too cold.

In June, Vita Taurke – a dancer and choreographer who graduated from Bard in 2018 – went to visit the hostel to meet Tim, whom she had heard about from her friend Roo. Tim handed him blankets that day and said, “You’re in room 9 for the next few nights. Vita stayed all summer 2020 in different rooms – 9, then 8, then the converted back lounge. “It sounded like a feverish dream,” she says. “We always had small events, like an impromptu tea party for Emma’s birthday.”

Bard College graduate Margot “Roo” Ells says they “danced on the back lawn every day last summer” – then in their bedroom, the converted living room, during the winter. Roo has since returned home to Philadelphia, but during their stay at the hostel, they slept in almost every room – including, at one point, the laundry room.

During the lockdown, Bard College closed its art studios, so Coco Goupil, who was finishing her final year in the studio’s arts department, asked Tim if they could use one of the hostel’s lounges to finish. their graduation thesis. One of the main pieces of their project was a 14 and a half foot ink drawing of a nun on heavy paper mounted on five pieces of luan wood. “Tim let me set up the nun by the river,” they said. “I didn’t realize how appreciated she was until she fell – I spotted all these people out there pushing her up there.”

“When I tell people that I live with 15 people, they say to me: ‘Like a commune?’ And I’m like ‘Maybe?’ Says Zack Young (seen here with their cat, Babka), a bard student who studies foreign languages, literature and culture with concentrations in Spanish and Chinese.

Natasha Dillahunt (right) fell ill with COVID-19 in March 2020. Next came her 13-year-old daughter, Flynn; then his 10-year-old daughter, Reilly-May; then her husband, Jeremy (left). In June, Reilly-May was diagnosed with post-COVID multisystem inflammatory syndrome. Wanting a quiet place for her to recuperate, Natasha called Tim, who she and Jeremy had befriended during their years as a bard, to ask if the family (as well as their two guinea pigs) could. stay after their quarantine ends. Their arrival last summer brought the total number of people at the hostel to 22

“There was something funny going on every day, like when my mom got chased across the yard by Tim’s bees in a bikini,” says Flynn Dillahunt. “But there weren’t any kids my age there and I didn’t have any space. Like, no matter where I went, someone from the Innski was always there. Our room was very, very, very, very cramped. My mom, dad, me and sister had to share. I had a single mattress on the floor and my sister slept on a blast. My parents got the bed. It was so small with all of us in there – and my dad snores like a creepy freight train. ”

“I can’t really believe we’ve been through so many months of the pandemic without a COVID case,” says Emma Johnston, a Bard student who moved to the third floor in June 2020. “I’m proud of the way we have worked together. to protect each other. We were isolated most of the time – no one at the hostel spent unmasked time around other people, and no one came to the hostel who did not live there. But of course we have made exceptions for family and lovers.

Photographs by Jessica chappe

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