The Daily Catch

Steen Valetje’s New Owner, Billionaire Joseph Bae, Plans Changes to Historic River Road Estate



Steen Valetje will undergo some substantial renovations if a plan to the Red Hook Planning Board is approved (photo from land.com).

The new owner of the majestic 290-acre Hudson River estate known as Steen Valetje is 51-year-old-billionaire Joseph Y. Bae, Co-CEO of the giant global private equity firm KKR, The Daily Catch has learned.

The identity of Bae, who bought the home last September for $18.5 million, became known to the newspaper through a confidential source after Bae’s representatives presented proposals Monday evening for significant property upgrades to the Red Hook Planning Board. Planning Board officials did not disclose Bae’s identity to the newspaper.

Joseph Bae, the co-CEO of the private equity firm KKR, is the new owner of Steen Valetje, The Daily Catch has learned (photo from Best of Korea).

Officially, the owner is listed as Stone Valley LLC, which last September purchased Steen Valetje from Suzy Welch, the widow of the former General Electric Chairman and CEO Jack Welch. Welch had bought the home for $16.5 million in 2020 from financier Martin Sosnoff and his wife Toni Sosnoff. 

Although Welch undertook significant renovations to the estate’s mansion and other parts of the property, at least one of which was done without necessary Planning Board approval, she sold it after deciding to move back to New York City full-time, she told Bloomberg News last year. Welch, who famously ran GE for 20 years until 2001, died in early 2020 at age 84. 

Planning Board leaders reacted positively to the plans Bae’s team laid out, which include mirroring an apple orchard designed by Red Hook vegetable farmer Ken Migliorelli on a River Road property he rents across the street from the Baes. “I think their initial presentation was very positive,” Kristina Dousharm told The Daily Catch Wednesday morning. “Their plans to condense scattered structures into a single area and restore the granary to its previous location make a lot of sense. And the planned orchard along both sides of River Road will be lovely.”

Steen Valetje is a 144-acre property formerly in the Astor family that lies on the west flank of River Road (map from Dutchess County Parcel Access).

Welch’s widow, a writer, had initially listed the property for $25 million last year. Though the actual sale price was a 26 percent discount off the offering price, at the time it was the most spent for any area property, according to local real estate sources. The previous record for a sale in the Hudson Valley was $18.375 million, set in 2011 for a Millbrook estate.

“I poured my heart and soul and all my creativity into the house, and I’m just hoping the new owner loves it as much as I do,” Welch told Bloomberg News last year. “It’s a house that’s easy to love.”

But Welch invoked the ire of local Planning Board officials by making a number of changes to the property without their approval. Bae’s team said it intends to restore Welch’s changes to the property’s original design.

Bae, whose private equity company was previously known as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, was represented at Monday’s Planning Board meeting by several architects and lawyers, including civil engineer and surveyor Mark Graminski of Red Hook, who is also managing the design of a new so-called pleasure train at a property on River Road owned by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. 

Representatives for Steen Valetje owner Joseph Bae presented plans for the property to the Red Hook Planning Board Monday evening (photo by Brandon Whiting).

Graminski and others told the board that the new owner is seeking to relocate the property’s granary to its original location, turn its indoor horse riding arena into a personal sports facility, modify a carriage house and stables, remove and replace its greenhouse, relocate its tennis court, pool and pool house so they are not visible from the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, and make slight adjustments to the home itself. 

“What we’re looking to do in this special use permit application is rectify some development actions taken by prior owners, some with and without Town of Red Hook approval,” Andrew Howard, a founding member of Freeman Howard, a Hudson law firm, told the Planning Board. “Our design team has spent a lot of time looking at this, and we’re really kind of excited to show it to you.”

Steen Valetje features mahogany staircases, parquet floors and painted frescoes (photo from land.com).

Scenic Hudson, a non-profit land conservation organization, maintains Poets’ Walk Park, the popular stroll from River Road to the river, as a conservation easement that is located on the estate’s property. Scenic Hudson was advised of the new owner’s proposals and issued a letter supporting the application to the Planning Board, Howard told the board.

“(Scenic Hudson was) very pleased at what the owner is looking to do in terms of enhancing the conservation value of the property,” said Howard. 

Graminski told the board that Bae, possibly through his attorneys, has asked Red Hook farmer Ken Migliorelli, whose farmstand in Rhinebeck on Route 199 borders the property, to plant an orchard on the east side of the property that would mirror his own orchard. 

Bae proposes moving several structures on the Steen Valetje property (photo from land.com).

“His trees are so beautiful, we really love the idea of matching it on the other side so that when you drive down on the road, especially in the spring, it’ll look gorgeous,” said Janice Parker, a Greenwich, Conn. landscape architect who also represented Bae’s interests at the board meeting.

The official address of Steen Valetje, which means “little stone valley” in Dutch, is number 124 Eden Knoll, a private circular road that exits and enters from the west side of River Road/Route 103 just south of Poets’ Walk and north of Route 199. Bae also purchased the property just to the south, a total of 138.6 acres.

The mansion, which can be seen when traveling east on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, includes two kitchens, ceiling frescoes, 16 fireplaces, and 16,600 square feet of space, including oak and mahogany parquet floors. 

The entry foyer at Steen Valetje (photo from Land.com).

It was built in 1851 as a gift from William Backhouse Astor Sr. to his daughter Laura, who married Franklin Hughes Delano, a businessman and great uncle to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Delano family owned the estate through 1966. Astor, a financier and businessman, was a son of John Jacob Astor, the country’s first multi-millionaire who made much of his fortune in fur trading in the United States.

Longtime Red Hook realtor Doreen DeCarolis saw the home on a tour for local agents last year. “I was completely taken by the transformative interior design,” DeCarolis told The Daily Catch at the time. “It’s a true celebration of color and texture, honoring all of the original beauty. As for the property, it speaks for itself as beyond magnificent.”

