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New Digs: Sharne & Jan swap Francisville for a new condo in Mount Airy

Sharne and Jan Algotsson loved the Francisville condo they bought in 2014. It was a modern, three-story Trinity condominium with a dynamite view of Philly’s skyline from its two-tier roof deck. But they eventually started to long for a home more suited to their empty-nester lifestyle. 

“New buildings had sprouted up on either side of us and our small street became densely packed. We realized we were the oldest residents in the area and our needs had changed,” said Sharne, a semi-retired interior designer who previously had a shop on Antique Row. Her husband Jan is a retired carpenter and contractor.

Their biggest complaint? “We were there for seven years with no parking. Some nights we had to park several blocks from our home,” said Sharne.

This was not the Algotssons first move. Far from it. “I grew up in Southwest Philly and met my Swedish husband when he was an exchange student here in the 1970s,” said Sharne.

“Besides Francisville, we’ve lived in East Oak Lane, Stockholm, Wash. DC, and Northern Liberties. We are city people and we were open to many different neighborhoods from South Philly to East Falls.”

Solo Real Estate agent, Alex Franqui, listed the Algotssons’ Francisville condo and helped them find a new home after it was under contract. “It was the second place Alex showed us,” said Sharne. “We had been prepared to rent a furnished apartment if we couldn’t find a place to buy in time, but as soon as we saw this new condo on a quiet little tree-lined street in Mt. Airy – we were sold,” she said. It all happened pretty quickly. They went to closing and settlement on the same day and moved in on that afternoon.

Their new home features an open plan living/dining room/kitchen on the first floor, three bedrooms, two and a half baths, and a roof deck The deal was sealed by the floor-to-ceiling food pantry closet and a carport with hydraulic connections.

Besides being over 200sq. feet larger than their former abode, their new home feels more spacious and lighter due to the bright southern exposure, and open floor plan. “I can cook in the kitchen while looking through the floating plank stairs to the living room and dining area,” said Sharne who has already discovered Weavers Way Coop, a local food coop and coveted neighborhood organic food emporium.

What does she like best? “Because of the layout, each of us has our own bathroom on the second floor. It was Jan’s idea,” she said gleefully. 

Their home is just footsteps from Mt. Airy’s lively shopping, theater and restaurant district on Germantown Avenue and five minutes from the fine dining, upscale shops and farmers’ markets of Chestnut Hill. A historic neighborhood known for its cultural diversity, green spaces and street fairs, Mt. Airy has a small-town vibe with Big City cred. Proof? There’s a yoga studio on every block and former Four Season’s Chef David Jansen chose to open his acclaimed namesake eatery here in an 18th-century cottage.

Before their WiFi was connected, Sharne and Jan gravitated to an internet cafe just a block away. If they don’t feel like cooking, within that same block, they can choose from Italian, Mexican, American, or Vegetarian cuisine or grab a stool at McMenamin’s, a bar where “everybody knows your name” and the Angus burgers are as big as your face.

La piece de resistance? “Jan was a hiker and now he walks in Valley Green,” said Sharne referring to the nearby woodsy northwestern tip of Fairmount Park, a favorite with hikers, bikers, dog walkers, and equestrians, in addition to being a popular brunch spot.

“It’s still the City,” said Sharne, “But we wake up to the sound of birds.”

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!

 

New Digs: Brett & Nichole Peanasky

When Brett and Nichole Peanasky first came to Philadelphia, they didn’t necessarily have long term plans to stay here. Yet, by the time Brett finished graduate school, the couple were comfortable in the city and saw no reason not to extend their stay.

 

Eager to ditch their small Fitler Square apartment for an upgrade in the form of a South Philly rowhome, the Peanaskys turned to Solo Real Estate. It was actually Brett’s tenure at Penn Design that brought the house hunters to Solo. Brett and Alejandro Franqui were classmates at Penn, so working with the Solo realtor was the obvious choice.

