Published: January 25, 2022
If you, like many of our readers, appreciate a diamond in the rough, head over to Instagram and type in @WarrenOnWarren. Here you will find the account of Warren Battle, an antiques dealer and backroad adventurer who has set out chronicling historic homes from Northern New England on down the East Coast to Georgia. Though you won’t find the pristine trimmings of Deerfield here, instead this is very much the people’s tour – discoveries made along the routes outside of town, away from the main streets and historic districts, and into the great American backyard that still whispers the stories of our forebears.
When did you start your account and adventure?
I was kind of late to Instagram, I started around 2018. It just seemed like a natural fit, the houses. It’s what I’ve always been visually attracted to. I just started taking pictures of houses and people started responding. It was always just fun for me, it’s my escape.
Do you have a favorite season to shoot in?
I love to incorporate trees into my shots, a lot of old houses have big trees. Originally I liked winter, the way the architecture looks with bare trees. But I’ve also taken beautiful shots in the fall. Every season is different.
What got you into architecture?
I grew up in South Carolina, near Charleston. My brother moved there in the 1970s, he rented a little place and I would go there as a teenager with him and spend weekends walking around the city. He had a crush on a docent at Drayton Hall, a Palladian Eighteenth Century house, but for me it was all about the architecture. I would get excited going back. Even though I was a teenager, it was a beautiful place. I also grew up near Pawleys Island, S.C., so I was always fascinated by the Southern vernacular beach cottage with the big porches. A friend of my grandmother had one – just big porches with the hammocks, nothing fancy, but great detail. All wood floors and wood paneling.
What’s it like going on these trips in the South versus the North?
I really started stopping and paying attention to architecture in the North. During Covid is when I really started getting in the car and driving all day. Before, I would just appreciate these houses in passing. As I started slowing down, I would pull over and stop and just look at them. That’s a whole ‘nother thing, you really notice things. I took that back with me to South Carolina. My niece lives in Sullivan’s Island, a beach outside Charleston, and I took that mindset back there. I would park my car, walk around and take pictures. I think it’s a matter of slowing down and stopping. I always take ten pictures at each house and I come back and study them and look at all the details and try to pick the best picture to get excited about it. I can ride around all day, when I see a house that excites me, it’s the best feeling in the world. My heart starts beating. It’s so random, it could be any style.
Tell me how you find these places.
I find them on buying trips for my shop, but often I would get in the car and drive – Greene County, Sullivan County, Albany County. Get in the car and drive and make turns. I would find these amazing little towns. Potter Hollow and Chester Hollow come to mind. They have these amazing houses that haven’t been touched, many of them have been abandoned. You don’t really see that untouched sensibility in the South like you do up here. It’s disappearing quickly, but you can still find these wonderful old places.
Is the adventure more of the allure for you?
I love the journey, I love discovering different places and I’ve met some wonderful people. Sometimes I pack a lunch and I just go. I love doing it by myself. It just works better if I’m by myself.
What’s your geographic range?
I drive down to South Carolina, so I’ve done all of the Hudson Valley up here. The last couple times on my drive down to South Carolina, I did the backroads of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. One day I just decided I was going to go to Easton, Md., which is an amazing town, and I spent the night right there in town and ordered crab cakes and just explored. I’ve gone all the way down to Georgia.
Do you have a favorite kind of Southern house?
Definitely the Southern vernacular beach houses. They’re all so quirky and wonderful and rambling. Up North it’s the Greek Revival. A friend of mine has this amazing home in Red Hook, it’s a Greek Revival, and when I saw it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It had been in Architectural Digest but I had never placed it in my mind as to where it was. I posted it and then the owner invited me to lunch. The interior was amazing, his family were all artists. It was just exciting. And now we’re friends, I’ve met several friends like that.
What are you looking for in your subjects?
It’s a feeling. I just see it and I go, “Oh my God,” and I just have to stop. There are some that come close, but they’ll have the wrong windows or vinyl siding. I look for original features, I don’t care if it’s run down or abandoned. Sometimes it can even be too pristine. I like it rough around the edges, I look for pure architectural details. I love windows, I think that’s what makes the house. The right roof and columns help.
I see some outbuildings on there, do you find them endearing?
I love the scale of the outbuildings. When people got money over the years, they would redo the big house, but a lot of times the outbuildings are forgotten about and remain in their original form. I just love looking at them, the scale is perfect. They’re just little mini versions of houses a lot of times. I get just as excited for a good outbuilding as I do a house.
