Photo: Lori Van Buren, Albany Times Union
When Sarah Trop and her husband, John, purchased the “Repurposed Idea House,” a historic Wynantskill home located right on the line of upstate countryside and suburbs, they agreed it would be a five-year flip. The deal on the 3,600-square-foot home was too good to pass up, and their current house simply didn’t have any projects left for them to do.
While most homeowners would be elated at the prospect of free weekends and fully renovated rooms, the owners of FunCycled, the Troy-based furniture repurposing company, interior design and retail shop, are motivated by the stories embedded within front doors, dresser drawers or kitchen cabinets in old homes. And so they made an offer to start their biggest repurposing project yet.
“Almost everyone we knew said we were crazy,” said Trop, who moved her family of four into the home shortly after closing on the property in December 2018. “They said we should bulldoze it and use the land to build an investment property with apartments.”
But this land told too big a tale for that to be done. The Trops bought the house from a family member of its only known owner, Eleanor Fasoldt, who was born there in 1923 and spent over 90 years of her life in the home before relocating to a nursing home after the sale.
Fasoldt’s father, Edward J. Defreest, operated a dairy farm on the land until his death in 1960. Glass milk jugs and a sleeve of cardboard carton caps were discovered during the renovation, with a top that reads, “E.J. DeFreest R.F.D. (Rural Free Delivery) Grade A Raw Milk.”
The farm itself dates back to the 1630s, according to a receipt Fasoldt held onto that documents her family’s initial purchase of the land from Kiliaen van Rensselaer, the Dutch merchant and first patroon of Rensselaerswyck, or New York’s Capital District.
The home the Trops live in today was reconstructed in 1818, following a fire that destroyed the servant’s quarters in the original structure. Trop says there were no intact fireplaces when they moved in, though there would have originally been one in nearly every room.
It’s on the to-do list to add at least one fireplace back, Trop says, but the motto of this project is, “little by little.”
Anyone who’s renovated an old home or watched someone do it on HGTV knows there’s always more hiding behind the walls than just stories or memories.
“The walls of the living room were insulated with wood chips,” said John Trop. “We needed all new walls, installation and electrical in many of the rooms before we even started.”
Part of taking on such a large project, especially in an older home, is knowing what requires professional assistance, which can be difficult for DIYers like the Trop’s. (In 2019 she blogged about the contracting process for the must-have work on the house.)
“We hired out for all the things we needed permits for, like the electrical, the windows and the furnace,” said Trop. “We thought we could run the natural gas line ourselves so we tried it, but it wasn’t that easy.”
Trop admits she felt a bit of an emotional comedown along the journey; after starting off with so much excitement, it’s almost inevitable to uncover surprises that eat up the budget for upgrades no one will ever see.
“Some days I would wonder if I was the most brilliant entrepreneur or if I had just made the biggest mistake of my life,” Trop said. “It’s been a lesson in patience for all of us.”
Renovations don’t stop life from moving ahead, though. And the Trops, who love to entertain, had to learn to live with the chaos and invite others to view the house at every stage. The family’s “little by little” mantra allowed the DIY and design experts a chance to be vulnerable and accept the process for what it was: a beautiful mess.
“In some ways, it’s good for friends and clients to see things not be perfect,” said Trop. “If you want to be approachable in real life, your home should be approachable, too — it can’t always be so pristine.”
Following the months of endless sawdust and code compliant style projects, the couple finally began to live out their vision for the “Repurposed Idea House,” starting of course with the repurposing of furniture, materials and other findings.
“We’ve redone basically all of the furniture you see in this house,” said Trop. “And then whatever else I can think up, John can usually make.”
The long, elegant dining room table is a unique combination of a French provincial style and rustic, with room to seat the Trop family and a house full of guests. Some of the wood was borrowed from four beams found during the kitchen demolition.
Other handmade pieces include the coffee table, sliding barn doors, shiplap walls and the fully refinished and painted kitchen cabinets. The signature FunCycled style is prominent in every room, balanced with a little bit of something new, like the marble slab kitchen island or the matte black and brass light fixture that hangs above it.
“Every house has its own unique style, and I wanted this one to have a farmhouse feel with all the wood tones,” said Trop. “I personally lean toward more of a modern look, so I worked that into the design in places where we had to buy new.”
Throughout the home, you’ll find plenty of pops of color, from the mid century style upholstered teal couch to the grassy green china cabinet in the upstairs bathroom. There’s a story for every wall, piece of furniture or picture frame. The Trop’s 11-year-old daughter, Harmony, is happy to tell most of them.
One hallway documents the house’s early history through black and white photographs, as the entryway and various other walls display bits and pieces of almost ancient wallpaper. Trop repurposed a strip of wallpaper in the kitchen to create a faux mantle design for the would-be fireplace, had Fasoldt and her family not removed the real one way back when.
And now, nearly two years into the project, the Trop’s are about halfway complete with the renovations. They’ve finished four bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as the kitchen, dining and living spaces.
What’s left is a hefty mudroom facelift that makes Trop’s eyes roll at the very thought, one additional bathroom and two outdoor porch areas. A friend recently suggested they create a wrap around porch along the exterior of the white, colonial-slash-Italianate-style home.
It’s a great idea, Trop said, but would they really go through the trouble of constructing an elaborate front porch if the plan is to move out in less than three years’ time? That’s the part of the renovation that might not align with the original five-year plan, which said the fully flipped house would go back on the market at the project’s end.
“John doesn’t want to sell it at all, and I don’t think I do either,” said Trop. “We never wanted a house this big, but it’s peaceful being in the country, the neighbors are amazing and we’re six minutes from Starbucks. It’s the little things.”
And so it’s very likely the “Repurposed Idea House” could live on with the Trop’s inside well past the point of completion. By then, there will be far more stories and memories in need of preservation somewhere. Home.
“After leaving the last house, I went from room to room to make sure we had everything,” John Trop said, “I’m not sentimental, but I started tearing up in my son’s bedroom just thinking about him playing on the floor as a baby. And then I teared up again, envisioning both kids running in and jumping on our bed every morning. I’m not doing that again.”
Taylor Rao is a frequent contributor to the Times Union. Reach her at [email protected] or @whodatgirl_2bd