Ken Schapira: Fabricating quality, one project at a time

Ken Schapira, owner of North Standard Fabrication and Construction, LLC, specializes in solving creative structural problems. “When artist Jeff Carpenter wanted to flood an entire art gallery in the Crane Arts Building with eight inches of water, I collaborated with a structural engineer to waterproof the entire floor,” said Schapira. “People were given boots to view the installation. That was fun!” 

However, most of Schapira’s clients these days are in the restaurant and hospitality business for whom he provides higher-end wood and metal fabrication services. “I’m currently creating 3-D signage and building a bar out of copper and brass for the renovation of a Fishtown restaurant. One of the perks? “I got to taste everything on their new menu,” he said. Schapira is also adding his unique touch to a new Spring Garden District eatery. “I’m using a lot of steel, wood, and glass in the interior and exterior,” he said.

Schapira is originally from Staten Island, and purchased his first house in Philadelphia in 2006 in East Kensington from Solo Real Estate. This original connection soon turned into a long-term working relationship. “I started working as a general contractor with Solo’s property management services, doing kitchens and bathrooms,” he said.

His largest project for Solo Real Estate was through his former partnership with Anthony Giacobbe under the name Red Oak Development, building Kensington Yards, Solo’s fourteen-unit residential development. The project was developed by Alejandro Franqui, along with the architects at Bright Common and landscape designers at Apiary Studio, Kensington Yards combined historic preservation with new construction. Schapira’s used reclaimed wood throughout the property and built contemporary metal staircases and half-moon window frames.

Ken Schapira worked on building Kensington Yards, Solo's most recent development project.
Ken Schapira worked on building Kensington Yards, Solo’s most recent development project.

“I’ve never met a contractor more committed to delivering a high quality finished product,” said Franqui. “Not only does Ken do excellent work, he has a style and sensibility that I think is lacking in many, if not most, new construction and renovation projects. Ken’s work is anything but cookie-cutter.” 

Deborah Solo, owner of Solo Real Estate, said, “Working with Ken on Kensington Yards was an incredible learning experience. He helped us make something we could all be very proud of.  In every instance, he enabled us to get something extra special with the finished product.”

It is one of Schapira’s more unique projects that landed him in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I used a computer-generated plasma-cutting machine to create a metal gate in Kensington featuring intricate scrollwork and Danny DeVito’s face,” he said. Why DeVito?  Schapira wanted to give people something to smile about during the pandemic. 

Custom alley gate in Kensington featuring Danny DeVito's face.
Custom alley gate in Kensington featuring Danny DeVito’s face.

CNC plasma cutting involves cutting through electrically conductive materials by utilizing an accelerated jet of hot plasma that is directed right at the material being cut. Steel, aluminum, brass, and copper are only a handful of the types of materials that are often cut with this method.“ The technology has been around for twenty years, but it used to be ridiculously expensive, out of reach for the average fabrication company. I have only owned one machine for years,” he said.

A custom table designed and built by North Standard Fabrication and Construction
A custom table designed and built by North Standard Fabrication and Construction.

Schapira’s versatility is impressive, including furniture and custom light fixtures. “We have a full fabrication studio with the resources for woodworking, welding, CNC plasma cutting projects, and more. Ken Schapira’s company, North Standard Fabrication and Construction is located at 2321 Emerald Street Philadelphia, PA 12129. For project inquiries, you can reach out to North Standard on the contact us form on their website: https://www.northstandardphl.com/contact

Ken Schapira: Fabricating Quality, one project at a time
Ken Schapira from North Standard Fabrication and Construction. Photo by Jordan Baumgarten.

New Digs: Love at First Sight at Kensington Yards

How many people can say that a window sold them on their new home? For Michael McTigue, the stunning circular cut-out window in his new Kensington Yards unit may have been the clincher. This compelling architectural detail is beloved amongst the Solo Real Estate crew, and we’re delighted to see such a great owner inhabit this special space.

Old Friends, New Construction

In September of 2018, with Phase Two of Kensington Yards still under construction, Michael asked Deborah Solo for a walk-through. After seeing the huge master bedroom, the unexpected views of downtown, the open floorplan, and- of course- that gorgeous window- he said “I’ll take it” on the spot.


Michael, a Philly native who works in Corporate Communications and Government Affairs, bought his first home in Northern Liberties from Deborah 20 years ago, and maintained a connection to Solo throughout that time. “I like that she’s an architect,” he said, “she has a really good language for describing spaces.”