 

Alejandro was incredibly helpful to Brett & Nichole throughout the ups and downs of their house search. There were certainly some surprises along the way for the first time home buyers. Yet, Franqui helped them stay realistic and optimistic during the whole process.

 

The Peanaskys have future plans to figure out what’s going on underneath that facade.

 

Then, one day while walking around what would become their neighborhood of Passyunk Square, the Peanaskys chanced upon 1225 Ellsworth Street with a for sale sign out front. While it didn’t look like much from the outside, this South Philly rowhome turned out to be just what they needed.

 

In terms of location, this South Philly hub is ideal. The proximity to Brett’s Center City job as a land use attorney was really appealing. It was also important to find somewhere close to the highway to ease Nichole’s commute to New Jersey where she works as a nurse practitioner.

 

The Peanaskys were pleased that kitchen was pretty much as pictured when they bought the house

 

The home had all of the important stuff such as the kitchen, floors, and mechanicals already updated. It was mainly cosmetic finishes that remained to be done. In a way, this was the best of both worlds for these first time home buyers. They got to add personal touches to their new home without the stress and financial burden of bigger renovations.

 

After closing on the home they set to work putting in all new windows, repainting the interior, adding a new banister, and fixing up the stairs. Down the road they hope to do more work on their home. For example, they would love to take off the paint and restore the brick on the house’s facade. They’ve also discussed plans for tearing up the back patio to plant more vegetation. Another pipeline project would be building a more usable roof deck off the third floor.

 

The new railing where there previously was none was an important addition.

 

For now, however, the couple are busy exploring their new neighborhood with their five-month old Arlen and dog Louie. Beyond being thrilled with their home, the Peanasky’s love their South Philly neighborhood. One thing they mention right off the bat are the mix of long time residents and new, young families. The proximity to popular sights like Columbus Square, the Italian Market, and Passyunk Square sweeten the deal as well.

 

New Digs: The Penn’s Landing in Old City

This past Friday we stopped by Cindy & Chris Penn’s new digs at 144 Vine Street. On such a gloomy, muggy summer day, the facade of 144 Vine Street, tucked away in a corner of Old City, truly pops against a backdrop of grey skies. That’s because the building’s facade is an Isaiah Zagar original.

 

If you live in Philadelphia, chances are you’re already well versed in the mosaic masterpieces of Zagar. A Philadelphia based mosaic muralist, Zagar is famous for his Magic Gardens on South Street. Less known, however, is that he has adorned a number of residential facades as well.

 

Zagar’s Magic Gardens at 1020 South Street

 

 

His work on the facade and side of 144 Vine, which Cindy explains was “the cherry on top” of the property for her and her family, is magic and then some.

 

Its fitting that Cindy & Chris landed on this property. As artists of all sorts themselves, they were attracted to the quirky facade, the historical property, and the opportunity for retail space.

 

After living in Brooklyn for eight years, the pair decided it was time to buy. Yet, after a yearlong search for something in their native Brooklyn failed to produce results, Cindy decided to take a look in Philadelphia, just for fun. She immediately found Solo Realty’s listing for 144 Vine and the rest was a done deal.

 

Cindy & Chris enjoy a morning coffee in their future events space

 

As a multi-use property with commercial/office space on the first floor and residential taking up the rest of the building, the spot had already checked off Cindy’s main requirement. Throw that together with the walkability of Philadelphia, the burgeoning art and gallery scene in Old City, the reasonable price, the historic aspect, and the Zagar facade, the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was on to Philadelphia for Cindy’s family of five and the group has been loving their first months here.

 

In addition to being artistic people in general (most recently Chris has been working in drone photography while Cindy drums in a Brazilian marching band), the two are interested in gadgets. This interest is reflected in their groovy aesthetic in decorating the house, and in their keen interest in the historical workings of the home such as exploring the evidence of fireplaces and furnaces past.

