Celebrity designer Cathy Hobbs breaks ground for eco-friendly Highland Passive House

Celebrity designer Cathy Hobbs breaks ground for eco-friendly Highland Passive House.

If you’re a fan of daytime TV, you may know the name Cathy Hobbs as a celebrated interior design guru and longtime host of the WPIX TV real estate and design series Design Recipes and Metro Residential. Before that, from 1997 to 2009, she was a newscaster on WPIX, “covering fires and shoot-‘em-ups at night while I was going to design school by day,” she recalled. Her broadcasting career has so far yielded her 19 Emmy Award nominations and five wins.

In 2011 Hobbs was a finalist on HGTV’s interior design competition reality show Design Star, and the following year she became brand ambassador for Mythic Paint, the world’s first zero-volatile organic compounds (VOCs), zero-toxins and non-carcinogenic high-performance paint. Part of her career journey was a growing interest in environmentally sustainable design, and she pursued and attained LEED AP certification.

These days, her main gig is running Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes, a company that specializes in “home staging.” Real estate agents with space to sell in the Tri-State area come to her to create 360-degreee virtual-tour walkthrough videos of their properties. Furniture rental, staging and styling to make a space look its most fabulous are all services she offers. Short-term rental owner/operators also form part of her client base. And she’s still doing high-end interior design.

What you probably don’t know about Hobbs is that she has lived and raised her daughter in the mid-Hudson since 2009. She and her husband moved upstate from Brooklyn, bought a cottage in Saugerties, stayed there for eleven years and later moved on to Dutchess County. “My schoolteacher aunt died and left me a small inheritance,” she related. “Moving here is my Raisin in the Sun story: creating a legacy for my family.”

Looking for a way to relocate the entirety of her formerly New York City-based business to the mid-Hudson as a “business-owner who gives to the community,” Hobbs invested in a four-acre parcel zoned Light Industrial on Upper North Road in Highland, set amongst orchards. Her dream was to build a multiuse warehouse, office, staging and TV/film production studio that would qualify as net zero, carbon-neutral and certified passive through the Passivhaus Institute in Darmstadt, Germany. She hired an architecture firm specializing in passive buildings, Baxt Ingui Architects, and located a supply of Ecocor structural insulated panels (SIPs), in storage in Maine, that had been prefabricated for a 16,000-square-foot building but never assembled. Hobbs flew there, determined to acquire them, and immediately cut a deal: “They agreed to sell it to me that day.”

Plenty of moving pieces needed to align for her project to come to fruition. The Town of Lloyd approved her plan “one month before COVID, so it was put on hold.” But she persisted, and in the interim NTB Bank agreed to provide financing; the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency qualified her for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement; and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) awarded her a grant as a “regionally significant project” under the Carbon Neutral Community Economic Development program.

Arial view of the Highland Passive House.
Opening ceremony for the Highland Passive House.

So it was that on March 30, 2023, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for what will soon become the headquarters for Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes, to be called Highland Passive House. Once completed, the multiuse structure will be the first certified passive warehouse in North America, achieving carbon-neutral and net-zero energy status. The 12,500-square-foot

building will encompass a 3,500-square-foot office and designer showcase/TV/film production space as well as a 9,000-square-foot warehouse to be used for furniture rentals. The new structure will also include a public charging location for electric vehicles.

Design standards for passive house certification emphasize extreme energy-efficiency, with a goal of reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling by as much as 90 percent. This is accomplished through a combination of design approaches: south-facing orientation to capture and store passive solar heat; an airtight, superinsulated building envelope with triple-paned windows; ventilation systems that utilize heat-exchange technology; waste heat recovery from appliances; and in some cases, earth-warming and cooling tubes to capture geothermal energy.

NYSERDA president/CEO Doreen M. Harris praised the project, saying, “Highland Passive House is breaking ground – both literally and figuratively – as the first certified passive warehouse in North America. NYSERDA commends the project team for this innovative design, which will spur economic development and support jobs in the green economy while advancing New York’s climate and clean energy goals.”

According to Hobbs, the target date for opening Highland Passive House is January 2024, bringing with it local jobs in design and in operating the warehouse. She hopes to implement a design training program for students at SUNY New Paltz and Marist College. “It is wonderful to finally see the project get underway,” she said. To learn more about Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes, visit www.cathyhobbs.com.

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