ELEVEN SIX WOMEN: Sally Watkinson
Meet Sally Watkinson: Co-founder of Audrey’s Farmhouse and Old Mill Guesthouse: the beautiful, coveted wedding and event venues in Wallkill, upstate NY. Back in 2014, after working long-term corporate jobs and then Sally becoming pregnant with their first child, Sally and her husband Doug found themselves in a pivotal point in life, questioning: 'whats next?' The couple happened upon a listing for Audrey’s Bed & Breakfast: a charming 1740 cedar-shake farmhouse, set with spectacular views of the Shawangunk Ridge. They spontaneously decided to invest in the property as a creative side-project and country retreat. Early into the project, they quickly realized they needed to take the plunge to be 'all-in' and move upstate full time. After transforming the B&B, the vision came to restore the dilapidated greenhouses across the road so they could expand their offerings to host weddings and events. The greenhouses are now a dreamy, airy, light-filled space! From there, the rest is history and further expanding was a natural path. Old Mill was their second venue project opening during the pandemic and there are now two more exciting locations in the pipeline. We had the honor of talking to Sally to hear more on how Audrey’s Farmhouse journey has evolved, and, for her to style her favorite knitwear pieces from our Spring 23 collection.
Sally in The Greenhouses wearing the Simone Dress in Kelly Green
Sally wears the Simone Dress in Kelly Green with matching Layla Sweater
Can you share a little of your prior background and what led to you and your husband deciding to move Upstate, NY to embark on the Audrey’s Farmhouse project?
I think that being in the countryside in some sort of capacity was always part of the plan, whether I knew it at the time or not. It just so happened that Doug left his law firm as a bank regulatory attorney, I was spinning my wheels in the corporate retail world constantly stressed and then we had become pregnant with our first child.
We needed some sort of a change but had to figure out how we could provide for our family, except we really weren’t quite sure what that would be. I’m such a creature of habit and would have continued to stay in my former role simply because that’s what I had been doing for 20 years. Doug’s always had more of an entrepreneurial approach. Taking risks, trying out new big life things, was not something that I was ever comfortable with, but having a family was always something we both wanted.
So, when Doug happened upon the listing for Audrey’s Farmhouse in 2014, we eventually both came to the conclusion that moving upstate full time, made the most sense for our new family. Hospitality was new world for me, but renovating the farmhouse and welcoming guests to this magical property was something that I jumped at doing with him.
What are some of the greatest highlights and some of the greatest challenges you have experienced on your Audrey’s Farmhouse journey?
One of the greatest challenges moving up here, was not knowing a soul and wondering if anyone would come stay with us. But we just kept at it, doing the work - making breakfast for our few initial guests, baking cookies and banana bread, cleaning the house, preparing the grounds, fixing anything that broke (lots of YouTube videos to figure it all out), greeting our guests upon arrival and talking to them for hours around the fire, and ultimately hoping that once they checked out on Sunday, word would spread that we were here. Luckily, it did.
Also, some of our neighbors, who got wind that we were new and had a newborn, would just stop by and drop off vegetables from their garden, pies, breads - you name it they’d bring it. It was such an unexpected feeling - this sense of community that I had never experienced before. Our neighbors and new friends were so lovely to us.
Sally wears the Emmie Polo Dress in Navy
When was the “A-ha” moment you knew that driving into producing weddings and events was the natural path to take to evolve Audrey’s farmhouse?
That was mainly Doug, honestly. When we closed on Audrey’s Farmhouse, the previous owners Don and Audrey mentioned that we had the option to fulfill the 5 weddings they had signed on with their clients or to simply refund their deposits. Again, Doug’s the risk taker, always willing to try new things - so we decided to try it out and over the course of that year, we realized that just turning the rooms of the 5 bedroom house wasn’t going to be able to support our family long term. Producing beautiful events for our clients would need to be our way to grow the business to support staying and living upstate full time. The Greenhouses property, across the road from the original farmhouse: Audrey’s Farmhouse - was a former commercial flower nursery that hadn’t been touched in decades and was in need of some attention and love. We saw the potential to create the venue, did the hard work to bring it back to life and now we host events and guests throughout the year.
You and your husband are a tight entrepreneurial team. How do you conquer and divide your skill sets to balance working with your partner full time (which is often not always easy!)?
It was exciting at first, knowing that we could partner on everything, but then we quickly realized that we have very different styles of working. So, as the business expanded and if we were going to remain married and happy we had to define our roles. We still consult with each other on some things, but for the most part, Doug heads up construction, financing and business development; while I oversee design, guest experience and creative.
Which parts of your job today could you never have imagined you would be doing ten years ago?
Being featured by your lovely brand - it’s such an honor!
Sally wears the Layla Stripe Sweater + Lea Stripe Short
It must be very touching to be part of so many beautiful weddings and observe each event intimately unwind in your space with the all details you curated. Does this add a much more personal connection to your work and each event you host?
It absolutely does - when we see how the clients or their guests positively react to the design, decor, food programs that we’ve helped create for them, it is incredibly meaningful for us - we’ll always have a personal connection to this. We’re so involved in each step along the way, from the planning board meetings to building furniture to choosing the art and plants, it’s such a labor of love. And, we couldn’t be more grateful to the clients, guests and our team members that allow us to keep doing what we love to do.
Your two children must love getting a glimpse at the incredible events you organize and produce. Do you think they are absorbing or channeling your entrepreneurial work and style?
They’ve basically been crawling or running through the spaces all of their lives. Some of our clients and guests have seen them grow up throughout the years and know they’ll always be a part of our business. And although our kids know that we poured everything into our little business to see it flourish, that one day we’ll need their help in anyway they are willing to support - even if it’s greeting our guests with a warm and welcoming smile.
Sally wears the Terra Crochet tank with her own white jean.
As a Brooklyn, NY expat what are some of the ways that living in the Hudson valley has enhanced your life? What are things you miss about NYC life?Having space - indoors and outdoors - I just love having space and now the community that we are a part of. The Hudson Valley has changed so much in the past few years and it’s so invigorating to see who’s come up and who’ll be coming next. I do miss having access to The Met, Museum of Natural History, my hair stylist or simply just being able to walk briskly through the city. Walking quickly with purpose (or not) in the city is one of my favorite things to do when I’m there - the storefronts, the cafes, the galleries, the people - everything is just filled with so much inspiration. But at the same time, it’s all so close to where we live and work, that the city is always still so accessible. I love coming back home, always.
Sally wears the Terra Crochet tank with her own white jean.
What are your favorite ways to unwind and switch off when you are not working?I’d like to say that it’s gardening because I think the act of it is so lovely and I just adore fresh cut flowers from our garden, but in fact, I’m not the best at it. I do love searching for obscure, used furniture or art on auction sites or antique shops / marts. Nothing more exciting than the thrill of the hunt. Maybe not the most relaxing, but love it just the same.
What is a series/movie/book you just read or watched that you loved?
One Fine Morning with Léa Seydoux - from the cinematography, costume design, script and performances - it’s such a beautiful film.
Do you have anything exciting in the pipeline you can share?
We’ve recently purchased Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club and are currently renovating it. And we’re working on our project in Stone Ridge, which will be our 4th property / events venue with lodging, projected to open in Summer ’24.
Sally wears the Isla cardi in sand paired with her own silk black skirt.