 

While they knew the Philadelphia rowhome was old, they didn’t realize just how old until after they bought the house. Dating a house in Philadelphia can be quite the feat, but they have concluded that the house, along with its four neighbors on the block, likely dates back to the late 1700s. This is evidenced in the brickwork and beams the couple are exposing, not to mention the outdoor privy still standing in the rear.

 

Uncovering historical features of the home: wooden beams in the front commercial space (above) and brick foundation in the basement (below)

 

 

So far the beams have been exposed, the kitchen recreated on the first floor, the bathroom overhauled with a new funky modern aesthetic, and the floors refinished on the second floor. Next up is exposing brick where the existing walls can come down easily, tackling the third floor, and finishing up the commercial space. With the difficult aspects of the project largely behind them, such as moving the kitchen to a different part of the house and reorienting the bathroom, the final vision has taken shape and is within reach.

 

A modern tub, historic exposed brick, and whimsical sink mesh together in this artsy bathroom

 

Cindy and Chris plan to use the front area of the house as a creative rental space for anything ranging from yoga studio to pop-up gallery to event space. They’re also playing with the idea of putting a mock speakeasy in the basement.  

 

This historic rowhome is rooted in local history and tradition on every level: The past of people named Cindy occupying the space (the previous owner of 144 Vine and its neighbor 142 Vine was named Cindy), the classic 18th century structure, and the city’s famed Isaiah Zagar facade. 144 Vine is evocative of Philadelphia heritage in every sense.

 

Cindy & Chris are the perfect duo to have stumbled upon this fixer-upper. Creative thinkers and artistic makers, they have some amazing ideas for modernizing the space while constantly keeping its historic roots at the forefront of their process. We at Solo are so happy to have helped facilitate such a magical match and we’re looking forward to seeing how Cindy & Chris continue to upgrade and transform this unique space.

 

Photographs (from top to bottom): More Isaiah Zagar mosaic dons the interior courtyard; Exposed brick fireplace in the 2nd floor bathroom; Refinished wood floors; Exposed ducts; Winding stairs; Fully redone kitchen w/ new appliances and floors; Two neighboring historic homes; Big, open park right across the street; 140-146 Vine Street facades; Two more snapshots of the intricate Zagar mosaic facade; A view of the Ben Franklin Bridge from the street corner.

 

New Digs: Finally Falling for East Falls

Even though their first date was on the Schuylkill River Trail near East Falls, Kimberly Bonner and Latrice Springs initially looked in every neighborhood but East Falls for their new home. How did they finally fall for the neighborhood? It involved two years of house hunting, over 75 house showings, and an insane plan they called “the nuclear option.” Find out what led them to their home, and how Deborah Solo helped keep the “nuclear option” from imploding!

Beyond their first date, the Schulykill River Trail was one of the main reasons Latrice wanted to move back to Philly. “We’ve always been circling East Falls,” Latrice and Kimberly observed, but initial concerns about parking kept them away.

They knew they wanted to move out of their house in Point Breeze. They knew they wanted to “buy a quieter block.” They knew they wanted a family home, with a guest room and a yard, and room for their cats Oliver and Molly. That’s about all they knew.

 

Kimberly and Latrice with Oliver, one of their two cats, in their sunny new living room
Kimberly and Latrice with Oliver, one of their two cats, in their sunny new living room

 

Their lack of constraints led them all over Philadelphia, with Deborah Solo as their guide. “She is a trooper. We looked at so many houses both times I bought,” praised Latrice, who also hired Deborah when she bought their house in Point Breeze.

They began looking at properties while they finished renovations on their Point Breeze home. When the renovations were complete, they still didn’t have their sights set on a new home, and had been looking for over a year.

 

The living room in the house they ended up buying in East Falls, full of natural light and built-in shelving
The living room in the house they ended up buying in East Falls, full of natural light and built-in shelving

 

Kimberly and Latrice decided on a bold plan to push themselves to commit to a new home. They called this “the nuclear option”: they would put their Point Breeze house on the market without having another house to move to, in order to force themselves to make a home-buying decision.

