HIGH FALLS – In October, 2009 Mason Brown, 31, and his girlfriend, Kat O'Sullivan, 34, called their newly purchased, pond-side home, "a ramshackle; nondescript old farmhouse" and, according to O'Sullivan, she's to "blame" for the way it looks now.
"Mason just patiently indulges me," she said of her Candyland Revival style of home renovation.
Looking for "a sweet place to live within easy reach of the city," the couple, who formerly lived in Brooklyn, looked over the entire tri-state area for a place for friends to visit on weekends.
But when they came upon what O'Sullivan calls, "an area with undeniable magic," she felt a sense of an artistic aura of the communities surrounding High Falls.
"The area instantly resonated with us," she said.
However, the house they eventually bought was in bad need of a roof and painted a stark white. Worse yet, it had floors layered with linoleum. Whereas most homebuyers would have considered this a "ten-count knock-down," this couple felt it kindled the feeling of a "rescue mission."
According to O'Sullivan the house emitted the energy and love of a family who inhabited it for six decades, making her want to embrace all its idiosyncrasies.
Despite the aesthetical turn-offs, the couple saw a certain charm to the rambling, random nature of its silhouette — plus it bordered on the edge of a lovely pond and a stone's throw away from the local rail trail.
Not being able to afford a "dream house" Brown and O'Sullivan settled on one that they felt had "dream potential." Plus it had the incredible elements of 16-acres, the pond, the rail trail, and a community they found amazing.
And though they say it's been tons of work to get the house back on its feet — with frequent call-outs of "Oh my God, what have we done?" — O'Sullivan still feels they really "lucked-out."
"As things evolve, we feel more blessed that we get to call this funny place home," she added. "To me it was like a blank canvas."
As one can see, by even the quickest drive-by, the once blank canvas is now a myriad of colors with a name change from the original name of "Steppin Falls" to "Calico."
O'Sullivan recalled that the historic name proved accurate shortly after their ownership: "I stepped and fell and broke my ankle — quite terribly."
So that's when they decided to change the name to something less ominous and Calico, defined as "having sections or patches colored differently and usually brightly" was a perfect choice.
"Artistic Upcycling" is the term O'Sullivan coins for her style of home renovation. She says it means taking cast-away objects and breathing new life into them. This is not something new to her as a self-proclaimed, gypsy hitchhiker girl that travelled to many concerts and festivals for years, many times in school buses.
"When I turned nineteen, I got my own bus to live in. I wanted to make a travelling home like those I had seen, but make it more outrageous and colorful," she said.
And that she did.
This is not only validated by the several wildly painted "hippie-style" buses on the property, but the fact that the location team from Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding, the locally-filmed Jane Fonda movie, knocked her on the door asking to use one of her buses in the film.
Oddly enough, however, the location crew found the house was not "decrepit enough" to use for a home location — something the couple could refute, as this was during summer 2010 and they only started the painting in September.
When asked if she had always envisioned following her "bus-style" of painting for the house, she replied, "There might have been a brief moment when I mistakenly imagined I could be more subdued with my color palette, but the truth is that very little in my life escapes my flamboyant decorations. So, yeah, the house was doomed."
So with a tally approximating $1,500 for paint, so far, using only the best Benjamin Moore paints, O'Sullivan is just about two-thirds through the project.
So is there a plan?
"I have no idea what I am painting until after the paint is dry," she said.
She does, however, admit to doing it in "a sort of trompe l'oeil style that is very cartoonish and tongue-in-cheek" explaining that if she paints a rock wall, it looks Flintstones-style — and a wooden door resembles something from the Smurfs.
"I was recently quite inspired by an artist named Richard Woods, who is known for painting cartoonish wood and making fake Tudor houses. His work has informed a number of my artistic choices while painting this house," O'Sullivan said.
The couple hasn't stopped working on it since they bought it. They've installed fish-scale, scalloped roofing, resided the dormers, replaced all the windows, redone the floors — and, although a work in progress, started the kaleidoscopic painting, which will resume in the spring.
But cold weather doesn't stop working on the home's interior. According to O'Sullivan, that's even more eclectic than the exterior — sans one single piece of normal furniture.
It is all vintage, reclaimed, upcycled, or altered in some way," she said, explaining that she can't feel comfortable with something in her home unless she's made it "her own."
For example, furniture is reupholstered in sweater scraps; the kitchen counter is a mosaic of pennies; and a second counter is being fashioned out of an old bowling alley floor. Not to forget, her anthropology degree at U.C. Santa Cruz and world travels that tendered a gathering of little oddities that perch on every surface in the home.
So with Brown working in publishing and singing and playing mandolin with his band, Not Waving but Drowning — and O'Sullivan owning an Etsy business, taking old sweaters and recycling them into crazy coats (ala Victorian Crazy Quilts) this creative and energetic duo can fund the endless house repairs and painting.
"The nice thing with having such an endless project is that, over time, you can incorporate an infinite amount of inspirations into it, and create your own unique voice," says Sullivan.