Growing Up & Growing Out of Philly Rowhome Living


As a longtime resident, Michael recalls how the city has changed in recent decades. Coming from northeast Philly, he would take the El to see shows in Center City, which he says felt like a “ghost town” at that time. “I remember when there weren’t even street lights on Market Street.” he says. “When I moved into my house in Northern Liberties, I was the only person living on the block. One of my neighbors down the street had a pet wolf. And now, that neighborhood is fully grown up.”


Though he loved his place in Northern Liberties, Michael felt it was time for a change. He had already invested in a beautiful top-to-bottom renovation of his expanded trinity rowhome about 10 years ago, and knew he was looking for something different this time around. He was drawn to the quality of the construction at Kensington Yards, and all the artisanal details put in by Solo’s collaborators. After living in a rowhome for so long, Michael says “I wanted to try a different kind of space in the city.”

Thoughtful Details at Every Turn

His new space is bright, beautiful, and full of original artwork collected over the years from local artists. In the living room, each piece of furniture is well-thought out and placed in harmony. The original Noguchi glass tabletop rests on a custom wooden base made by a friend, mimicking the glass inside the famous circular window just feet away. Pattern and a neutral palette make the whole house feel warm and lived-in.


Michael has a lot of hope for the kind of community the Kensington Yards project can foster. With the shared outdoor garden space and generous entrances to the Kensington Yards buildings,, there’s plenty of communal space to enjoy impromptu gatherings. Proximity to the vibrant maker-centric neighborhood of East Kensington provides an exciting backdrop for these one-of-a-kind apartments.

Find more Kensington Yards stories!

New Construction Means New Possibilities 

Kensington Yards Fuses the Old with the New

Featured Collaborator: Apiary Studio

Featured Collaborator: Bright Common

New Digs: New Construction Means New Possibilities At Kensington Yards

When Rebecca made the decision to put her money on Kensington Yards, she wasn’t even in the market. Rebecca had rented her Northern Liberties apartment through Solo Realty for fourteen years. So, she was eager to check out this ambitious project undertaken by ourselves at Solo, Bright Common Architecture, and Red Oak builders.



While this Philly educator had long been hesitant to take the plunge into home ownership, once she saw this Kensington Yards unit she was sold. The new construction condominiums have eco-friendly appliances, local artisan made features, and salvaged materials. These features struck her as truly unique. Details like that combined with the high ceilings, beautiful light, and roof deck sealed the deal.


Since 2001, Rebecca has kept coming back to Philly. While she’s been lucky to travel – for work and pleasure – Philly remains home base. Journeys to India, Kenya and more have inspired her to think through her values in everyday decisions. At the same time, “something about Philly has held me,” she remarks as we gaze over her burgeoning rooftop container garden.



After renting for so long, the amenities offered by Kensington Yards were true luxuries. The outdoor space, air conditioning, washer/dryer, and storage were all firsts. The most unique first of all? The unexpected connections among residents. A few knew each other years ago, and others are a degree of separation apart. “Small world Philly strikes again,” Rebecca observes.


Another plus was how helpful, honest, and communicative Deborah Solo was throughout the buying process. Deborah also connected Rebecca with Christine McAroy who walked her through all of the financing involved in buying a place. Rebecca also worked with two financial advisors she’s known for many years. As a first time homebuyer, the whole operation could not have felt smoother.



When you see how well her furniture and decor fit in the space it’s clear that Kensington Yards and Rebecca are a great match. Books, furniture, artwork, and trinkets collected from her friends, family, and travels fill the space. The warmth and coziness fostered by her belongings paired with the true integrity of the architecture and design make this new construction condo truly feel like a home.


Now, Rebecca is happy to have a place of her own to call home with her cat Niña. You’ll catch the friendly cat nestled in a couch or slinking along the hallway in Rebecca’s new Kensington Yards condo.



Read more about Kensington Yards in these additional posts on our blog:
Kensington Yards Approaches The Finish Line
Kensington Yards Fuses The Old With The New
Phase Two Groundbreaking

Don’t miss our profile on Bright Common or this Philly Mag feature that just came out!


Kensington Yards Phase Two Groundbreaking

We at Solo Real Estate, in collaboration with Bright Common and Red Oak Development are so thrilled to announce the groundbreaking of Phase 2 of Kensington Yards. Building B will have a lot in common with the first phase of our project which is fully completed. Although, unlike the first building which incorporated an old, pre-existing structure with new construction, the second building will be all new construction which allows for some additional flexibility in design.