The nuclear option ended up being more aggressive than they realized. Latrice and Kimberly hadn’t anticipated that their old house would go under agreement within 4 days of being on the market, with a 30-day closing date at that. “All of a sudden, we have to move!” they recalled.

 

The large dining room, complete with a table crafted by Latrice from a wood door and recently hung pendant lamps
The large dining room, complete with a table crafted by Latrice from a wood door and recently hung pendant lamps

 

That week, Kimberly and Latrice decided to finally look at some houses in East Falls. They looked at ten to twelve in all. As soon as they entered what is now their home, everyone liked it.

Yet the house still didn’t initially make the cut! With its oil heat and single bathroom, the couple didn’t immediately recognize it as home they had been looking for. Instead they were seduced by a property on a nearby block, but a seller’s disclosure from hell led them to take another look at this house and to put in an offer.

 

Although their new home only has one bathroom, it's a beautiful one! The couple has plans to change to sink and do a few other upgrades.
Although their new home only has one bathroom, it’s a beautiful one! The couple has plans to change the sink and do a few other upgrades.

 

Their offer was accepted right away. “The entire process to buy the house with Deborah took 2-3 weeks” Latrice and Kimberly commented.

During that process, Deborah pushed for things they didn’t think were a big deal at the time. For example, the house needed a new washer and dryer, which Latrice and Kimberly weren’t fazed by but Deborah insisted that the owner replace them. This ultimately spared the couple freezing trips to the laundromat in the middle of winter!

 

The dining room from a different perspective: plenty of shelving throughout the house to display Kimberly & Latrice's many books, ceramics, and other objet d'arte
The dining room from a different perspective: plenty of shelving throughout the house to display Kimberly & Latrice’s many books, ceramics, and other objet d’arte

 

Deborah also insisted that they get the heater checked out, and it turned out it needed $500 of work, which would have also been a huge inconvenience in November in Philly. “Because we moved in November, these two things that Deborah pushed for were crucial for our basic comfort,” Latrice observed.

With the help of Deborah, the nuclear option worked: Kimberly and Latrice closed on their old house and their new house on the same day, and Latrice and Kimberly truly found their family home on the quieter block they were looking for.

 

Latrice & Kimberly found the quieter block they were looking for, in the last neighborhood they looked in!

 

With beautiful hardwood floors, generous square footage, and four bedrooms, they have the coziness and roominess they were looking for. The backyard is unique in both how expansive it is, and its terraced terrain. Needless to say, the cats are thrilled with their new home!

Kimberly and Latrice have plans to build on their home’s beauty and function: a bedroom is partway through its transformation to walk-in closet, a clunky built-in closet was removed in the master bedroom to open up the space, and Latrice has made custom desks out of wood doors to fit perfectly into the house’s nooks.

 

backyard combined
Oliver the cat enjoys his new expansive and lush backyard while Latrice shows off their new patio

 

The couple believes working with Deborah was crucial to making their ambitious plan a success. “There will never be another realtor for me besides Deborah,” Latrice maintained. “Even the cats love her!” Kimberly added.

 

Oliver and ____ were big fans of Deborah Solo too!
Molly and Oliver were big fans of Deborah Solo too!

Reuniting with Philly in Washington Square

Longtime New York residents Richard and Anne recently moved to Philadelphia, where Richard obtained his undergraduate degree at Penn in the early 1970s. The move brought them closer to convenience, friends in Philadelphia, and the Penn State women’s volleyball team (more about that later), while keeping them within a stone’s throw of New York where they still work.

Anne and Richard knew wherever they moved would ultimately be where they retired. They considered several places in New England, where they had owned a house on the New Hampshire seacoast, but they learned from experience that it was a bit too isolated from their friends in New York.

