|The New York
By Tina Traster
September 23, 2010 -- It's a page torn from Currier & Ives.
Hip hotelier Klaus Ortlieb, in a yellow striped shirt, blue jeans and slip-ons, is leaning back in a wicker lawn chair, sipping iced coffee on the grass in front of his weekend house. He tosses tennis balls to his dogs, Dutchess and Princess, a pair of Vizslas who bound from the rural Dutchess County property’s pond, slick with mud. Even the pop-pop-pop of men hunting quail in the distance doesn’t make Ortlieb flinch.
The mastermind behind the Cooper Square Hotel and the soon-to-open Gotham Hotel on East 46th Street is, at heart, a country boy.
“This place brings me back to my childhood,” says Ortlieb, 52, recalling the house where he was raised with eight siblings on Lake Constance in Baden, Germany. “I remember how free we were. How we fished and picked apples. Played cowboys and Indians.”
But by the time he was 17, Ortlieb yearned to travel and live in big cities. He signed up for hotel management school in Germany’s Black Forest. His mother, who’d wanted him to become a priest, shunned him, even banning him from returning home. After graduating and working at the Excelsior in Cologne and Claridge’s in London, he got a letter from mama Johanna. “You can come home now,” she wrote.
After making peace with his mother, Ortlieb headed to LA in 1984, landing jobs as the manager of the Mondrian in West Hollywood and later at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He moved to Manhattan in 1992 and worked at hotels including the Mercer, where he was the GM. In 2002, he founded KO Hospitality, a hotel management/development company. Then he opened The Hotel on Rivington in 2004.
The high-stakes hotel world demands intense energy. The Cooper Square Hotel, which opened last year and just relaunched its second-floor bar, was a particularly tough project. Before and after it opened, it faced community opposition to a 21-story glass hotel in a low-rise area. Its original restaurant, Table 8, closed after less than one year and was replaced by Faustina.
And now Ortlieb’s working to open the Gotham Hotel’s 66 rooms in October.
Ortlieb has long known that he needs balance — a place where there is no cell or cable service; a hideaway where he can ride a horse like he did as a child.
He found the solution in 2003, in the shadow of Stissing Mountain in Stanfordville. He bought an 1860s Dutch Colonial on 70 wooded acres about 2½ hours north of his 3,300-square-foot TriBeCa loft. The non-air-conditioned, 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom sanctuary is where Ortlieb reads, relaxes and rides his horse, Junior.
He is unapologetic about the fact that the house needs a coat of paint and the shingled roof needs replacing. He says he’s been told he should replace the original wavy-glass windows with insulated ones, but he can’t be bothered. The garage is a mess — “let’s not even go in there,” he cautions — and there’s a curious white clapboard building on the property he’s afraid to enter.
“I think it has ghosts,” he says. “I’ve never gone in.”
Inside, the furnishings are found objects thrown together — calling the decor “eclectic” would be an understatement. The living room has a working fireplace, exposed beams and original wide-plank pine floors, which Ortlieb refinished. He also redid the kitchen, but it is purely functional. The dining room is basic, with shelves that hold equestrian-themed statues and books. There are wooden rocking horses scattered throughout, including one given to him when he was 3.
“This horse has been with me all over the world,” he says, stroking the heirloom, which has lost part of its tail and a stirrup.
Upstairs, under a dormered roof, are three bedrooms. Ortlieb, who describes himself as a lifelong bachelor, has horse-themed pillow textiles on his king-sized bed. His dogs share a second bedroom. The third is a rarely occupied guestroom.
Ortlieb enjoys the peace of his screened-in back porch, where Princess and Dutchess have done a little of their own renovation. “They installed a doggie door one day when I wasn’t at home,” Ortlieb explains of the giant gouge in the screen.
Beyond the porch is a small slate patio with a table and chairs. You won’t find a single planting or a hint of effort at taming the land. Ortlieb is not interested. This weekend squire is here to escape responsibility.
At the end of every weekend, he heads back with the dogs to the city, returning to the work of building hotels.
“I may have to skip a weekend here when I open the Gotham, but I’ll try not to,” Ortlieb says. “I rely on this place to keep me sane.
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