Phase 2 will consist of 7 units which will be priced starting in the high $200,000s. You will see many of the finishes that were present in Phase 1 in these units, such as reclaimed wood and poured concrete countertops designed by local artisan Jayme Guokas of Craftwork Design.


Especially exciting is that, once the second building is complete, plans for the communal interior courtyard designed by Philadelphia-based landscape architect Hans Hesselein of Apiary Studio will be implemented.

Recently we sat down with Solo’s Alex Franqui to discuss what we can expect from Kensington Yards Phase 2. Here’s what we learned!


Question: What’s exciting about Building B?

Alex: The home stretch! It will be great to have 7 exceptionally thought out spaces for sale. In particular, I’m excited about the largest one bedroom, which is about 1,200 square feet on the top two levels. That should be a terrific, one of a kind space.


Q: What are the design goals and core values of this phase?

A: We’re looking to provide great light and large, usable spaces that prioritize the daily living experience of the residents while also aiming for energy efficiency. We want to give residents something more than what else is out on the market, and to a create a building that is additive to the community at large. We really want to respect the current built environment while at the same time creating something new and modern that’s nice to look at.


Q: What kind of community are you building?

A: This is tough, because we don’t select the members of the community. The community selects itself in a way. We believe that people who prioritize design and appreciate the texture of the neighborhood will want to be members of this community and build on it together. People of various ages and backgrounds have been attracted to the units so far. It is very much a microcosm of our diverse city here in Philadelphia.


Q: What role do you see KY playing in the fabric of the neighborhood?

A: We want people to stop and say, “Wow, new construction can look great!” We hope that through our clean, straightforward design we can show people what’s attainable. Maybe some other developers will take notice as well.


Q: What’s exciting about Kensington?

A: Kensington is Philadelphia. It’s a mix of industrial, residential, and cutting edge commercial. It’s racially and ethnically diverse. It has room for newcomers and a strong existing community that helps guide the shape of things to come.

The construction begins on Kensington Yards Phase 2!

The target completion date for Phase 2 is August or September 2018 so stay tuned for more information and updates as building progresses! Can’t wait for Phase 2? There are just a couple units from Phase 1 left, available here. Need more info on that communal courtyard ASAP? Check out our profile of Hans Hesselein of Apiary Studio on the blog. Curious about the architect behind the project? We have a blog feature on them too.

Progress Report: Kensington Yards Fuses The Old With The New

In the market for a home but torn between wanting something old or new? In a city exploding with new construction, but also bursting at the seams with its large stock of historic homes, the conflict in choosing between the two is understandable. Here at Solo Realty, we might just have created the perfect solution with Kensington Yards.


Along with our wonderful friends and collaborators, most notably Bright Common Architecture & Design and Red Oak Development, we’ve found the best of both worlds – new construction convenience and Victorian charm – and we’re ready to hand it over to you to call home.


When I stopped by the other day to take a look around at the progress being made on the units, the whole place was abuzz with activity. Most notably, the iron railings were on the final stages of installation. With the railings in, many of the stairwells and hallways are complete which rounds everything out nicely.



The beautiful granite countertops that we mentioned Jayme Guokas of Craftwork Design was preparing to pour in our last update post, are also in place now. Guokas included in these countertops little morsels of glass and shells, adding a real quirkiness to the design that is sometimes lacking in new construction.



One of the biggest challenges of the project was fusing the pre-existing 19th century rowhome with the newly constructed property. While this was no easy feat, the architects and construction workers did a beautiful job blending the old structure, preserving many of the original floors, brick walls, stone foundation, moldings, and doors, with the new property and all of its 21st century eco-friendly design elements and appliances. Reclaimed wood countertops and stairs can also be found throughout the units.


The finish line is just within reach now. By August 1 a model will be ready, which will help potential buyers get a better idea of what their unit will look like.


We are also excited to announce that our first unit is under contract, with closing slated for late August. We couldn’t be more excited to have the first buyer for Kensington Yards lined up. While we’ve already had a number of showings, now that the model is nearing completion and the units are all starting to take shape, we can’t wait to show off Kensington Yards even more.


This project is something that the team at Solo is incredibly proud of, and now that a lot of the hard work is finished, we are looking forward to sharing these sustainably built, historically embedded, and forward thinking 14 units with potential home buyers and the larger South Kensington community.


Fine out more at http://www.kensingtonyards.com/.


Progress Report: Kensington Yards Approaches The Finish Line

If you happen by Kensington Yards these days you’ll notice that building is moving along at a clipping pace. Solo Realty’s new construction development in South Kensington, a couple years in the making now, has rounded the corner and is heading towards the finish line.


The just completed facade on Fifth Street.

