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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 29, 2010
The Dases reawaken the Normal Vale House, endowing it with European charm
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND At the bottom of a hill along the Hungerkill stands a house built in 1780. Rich in history and constructed shortly after the birth of America, it is now home to an eclectic collection of European antiques.
Dilip and Ana Das bought their home, called the Norman Vale House, in 2005, after searching the Albany area high and low for an old home.
Ana Das, a physician who was born, raised, and educated in Serbia, said she had always wanted to live in an older home, but was increasingly disappointed after being shown a series of modern homes when she moved to the area to take a job at Albany Medical College.
She asked her Realtor to contact colleagues, and exhausted every avenue to find a home she could fall in love with. When she finally got to see the Normal Vale House, she knew instantly it was a place she could live for a long time. So did her husband.
“We loved the layout. It was so romantic. It needed a lot of work, but, as soon as I entered the home, I knew I could make something out of it,” said Ana Das. It had been neglected, and inappropriate renovations had been made over the years, but the Dases could see the beauty and grandeur it once held, and were determined to restore.
The manor house, situated on 12 acres, has 24 rooms. Nott Road, named for the most recent family to own the land, runs through the west end of the property. Behind the house is the hill that leads to the Hungerkill, and a small graveyard.
The Das family was drawn to the home for its history as well as its past inhabitants and visitors. The first owner of the property was John Taylor, who was, at different times, a senator, lieutenant governor, and eventually governor, of New York. The Nott family, beginning with Eliphalet Nott, lived in the home for over 100 years.
Eliphalet Nott was the fourth and longest serving president of Union College in Schenectady; he served from 1804 to 1866.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a frequent visitor to the Norman Vale House, and had an entire wing to herself. The Dases still call that wing the “Roosevelt Wing.”
According to local history, the Nott Road property site is connected to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famous Romantic narrative poem, “The Song of Hiawatha,” based on Native American legends recorded by Guilderland native Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.
It was important for the Dases to restore the house to its original condition. Since the couple has lived there, it has been added to the national and state Registers of Historic Places.
“I always knew I wanted to preserve it. We were very careful with the restoration because we wanted to keep the spirit of the house intact,” Ana Das said. The couple returned the floors to the original wood and finish, restored the moldings and fireplaces, and kept the color of the exterior, including the shutters, the same.
The furnishings are not all “period antiques” from the time the home was built, but they are a representation of the lives of Dilip and Ana Das, separate and together. While Ana Das grew up in Serbia, Dilip Das was raised in India. Their home includes many handmade Oriental rugs from India, and intricate artwork from Serbia.
Other touches come from all around the world, gathered during the Dases travels. The couple met when Ana was working in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and Dilip, a professor of international criminology and a United Nations consultant, came to the law school in Belgrade on a U.N. mission. Ana’s uncle worked at the law school, and asked if she would come to a lecture to serve as a translator.
The pair has traveled, and continues to travel, all around the world. Wherever they go, they select something to bring back to their home. Most of the furniture is from Europe, built in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are sculptures from Greece; Dutch paintings, and paintings from the Ming Dynasty in China, and African artwork.
A social center once again
The restoration is not yet complete, but the first floor and most of the second floor are finished. The third floor, which used to be servants’ quarters, has not yet been touched, although the couple would eventually like to restore it. They would also like to restore the driveway to its original circular configuration.
“There almost used to be a jungle around the front of the house,” Ana Das said. She and her husband landscaped the yard and surrounded the house with plants, to create the feel of a European garden.
Now that the project is almost done, the Daseslove to entertain in their historic home. Ana Das said Eliphalet Nott used the house as social center, a gathering place for friends, family, and neighbors, and she strives to do the same.
Three annual meetings of the National Kidney Foundation of Northeast New York have been hosted at the house, as well as two benefits for the foundation. The benefits have been themed the last was called “An Afternoon Tea,” and featured music from a former Albany Symphony member, Victorian Era costumes, and a silent auction.
The house has also served as a meeting place for a group of well-known international criminologists, and a concert venue for the Albany Symphony Orchestra. In June, the Dases will host a night to promote a mission called Neighbor to Neighbor, an organization focused on giving back to those in the community.
“We just love to share our home. Whoever comes to this house falls in love with it, because there is something so special about it,” Ana Das concluded. “This home is a dream fulfilled.”