Vincent Paulishak created his home the same way the cardinals that visit his backyard bird feeder build theirs.
He gathered bits and pieces found here and there and used them to fashion a cozy abode for his wife and two children.
The family moved from Pennsylvania to Niskayuna in the late 1950s after Paulishak , a carpenter by trade, agreed to help his brother-in-law build a house in the area.
"While I was there, the contractor that was building houses on that street asked me if I wanted a job and I said, 'Oh, yes,'" he recounted. "Been here ever since."
Paulishak went looking for a place for his family to live and knew he had found the perfect spot when he stumbled across a fixer-upper on a quiet side street in Niskayuna. Owned by a farmer who didn't live on the property, the little cottage, which sat on a one-acre lot, had been neglected.
Paulishak paid $5,000 for it.
"The reason I bought it was I knew I could do something with it," he explained.
His kids, however, weren't so sure.
"They wondered why we had to move into this house as it was. It wasn't too inviting," he recalled.
Paulishak worked between 50 or 60 hours a week doing construction work for other people, and then came home and worked some more.
The renovations took about eight years.
"I had to start from scratch on everything," he explained.
He and his wife, Caroline, dug two feet of dirt from the basement floor to make it easier to get around down there, and Paulishak installed a new footing in one corner of the house to level a sloping living room floor.
He redid the wiring, bumped out a wall in the living room, installed hardwood flooring throughout and made oak kitchen cabinets.
value of cast-offs
Money was tight. Even when he worked as a top carpenter, he was only earning $2.25 an hour.
"If you made $12,000 a year you were making money," he said with a laugh.
To ease the budget, Paulishak collected cast-offs from construction jobs and used them at his own house.
"I used to get nails and electrical equipment and a lot of different pieces of lumber, and all that stone on the front was gotten that way," he said, indicating the decorative stonework on the front of his house.
"I got that for free," he said proudly, of the stones, which vary in size and range in color from dark gray to warm copper. "That took over a couple years to gather enough."
When Paulishak came across a contractor who needed some newly installed tile ripped out of a bathroom because of a plumber's error, he saw another opportunity to obtain home improvement supplies.
"I asked him what he would pay me if I took all the tile out of that house, and we had a bargain," he said.
He ripped the robin's egg blue tile out and his wife cleaned the glue off of the back of each piece. Paulishak reinstalled it all on their own kitchen walls.
At the rear of their house, he built a sun room that overlooks the spacious yard.
"That shed there, I built out of all scraps that I got off different jobs," he noted, pointing to a sturdy-looking structure sided in blue-gray and tan. The shed's double doors came from a lawyer's office, he noted, adding proudly, "The only thing that I had to purchase on that was the roof shingles."
doesn't look its age
Paulishak is now 91 years old, about 10 years older than his house. The smart-looking cottage doesn't look its age, and neither does the man of the house. He doesn't act it either -- he's still busy doing home improvement projects.
A few years back, his contractor friend contacted him about another botched bathroom job, and he jumped at the chance to acquire more free building materials. The blue-and-white Italian-made tiles he removed as part of the deal now decorate the walls of his bathroom, which he remodeled about two years ago.
The cedar shakes that have protected the home's exterior for over 50 years are a pretty shade of sage. Last fall, Paulishak gave them a fresh coat of paint, after he finished painting his home's interior.
He's happy to have been able to create such a comfortable nest for his family, and to have had the opportunity to spend so many years there.
"I think when you spend a lot of time doing things here, thinking about how you would like to do them and how you would like to have them turn out, that's something that you just don't walk away from," he said.