Popping up right in the middle of North 5th Street between Thompson and Master Streets, the drywall and windows are in, the facade is up, and showings are underway for the units.


In the upcoming weeks a lot of the finishes are going in, really solidifying the progress that has been made in the past few months at Kensington Yards. The cabinets and trim are slated for installation next week, with the tiles not too far behind.


After those touches go in, the painters will come through the building and then the flooring will go in.
We are really excited about the concrete countertops that Jayme Guokas of Craftwork Design is creating for the project. Jayme is slated to start pouring his custom concrete countertops as soon as all the aforementioned features are completed and we cannot wait to see how they turn out.


Finally, once the walls, floors, and countertops are complete, the electrical and plumbing fixtures will all be put in, pushing the project towards a mid-July completion date.


From top to bottom: A GoogleMaps screen cap of the Kensington Yards site pre-construction, the facade in progress, and a rendering of the interior living room and kitchen.


So far, we at Solo Realty could not be more thrilled with how Kensington Yards is coming along and taking form. It has been such a thrill to work with so many great collaborators – Bright Common, Apiary Studio, Red Oak Development, and Craftwork Design. As the final product takes shape we look forward to sharing more updates and some photographs of the interior so keep an eye out for that as we enter the summer months!


Featured Collaborator: Apiary Studio

“Have you ever heard the expression ‘a stitch in time saves nine’?” asks Hans Hesselein, the face behind the Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm Apiary Studio tasked with designing and landscaping the courtyard at Solo Realty’s South Kensington development Kensington Yards. I haven’t, but as Hesselein explains the proverb to me, I realize that this philosophy of addressing a problem head on at the outset, as opposed to skirting around it and creating more issues later, underlies a lot of the work that Apiary Studio conducts.


A little over two years ago, with a BA in Landscape Architecture from North Carolina State University and a number of solid years working in the field in New York City under his belt, Hesselein made his way down to Philadelphia. Ready to start his own firm, an undertaking much more affordable in Philadelphia than New York, Hesselein saw here a city that is on the brink of many things – of figuring out what it wants to be, bursting with opportunities for impactful and meaningful work, and moving in a positive, innovative direction.


Hesselein in his new Germantown studio space


Hesselein approaches his work by addressing the context of the city and the contents of its soil. Philadelphia has a rich industrial history that shaped the physical, built landscape we inhabit today. Yet, that past life also bears influence on the soil we tread upon now, ravaged by industrial activity. Instead of bringing in new soil, an expensive and often unsustainable practice, Hesselein prefers to work within the fabric of Philadelphia’s landscape. Sometimes this means sourcing rare native and/or adaptable plants from the nursery that he and his partner, a gardener at the Wyck House, operate. More often it means planting what Hesselein describes as “tough, urban plant material” and “weedy stuff”.


Weeds, in fact, as Hesselein enlightens me, are some of the more viable urban plant material. It makes sense – weeds persevere, which means even in the tough soil conditions present in Philadelphia, they will thrive.



Addressing the industrial past of the Kensington area is exactly what Apiary Studio brings to Solo Realty’s Kensington Yards project. Not only has the factory studded built environment of the River Wards influenced the fashionable industrial-futuristic aesthetic of many popular restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and residential units in the area, it has contributed to the actual makeup of the soil we are left to work with. Hesselein is constantly thinking about these roots that continue to shape Kensington today, and with his landscaping work, he seeks to address those issues directly.


Hesselein is close with the team behind Bright Common, the architecture firm designing Kensington Yards, which is how his studio came to be involved with the project. Both firms share a similar focus on sustainability, recycled materials, and an ethical aesthetic.


With the common space that Apiary Studio was tasked to design, Hesselein created something very sleek, yet edgy, channeling all of this influence. He made use of raw, heavy materials to reference Olde Kensington’s industrial age, while establishing nice, clean side gardens to speak to the modern lifestyle. The movable fire pit is the focal point of the courtyard, which is shared between all of the units, encouraging community and intermingling. The design also includes a handful of side areas and nooks for more private or independent enjoyment of the development’s outdoor space.


We couldn’t be more excited to see how Apiary Studio’s courtyard design comes to life at Kensington Yards, and to hear what future contributions Hesselein has in store for the city. As Hesselein explained to me while we chatted in his second floor workspace at his Germantown apartment, he hopes for his studio to someday grow into its name – apiary – a busy-bee workspace with a hierarchy that functions horizontally, meaning everyone works collaboratively.

Check back in the upcoming weeks for a progress report on Kensington Yards.