Upon entering the Crown Heights storefront of Reclaimed Home, I was greeted by owners Phyllis Bobb and Emilia DeVitis along with an abundance of salvaged vintage pieces that had me wishing I was in need of a bold piece of furniture! The cheerful pair have been friends for almost 30 years and have just recently started this new venture together. The combination of their DIY skills and passion explains the high quality of their work—even gaining them praise from the New York Times. The duo are currently working out of their reclaimed and salvage studio right near the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens while also offering a variety of interior design and furnishing services to homeowners and businesses. Check out what these ladies had to say below and be sure to swing by their shop in person!
Tell us a bit about yourselves and what has brought you to this time in your life?
Phyllis: I bought my first home in 1994 in Park Slope and it needed work. I always grew up in apartment buildings where the super was called when something was wrong because my parents were not very handy. But my husband is handy, he’s a structural engineer so we worked on the house ourselves. To make a long story short, it was our first DIY. Then I got hooked and we moved around a little and renovated/restored places. I bought my first investment property and restored it in Rockaway Beach. Of course there was Hurricane Sandy to contend with. The market tanked and I got stuck with the house. It’s rented now and it’s fine but I couldn’t buy another house because that’s where all the money was. It was less expensive to open a shop—believe it or not! So my intention with working on homes is to keep historic details or put them back, architectural salvage! Recycling, keeping stuff out of dumpsters! It’s fun to take something that looks like nothing and see what you can make of it. It’s what we’re doing here, not with houses, but on a smaller scale. We hope to do more service oriented things such as salvage consultation. Bigger projects are definitely the end goal!
Emilia: Phyllis and I met almost 30 years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we use to work together. I’m a fine artist and I use to work for an art consulting firm—we did paintings and sculpture installations for corporate offices and hotels. I left there to join Phyllis doing this as more of the creative end and to use my skills that I have from the past to combine our forces. We’ve always managed to work together one way or another. We use to make jewelry in the 1980’s and sell it on St. Marks out of a little box!
P: Until we were chased by the cops!
What inspired you to take the leap and open the shop?
P: We had nothing better to do! I was stuck with the house in Rockaway Beach. I didn’t know what to do next. I get bored easily so I needed a project. From the time the idea came about and the shop actually opened, it only took a few months.
E: I was ready to make a move because I was working at my job for a long time. I wanted to do something else. It just came about! We weren’t planning for years—she needed a new project, I needed a change.
P: This is the big new project!
It’s fun to take something that looks like nothing and see what you can make of it.
Why did you choose this location?
P: Rental prices. The price was good. Also, I wanted to be in an area that is seeing a rebirth, where people are excited about restoring these beautiful homes. It’s on the cusp of people buying up properties and restoring them properly. It’s convenient—we’re not in the middle of nowhere. We’re close to Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Flatbush and Bed Stuy, a hub of all these brownstone neighborhoods where restoration is going on.
E: We’re right by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, there’s a walkway right down the block to the gardens. We didn’t think we’d get foot traffic but there actually is because of this walkway. There are also a lot of neighborhood people that buy stuff from us and are excited that we’re here.
P: A lot of old timers! And we see a lot of people who have just moved in. The neighborhood is changing so rapidly. The apartments are turning over quickly with people moving into new places and needing new furniture.
What is the best thing about the neighborhood the shop is in?
E: I really like the people. Everyone has been so wonderful. All the neighbors are very supportive. It’s still a very neighborhood feel, like people tell us that they “have our backs”. It’s an old Brooklyn neighborhood feel.
P: We’ve both been in New York forever and it’s not as neighborly as when we grew up so we love that it feels like old New York here.
What is the best thing about the neighborhoods you live in?
E: I just moved to Bay Ridge about a year ago. I miss living in the city, but Bay Ridge is great. It’s an old school Brooklyn neighborhood. It feels very neighborly and everyone is so nice and you know everyone at the deli and the laundry mat. Plus everything is accessible—you have the water, you get on the bus and go to Coney Island, there’s shop and restaurants. I didn’t want to move down there.
P: She wouldn’t even come out to go to dinner in Brooklyn!
E: Everywhere was so ridiculously expensive so my friend is from Bay Ridge and suggested it. I went to visit and she showed me around and I loved it! All the art shows, music, everything I need is in Brooklyn these days. It’s the center of the universe!