New Hampshire was also a 12-hour drive to Penn State. Richard blogs about the Penn State women’s volleyball team, and his mother resides in the college town.

Richard and Anne realized they still wanted to live in a city. Once they decided on Philadelphia, Anne and Richard knew what they wanted. After building their New Hampshire vacation home, they knew they didn’t want to be responsible for home repairs, which meant a condo was the way to go. The couple had also become accustomed to apartment living in New York.

Deborah Solo helped Richard and Anne find the apartment-style living the sought
Deborah Solo helped Richard and Anne find the apartment-style living they sought

 

Next order of business was obtaining a realtor. A friend recommended Deborah Solo, and Anne and Richard were thrilled with the results!

“Deborah was fabulous in guiding us, giving us a sense of neighborhoods, and she shared her honest opinions which we really appreciated,” Anne recounts.

Funny enough, Richard had actually met Deborah at a party when he was a freshman at Penn. So his return to Philadelphia was a reunion in multiple ways!

From among the many Center City neighborhoods they explored, Richard and Anne chose a condo on Washington Square
From among the many Center City neighborhoods they explored, Richard and Anne chose a condo on Washington Square

 

As for location, they looked broadly from Rittenhouse to Washington Square to Old City. Richard and Anne were impressed with how many of the properties they’d walk past in various neighborhoods that Deborah had personal experience with, whether she had sold them, been the buyer’s agent, or managed them as a rental.

“We always want a broker who has a broad range of experience,” Richard explains. “It helps them be holistic and present the full range of options rather than sticking to their personal comfort zone.” Deborah certainly showcased such experience.

The condo they chose was in need of some repairs, mostly cosmetic, which Anne and Richard believe helped them get a good price, despite its prime location on Washington Square Park. After building an entire house in New Hampshire, these minor updates and fixes didn’t intimidate the couple. “We’ve found you can create value by having a vision.”

Anne and Richard removed a large wall unit from the living room, repainted and installed recessed lighting
Anne and Richard removed a large wall unit from the living room, repainted and installed recessed lighting

 

Once they found the condo, Solo made the closing process run smoothly. Deborah deftly handled an unexpected hindrance during the final walkthrough, and Solo’s attorney Angel Franqui reviewed all the condo documents with a fine-toothed comb.

master bedroom2
A red accent wall pops in the master bedroom

 

Two and a half months after closing, the condo was repainted and had new lighting, tubs, toilets, flooring, and soundproof inner windows, which could not be penetrated even by the sounds of a bagpipe being played outside on the day these photos were taken.

And what a difference those cosmetic updates made! The hardwood floors gleam against the abundant natural light that floods through the unit’s massive windows. Richard and Anne’s art collection also shines in the natural light, as well as after the sun sets, thanks to the tasteful lighting they installed.

Anne and Richard's art collection shines in their new condo
Anne and Richard’s art collection shines in their new condo

 

Double-height ceilings add a sense of spaciousness even to the smallest room. Anne and Richard’s elegant updates blend seamlessly with unique touches from the previous owner such doors with frosted glass panels, a modern kitchen, and a master bath to die for.

The guestroom and Richard's office features a large window flanked by built-in shelving
The guestroom and Richard’s office features a large window flanked by built-in shelving

 

While Richard and Anne prefer not to make New York vs. Philadelphia comparisons, their cat Willow is certainly enjoying the additional square footage that buying in Philadelphia provided.

Willow the cat loves her new digs!
Willow the cat shows off the sleek, spacious kitchen in her new digs

New Digs: From House of Mirrors to Family Home

From the moment they first walked inside, Deirdre and Elliot Garland could literally see themselves in their new home–the interior was covered with mirrors! After a breezy purchasing process with Solo, a few renovations, and some mirror removal, they are happily situated in the perfect family home.

