Kevin McKenzie and Martine van Hamel: On the Zen of Escape City Life

Kevin McKenzie and Martine van Hamel stood in the dining room of their weekend home in Woodstock, NY, trying to figure out when they got...

Kevin McKenzie and Martine van Hamel stood in the dining room of their weekend home in Woodstock, NY, trying to figure out when they got married.

“We’ve lived together for 35 years, 36 years or something like that, but we got married relatively recently,” said Mr McKenzie, 68, who is retiring in December after 30 years as artistic director of the ‘American Ballet Theatre. (The company’s summer season at the Metropolitan Opera — almost its swan song — runs through July 16.)

“Living together 34 years,” corrected Ms van Hamel, 76, who, like her husband, was a principal dancer with ABT. She still performs character roles there and teaches ballet at Kaatsbaan, a cultural park in Tivoli, NY, which she and Mr. McKenzie helped found in 1990.

“But when did we get married? I have to do the math. Your mother was dead by then, right? Mr. McKenzie asked.

“I don’t remember,” he added with a sad laugh.

Hmm. The wedding took place about seven years ago, Mr McKenzie estimated. Six years ago, Mrs. van Hamel guessed.

No matter. They are totally okay about their home in Woodstock. With all due respect to their location on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, there really isn’t a better location. For Mr. McKenzie, it’s a respite from a high-pressure job in a high-pressure city. For Ms. van Hamel, it is a link with her parents, Diederik and Manette, the former owners.

When Diederik, a globetrotting Dutch diplomat, was posted to Toronto in the 1960s, retirement was near, as was Woodstock, where Manette, also from the Netherlands, had spent an idyllic part of her childhood.

They began making periodic visits, and in 1967 purchased a two-acre property with a small, low-ceilinged house, a stream, and several outbuildings, including a chicken coop and a cottage that later became a rental unit. There was also a vegetable cellar. Like the house, it was built in 1904, but unlike the house, it had a constant temperature of 55 degrees, making it ideal for its current use as a wine cellar. “But we don’t have a lot of wine,” Ms. van Hamel confessed.

occupations: He is the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre; she is a former principal dancer of ABT and now teaches ballet.

Getting there is half the fun: “We have a life in New York, and obviously there’s the ABT work with all the hustle and bustle, but the drive from Manhattan to Woodstock is through the hoardings and through some state parks, so it’s like an experience zen,” Mr. McKenzie said. said. “And by the time you get here, you’re ready to drink in peace.”

Initially, his parents used the property as a weekend retreat. They became full-time residents in 1972, after a few adjustments, including raising a ceiling to create a studio loft for Manette, a violinist and pianist-turned-artist. Diederik built himself a workshop where he made violins; it is now a training studio.

At some point, Mr. McKenzie started showing up at the house with Ms. van Hamel. He was admittedly not the first guy, or even the second, to be granted the privilege, but he stood out from the body.

“It seems I had the unique distinction of being the only boyfriend Martine brought home that her mother approved of,” said Mr. McKenzie, who returned the look (albeit in the absence of a guest bedroom in the main house, he and Mrs. van Hamel were regularly lodged in the chicken coop).

As part of Diederik and Manette’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration, Mr. McKenzie and Mrs. van Hamel had a swimming pool built for them. And somewhere along the way, Mr. McKenzie became Manette’s landscape sidekick.

“She taught me what it was to garden, instead of killing plants,” he said. His loads now include nearly four dozen trees, including peach and apple trees, dogwood and purple beech, birch and white pine, and hydrangea and peony bushes. Mme van Hamel weeds and harvests. She fired arugula for a recent lunch.

Diederik and Manette came, sawed, bought and renovated; Mr. McKenzie and Ms. Hamel followed suit. “We had been visiting literally every weekend, and sometimes for weeks in the summer,” Mr McKenzie said. “And rather than finding our own place, at one point we thought, ‘Why not expand this one and make it more suitable for geriatric people? “”

In 2000, more than a decade after Diederik’s death, Mr. McKenzie and Mrs. van Hamel purchased Manette’s property, which remained happily ever after until his death in 2012. They began a renovation project, part to make the first floor easier for her to navigate; previously there were shallow steps leading to almost every room. The couple added a bedroom and bathroom for themselves a few steps up from the studio loft — nevermind, chicken coop! – as well as a corner they call the Zen Room, with windows looking out onto the property.

The result is a soaring and intimate space, airy and comfortable with graceful lines – just as Mr. McKenzie designed it.

“I always dreamed of building my own house, but this one was already halfway there,” he says. “I knew that if we did it right, we would be able to be carried from here feet first.”

By design, the decor is representative of current and former residents. The living room nods to Mr. McKenzie’s penchant for Mission-style furniture; an antique Stickley chair is a particularly prized piece. The loft studio has become his home office, where he works at Diederik’s former office. A showcase integrated into the Zen room contains sculptural jewelry made by Manette.

The dining room, Ms. van Hamel said, looks a lot like it did in her parents’ time. The chest, dining table and chairs, all antiques, were given to Manette and Diederik as wedding gifts. Manette’s non-objective geometric paintings hang on the double-height walls and in the guest bedroom on the first floor.

Some of his paintings were intended as garden ornaments – the abstract shapes add interest to the natural forms of the surrounding shrubs. “They tend to fade and become smudged, so I have to bring them inside and repaint them,” Ms van Hamel said. “There are still a lot of things to settle in my parents’ time.”

That she and Mr. McKenzie would plant deep roots in the property was evident to Manette from the start. “She figured it out before we did,” Mr. McKenzie said. “She observed my behavior, and she observed Martine and me together in this beautiful outdoor space that she and Dik created,” Mr. McKenzie said, referring to the patio outside the front door. “And she said, ‘I see you two sitting there in 30 years. “”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Kevin McKenzie and Martine van Hamel: On the Zen of Escape City Life
Kevin McKenzie and Martine van Hamel: On the Zen of Escape City Life
Newsrust - US Top News
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