P: It always was, just took you time to figure it out! I still want to retire to Manhattan. I live in Bed Stuy, I bought because it was affordable 8 years ago. Now it’s not affordable, but it was when I bought the place! I want to retire to Manhattan, sell my home for an apartment with a doorman and an elevator!
Where do you go to get your stuff?
P: Mostly not locally. Because we want to keep our prices down. This isn’t Park Avenue—it’s middle class to lower income neighborhoods so we want people to be able to buy this stuff. I go mostly upstate where prices are way lower. I’ll go out to Pennsylvania because of the price and also because I don’t want people to see a piece at some other shop and then see my price doubled!
Have you ever taken home an item you’ve found on the street or in the dumpster?
E: Half my apartment is probably furnished with stuff I found on the street. It’s amazing what people just throw away in Brooklyn.
P: Yeah! Definitely! I went diving into a dumpster for some beams coming out of a brownstone. As the guys were taking them out, I was putting them into my car! Here’s the thing about taking things off the street- yes they’re free, but it takes two weeks to fix them. In the end it’s not free at all because of the work that goes into it.
E: Because of the work that goes into it and the materials, you’ll have to charge more. If something is too far gone we take it apart and use certain pieces.
What is your most cherished secondhand/vintage/upcycled item that you have?
P: There was a woman almost like a godmother to me. She ran an antiques business but she was also was a gifted medium. She had this dining room table that we’d sit around and she’d give us readings. Years later after she passed away, I was in the area of where her husband and son still run the antiques business. They were selling a table that reminded me of this table where I use to get readings, where I spent so many years when I was little. That’s probably the piece I’m most attached to because it reminds me of my childhood.
E: I have this box my father made me. My parents passed away almost 30 years ago. My dad had made me a little jewelry box and covered it with bamboo strips and made a nice design on the whole box. That box goes with me everywhere. Hey, that was a reclaimed box! I never thought about that until now!
Do you ever get attached to a certain piece and don’t end up selling it?
P: Yeah I have a few at home! There’s a doll in a frame that was hanging in my house for the longest time, but then I brought it in here. I put a high price because I’m hoping nobody buys it!
E: I haven’t gotten to that yet since I’m new with this! There have been a few pieces that I’ve painted. Even though I was happy we sold it I was like “Oh…no…really?”
P: People probably think we’re weird. People come in and want stuff and we’re like “Oh really, are you sure you want that?”
E: Yeah it’s sad to let things go when they sell. When you sell something, you’re happy but you’re also letting go of something that you know you’ll never be able to reproduce.
P: I always cry when I sell a house. I do the stenciling and reclaiming, so I get attached.
Do you refurbish all of your own pieces?
P: Yes. It’s more Emilia’s work, I’m more the business side. Someone has to do the business side! I’d rather be creative though, I’ve done some things here and there.
E: When there’s damage, I keep some of the old and just come up with a design that kind of cover areas after the damage is repaired.
Do you do DIY projects in your own free time?
P: Yes, I have no life! I have an obsession.
E: Some things here and there at home. My boyfriend is a carpenter and artist, so yeah. Nowhere near as much as Phyllis!
P: Our intention is to do DIY classes. It’s a small space but if we clear out some stuff, we could teach people some projects! We would love to do that.
What’s your personal style like at home?
P: Not Mid-Century! I like Victorian, but Mid-Century sells! There’s no Mid-Century in my house at all though.
E: I have a mix. A lot of art. I like a lot of ethnic things. A mish mosh!
What blogs or websites do you visit often?
E: I like looking at Pinterest. I really like it! It’s one of the most inspiring things as an artist, visually it’s great. It’s an overload of so much cool stuff!
P: Since we started the shop I haven’t had a chance to really keep up! I like Pinterest because it’s just pictures so it doesn’t take too long! I do like Krrb and Apartment Therapy. Here and there I look at Casa Cara, she’s another woman who works on houses. I look at forums more than blogs because I like answering people’s questions and teaching them how to DIY.
Anything else you want readers to know?
P: We really would like to expand to DIY classes and more services. We’re not just a store!
E: We’d like to start offering a personal shopper idea. People a lot of the time ask us where to get certain things. Since we know where to get things, we’ll be able to research and get certain things that people are looking for, since they don’t have access to certain items and places.
Thanks Phyllis and Emilia!