Deirdre and Elliot knew what they wanted: a house large enough for their family of four, in the Wynnefield neighborhood, where Elliot grew up and his father still resides. Deirdre saw a promising prospect pop up in a notification from the Zillow app; an hour later, it was gone.

deirdre, elliot & family_edited_5101 copy

facade_edited_5010
Elliot, Deirdre, and their sons Desmond and William (top), and their perfect family home (bottom)

 

Solo’s Alex Franqui looked into the property and found out the listing had been removed so the owner could make some unexpected repairs. He was able to communicate with the seller’s agent and ensure that the Garlands were the first people to see the property once it was relisted.

living room_before_5101

The living room before (top), complete with mirror, and after (bottom), with freshly painted walls, polyurethaned floors, and new recessed lighting
The living room before (top), complete with mirror, and after (bottom), with freshly painted walls, polyurethaned floors, and new recessed lighting

 

“We had seen other houses that we said ‘we could make this work, if we had to,’” recounts Deirdre. “But when we walked into this house, we knew it was perfect.” With its spacious 2600 square feet, large rear yard, and well-maintained parquet flooring, the Garlands were savvy enough to see past the mirrored surfaces. Alex submitted their offer right away. “I think we were the only prospective buyers who saw the house!” Deirdre posits.

The Garlands' youngest son William enjoys the calming paint hue in the master bedroom
The Garlands’ youngest son William enjoys the calming paint hue in the master bedroom

The offer was accepted and they closed little over a month later, making their entire homebuying process last a mere two and half months. The next step? Removing the mirrors, updating the kitchen, and “a lot of skim coating,” Elliot recalls. He tackled all the repairs single-handedly, as Deirdre was late into her pregnancy with their second son William, otherwise she would have been right alongside him. “I was working 20 hours a day between my day job and working on the house,” Elliot describes.

kitchen before_edited_5101 copy

The kitchen before (top), and after (bottom), featuring new cabinets from the company Deirdre works for, new flooring, and appliances
The kitchen before (top), and after (bottom), featuring new cabinets from the company Deirdre works for, new flooring, and appliances

 

While Elliot skim coated away, Deirdre became the lighting visionary for the property. She hired professionals to remove the knob-and-tube wiring and update all the fixtures—“with LED whenever possible”—except for the art deco-chic globe pendant in the front hall.

The art deco style pendant lamp that Deirdre preserved while redoing the house's lighting
The art deco style pendant lamp that Deirdre preserved while redoing the house’s lighting

 

As every new homeowner since the beginning of time has discovered, the repairs took longer than they thought. William was born before they were able to move into the house, but soon after they settled into their carnival-spectacle-turned-family-friendly home. And they left in a few mirrors, for memory’s sake.

This checkered, mirrored powder room door remains--at least for now!
This checkered, mirrored powder room door remains–at least for now!

New Digs: Craftsmanship and Craftiness in East Kensington

Through the 1960s, Kensington was a manufacturing hub known as “the Workshop of the World.” Step into Jayme Guokas’s rowhomes, and you might think it still is. With Solo, Jayme bought property in East Kensington early and often, securing them at low prices and transforming the interiors.

Jayme was Solo realtor Jeff Carpineta’s first client, back in 2004. Jeff was, and still is, a champion of the East Kensington neighborhood, himself a resident, a leader of the East Kensington Neighbors Association (EKNA), and helped start the Kensington Community Food Co-op. Jayme knew he wanted to buy in the area because he had been priced out of West Philadelphia.

“Jeff did a lot of work for his money for that house,” he recalls with a smile. Together they looked at 18-20 places in the area. East Kensington was affordable at the time, but there was aggreesive competition from speculative buyers pricing out aspiring homeowners on almost every deal. They ended up putting in three offers total, the third time being the charm. Jayme was able to beat the competition and closed in early 2005.

Jeff recalls, “I knew Jayme was a great soul with multiple tremendous talents and wanted to help him drop anchor here. I’m blessed to have him as a neighbor, a client and now a close friend. He’s a bright light in the community.”