Bae’s representatives said that he will make some interior design changes to the look created by former owner Suzy Welch (photo from land.com).

Many of the 18-foot ceilings on the first floor are painted with landscapes and portraits in a fresco style. The two kitchens are also fully appointed with top-of-the-line appliances. The second floor is reached by a carved wooden staircase, and an elevator services all three floors. Ten bedrooms, most of them upstairs, include two primary suites with dressing and sitting rooms, according to real estate listings.

The grounds include two four-bedroom guest houses, a carriage house with four apartments, a two-bedroom gate house, a tennis court, numerous gardens, an eight-stall stable with office, tack room, viewing lounge, and indoor and outdoor riding rings, a pool and a fully equipped pool house.

The Steen Valetje property includes several outdoor patios (photo from land.com).

Bae, the new owner, is a titan on Wall Street. He was born in South Korea and came to the United States with his parents when he was 3 years old. He graduated from Harvard magna cum laude and joined KKR in 1996 after working at Goldman Sachs. Among his accomplishments at KKR was expanding the firm’s business in Hong Kong and Asia. In 2021, he became Co-CEO of KKR, which controls over $520 billion in assets. He is a Vice-Chair on the Board of Lincoln Center, a co-founder and board member of The Asian American Foundation, former Trustee at Philips Academy Andover, and serves on the Finance Committee at Harvard University. Bae is married to Janice Lee, a New York Times best-selling author of The Piano Teacher and The Expatriates, whom he met at Harvard. They have four children.

Bae’s representatives said he plans to relocate the granary to its original location on the River Road property (image courtesy Red Hook Planning Board).

Bae’s representatives told the Planning Board that the new owner wants to relocate the property’s granary to its original location, on the southeast quadrant of the property. Douglas Clark, a Senior Landscape Architect at Janice Parker Landscape Architects, told the board that the new owner asked Welch to rectify the unauthorized movement and renovation of the granary before selling the property but said that Welch neglected to do so. 

“We understand that it is an inherited problem,” said Dousharm, who is an architect herself. “That past situation was pretty rough, but we appreciate that you’re here and that you’re willing to rectify the situation.”

The team plans to relocate the granary back to its original location. At the site of Welch’s relocated granary, the team looks to recreate a garden courtyard for the residence. Clark said that there is existing infrastructure for utilities in the area, which the team plans to conceal with a wall. They also plan to create a trash storage area, outdoor kitchen area, and a pergola, an outdoor shading structure similar to a gazebo that would be covered in vines and supplemented with newly planted trees.

The original carriage house, currently used as a four- room apartment building for staff, will be converted into a four-bedroom guest house under Bae’s plans (image courtesy Red Hook Planning Board).

In the terrace portion of the main house, the team plans to modify a staircase, to “come down more graciously,” said Clark, who described the current stairs as “a slope with some steps in them.” Bae’s architects also plan to create a terrace landing which would connect the outdoor kitchen space and garden area to the house.

“These are all open-air structures, no roofline, covered with vines, so it will be a soft, very pretty structure that will look like a garden,” Parker, the landscape designer, told the Planning Board.

South of this area, the team plans to recreate a once-extant garden terrace area. Parker guessed that the property had contained a garden in the area for 80 years prior to Welch’s ownership. The recreated garden would include brick walls, cedar pergolas and stone pavement, which Clark said would “keep in vernacular with the residence.”

“It once was a beautiful formal garden and lily pond, and now it’s all gone,” said Parker.

The team intends to return the pond to its former glory, surrounded by grass lawn and the pergolas, paved paths and brick walls.

“Great care is being undertaken to look at this as a very traditional, elegant and understated approach, which is very exciting for the design team,” said Parker. “The ruling thought of all of this is to be very understated with everything.” 

The pool, pool house and tennis court, will be relocated from their current location on the property northwest of the main residence to a location near the current equestrian facilities, removing them from the view of motorists on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. Clark said it would help “return the land to its natural order.” The site of the old pool and tennis court would be replaced by a lawn panel, containing gardens and a pergola further uphill. Parker said the area could be used as a leisure area in the future, and as an accompanying garden for the nearby guest cottage.

“I love the plan, I love all of that, pulling all the sports stuff back,” said Planning Board member Maxine Coleman. Coleman said she appreciated the idea of consolidating the equestrian facilities with the pool, pool house and tennis courts, saying it will help to “reclaim the landscape.” The new location would be concealed from public view on the Hudson.

As for the equestrian structures on the land, an indoor riding ring, horse stable, stable offices and carriage house, Bae has plans to repurpose them into an indoor sports courts, gym, locker room, and a single-family, four-bedroom guest house, respectively. The team also plans to make minor repairs and improvements to the exterior of the buildings, such as window replacements and roof repairs. The footprint of the structures themselves would not be changed.

“The current owners are not horse people, and the previous owners weren’t horse people, so these structures haven’t had use for quite a while,” said David Bae, owner of an eponymous New York City-based architectural firm, and member of the team representing Bae. David and Joseph Bae are brothers.

Dousharm asked about the state of the house itself, to which David Bae assured her that the “bones” of the house were solid, but that the house is currently undergoing some interior redesigning.

The Planning Board began the project’s required State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) and said it would also refer the project to the Dutchess County Planning Department. In the meantime, the board said it would schedule a walk-through of the property with Bae’s team.

One response to “Steen Valetje’s New Owner, Billionaire Joseph Bae, Plans Changes to Historic River Road Estate”

  1. Wint Aldrich says:

    Very interesting information about current owner and plans for Steen Valetje. Keep up the enterprising reporting!
    Wint Aldrich

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