What’s your favorite outbuilding that you shot?
A little privy over in Claverack, N.Y. I posted it several times, it’s a little run down and beautiful, but it’s got the old windows and the shutters are falling off of it. It was one of my first big posts. People were going crazy over it.
The red barns are so ubiquitous up here and they’re beautiful, but they don’t catch my eye. Up here in Albany they have these beautiful gold barns that I had to get off the road to find, but I’m not a barn person per-se.
Was the photography intuitive?
I enjoy it. I’m no professional, all my pictures are taken with my iPhone, so as the phone has improved, my pictures have improved too. I had a learning curve to play with the natural light, take away shadows, sometimes I have to go back to the same house three or four times to catch the light – this house is best in the late afternoon or that house is best in the early morning. I’ll drive 45 minutes just to get that shot again, to get the right light. I have almost 60,000 photos in my phone, it’s just overwhelming trying to delete them. Every house I stop for, I take ten pictures of it from the road. I’ll go high, low, get a tree in, take it out, and then I come down and study them and narrow it down. I just want to be proud and make the house proud, show it in its best light.
I would say probably my trip down to South Carolina where I went into Easton, Md. I saw some great farm houses. My grandmother had a farm down there, I have a wedding invitation for a high noon wedding on their family farm. I didn’t know exactly where the farm was, we had lost contact. It was just feeling some part of my roots there.
Tell me about your new shop.
My whole career has been hotels. I lived in New York in 1991, helped open the SoHo Grand. It was a very stressful job. Then I lived in Los Angeles for a while, helped open Casa del Mar in Santa Monica. Eventually I bought a place up here and became good friends with Stephen Shadley, an interior designer-he’s my best friend up here. I started looking at interiors and learning from him, and I bought a stone house that the roof had caved in on. That was the first house I had to buy things for. That’s when I put my style to work – I try to mix styles – and that’s when my attraction to that started. I didn’t want to be in the hotel industry anymore, and I got a job working in a shop on Warren Street here in Hudson, N.Y. We opened a group shop called Warren on Warren on Warren Street, and I did that for three years and we did fairly well. Then I was trying to figure out what to do and I was thinking about getting my real estate license. I met my partner in business, Brown Cranna, in the shop, he had been collecting Americana for 25 years. I loved old cupboards and Hudson Valley pieces, but I never stopped to appreciate Nineteenth Century painted furniture and general Americana. He opened my eyes to that and I became fascinated with it. I started going to shows and fell in love. We were talking one day and we said, ‘Why don’t we open a shop here?’ We decided to go into business together, Battle Brown, it’s a small shop we opened in September and I’m living the dream. I’m having the best time meeting new people, it’s a whole new education. I’m not an architect, but I learn. It’s the same thing with the furniture. I don’t say I’m something I’m not, but I think I have a good eye. Then Brown has the knowledge, he can know if something is real, if the leg is wrong or the paint is later, he has the knowledge there, so we’re a good balance.
Do the homes and the shop intersect?
They do. When I was doing the @WarrenOnWarren, I was never interested in the interiors, it was always about the exteriors. But that changed when I saw the Greek Revival in Red Hook and saw how amazing the interior was – it was updated and modern. What I’m doing in the shop is updating things that I think work together. I’m trying to mix it up. And I have a few artist friends that I carry.
Have the backcountry adventures changed for you since you started?
Sure, now that I go on shopping trips to different states with Brown. We had a couple moments because he wouldn’t pull over. But now he understands, he’ll say, ‘You get three houses, three stops.’ It can drive people crazy if you’re in a good section. We’ve done road trips through Vermont, New Hampshire, and the trips have actual destinations now.
Do you find yourself in historic districts?
These are mostly backroads, I try to find houses that people don’t know. I’d rather just find a little farmhouse somewhere on the backroad. Every now and then I’ll take a few photos of the famous ones, Monticello – but everyone has seen those. I’m not desperate to photograph that.
Is there a sense of documentation to your work?
Yes, and that’s an interesting evolution, because I’ve photographed places that are gone now. Sometimes they’re gone over night. There was one house in Hudson that I loved and then I came back and it was gone. Or sometimes they’ll get fixed up and I’ll have a before and after.
Of all your posts, which has gotten the most traction?
I have a friend who has a Federal farmhouse outside of Hudson. She’s getting ready to do restoration, and I’ve done interior and exterior shots of it. It’s Stone Bridge farm, I think that might have the most. It’s on a hill with an apple orchard, it’s situated so beautifully – people went crazy.
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