When he decided to purchase the house next door a few years later, he reached out to Jeff again, and successfully closed on that property as well. A little over five years ago, he acquired the house on the other side of his original property, and that’s the one you see here; the one that he and his wife call home.

Jayme Guokas in front of one of the three adjacent rowhomes he owns; he and his wife live in this one
Jayme Guokas in front of one of the three adjacent rowhomes he owns; he and his wife live in this one

 

Inside, no surface is left untouched by his unique, sustainability-minded craftsmanship. Hardly any original features remained (or remained in tact) in the property when Jayme purchased it, so he had a blank canvas, and carpentry and other skills to apply to it.

One would assume Jayme has been a carpenter and concrete-pourer from a young age—surprisingly, not the case. His art history degree led him to an administrative job at the University of the Arts, where he was able to take classes free of charge. So he took woodworking. And then took it again. And again. Eventually, Jayme had advanced to the point where he could do the highly skilled work you see here, with the collaboration with his friend, architect Stephen Sedalis.

The living room is decked out in locally-milled wood—including a custom-built window seat—exposed brick galore, restored hardwood floors, and the original mantle, which were some of the only original features salvageable.

The custom built-in window seat in the living room, which cleverly conceals ductwork for the HVAC system
The custom built-in window seat in the living room, which cleverly conceals ductwork for the HVAC system

Proceeding further into the house yields a truly one-of-a-kind kitchen. While conventional home design aesthetics become increasingly sleek and monochrome, Jayme’s kitchen is refreshingly rustic yet modern, and radiates with the warm earth tones of cast concrete, wood cabinets, and ceramic subway tile.

One-of-a-kind kitchen with custom built cabinets, cast concrete countertops, custom-cut slate tile backsplash
One-of-a-kind kitchen with custom built cabinets, cast concrete countertops, custom-cut slate tile backsplash

At the top of the stairs, what looks like (and was) the front door to another house actually leads you into the bathroom. Peak through the mail slot or open the door to find a delightful interplay between a minimal cast concrete and wood vanity and the seafoam-hued penny tile shower stall.

From left to right: Repurposed front door, cast concrete & wood vanity, and seafoam penny-tiled shower
From left to right: Repurposed front door, cast concrete & wood vanity, and seafoam penny-tiled shower

More exposed brick and locally milled wood characterize the music recording room and practice space. Jayme kept the HVAC ducts visible so he didn’t have to sacrifice square footage or ceiling height to soffits. The vertical duct is cleverly hidden in a space built out between two bookcases, creating the illusion of built-in shelving.

Cozy practice and recording space for Jayme's band Glitter
Cozy practice and recording space for Jayme’s band Glitter

The bedroom is soaked in natural light thanks to a massive window constituting most of the back wall, which Jayme resourcefully purchased on Craigslist for mere peanuts. Privacy from the rest of the house is afforded by another reclaimed door. “Contractors are happy to let you take those doors of their hands,” he advises, “I’ve also gotten several doors at ReStore in Port Richmond.”

In the master bedroom, another reclaimed door and an impressively large window
In the master bedroom, another reclaimed door and an impressively large window

The third floor houses an office/guest room hybrid, and a second bathroom with what it quite possibly the world’s funkiest shower. A galvanized cattle feeding trough forms the walls of the shower basin, with poured concrete forming the base, which a cedar platform perches atop. “Everyone wants to use that shower when they stay over,” he jokes.

There's a first time for everything: galvanized cattle feeding trough as shower basin
There’s a first time for everything: galvanized cattle feeding trough as shower basin

Even the backyard is completely customized, with a handmade fence and slate slabs that Jayme salvaged from Palmer Cemetery.

If you’re wondering how your house could ever undergo such a transformation, you’re in luck! Jayme runs a design firm called Craftwork Home that specializes in custom furniture and cabinets, ergonomic modern kitchens, and cast concrete countertops.

His work is inspired by his Bucks County origins, drawing on woodworker and designer George Nakashima, and the arts and crafts aesthetic of Henry Mercer. But the results are right at home here in the former workshop of the world, East Kensington.

From Grandma to Grand in East Passyunk

“Look for grandma houses,” Solo Real Estate’s Alex Franqui advised married couple Leah Rominger and Dave Krevolin. Dave elaborates, “Grandma houses have good bones but bad design.” With Dave being a sculptor and Leah a landscape architect, good bones were all they needed. With Solo, they found them!

 

Leah and Dave chose Solo after meeting Alex at an open house three years prior, at which they’d stopped in on a lark. The couple was immediately drawn to Alex’s honest and approachable demeanor. When they were ready to buy a house, Leah and Dave already knew Alex was the agent they wanted to work with.

 

Alex helped Leah and Dave distill their priorities. Together, they realized it would be better to get more for their purchase price by leveraging the couple’s design and handyman skills. The final list of must-haves consisted of: location near Passyunk Avenue, more than 1,000 square feet in size, and, of course, those good bones.

 

Part of their attraction to the area was Leah’s participation as lead volunteer for the Community Design Collaborative team that created a conceptual redesign of the Columbus Square Park. She felt an attachment to the neighborhood and knew it was where she wanted to buy.

 

After looking at about twenty houses and putting in three offers, the couple closed on a 1,345 square foot home in East Passyunk Crossing with a sound structure filled with “poor 70s design,” as Dave puts it.

 

The living room before, replete with "poor 70s design"
The living room before, replete with “poor 70s design”

 

The short list of such design choices included drop ceilings, carpeting, and wallpaper—even on the ceilings! From their closing date at the end of December until now, the couple, along with friend and fellow sculptor David Markham Gessner, has worked diligently to reverse those design decisions and expose lovely original features in addition to layering on their own, modern touches.

 

The living room after, hard to believe it is the same house!
The living room after, hard to believe it is the same house!

 

“I always underestimate how long things will take,” Dave claims, but for only six months of work, the house has experienced an astonishing transformation.

 

Dave and friend David Markham Gessner enlarged and completely rehabbed the bathroom even laying the tile themselves, and Leah found the clawfoot on Craigslist
Dave and friend David Markham Gessner enlarged and completely rehabbed the bathroom even laying the tile themselves, and Leah found the clawfoot on Craigslist

 

Some of their accomplishments include: removing the first floor carpet to reveal and refinish stunning original oak flooring with inlays, pulling off infinite amounts of wallpaper and exposing brick in the living room and bedrooms, a gut rehab of the bathroom, building a custom bed frame and starting to rebuild the second floor addition.

 

The bedroom, with freshly exposed brick and a gorgeous custom bed frame Dave built as their wedding present
The bedroom, with freshly exposed brick and a gorgeous custom bed frame Dave built as their wedding present

 

Leah and Dave didn’t stop there. Despite having the ubiquitous paved South Philly backyard, theirs is larger than usual. Leah took advantage of this extra space to design, as she puts it, “pop-up beer garden-style furniture,” using repurposed pallets. (Their tip: Target’s parking lot on Columbus Boulevard is a reliable source for pallets.)

 

Dave and Leah enjoying the "pop-up beer garden"-style backyard furniture designed by Leah and built by Dave
Dave and Leah enjoying the “pop-up beer garden”-style backyard furniture designed by Leah and built by Dave

 

The only spaces yet untouched by their refined design aesthetic are the powder room and the kitchen. As for the latter, Leah explains, “We want to live with it first to figure out what it needs.” The only steps taken thus far were installing a new light and removing the fake Styrofoam “exposed beams” on the ceiling.

 

Give Leah and Dave another few months and their former grandma house will be completely unrecognizable, and will be simply grand.