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.


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.

New Digs: Coming Full Circle to Passyunk Square

Sometimes realtors can interpret what their clients want before the clients can. “If you told us we’d move to this neighborhood when we first started looking we’d say ‘no way,’” recount Amara and Dave Hahn.  But Solo Real Estate’s Kevin Rodricks knew Passyunk Square was a good fit based on the Hahns’ desire to live somewhere walkable, with connectivity to the rest of the City, and restaurants and activities nearby.


Amara and Dave are originally from “all over,” or in other words, Boston via Palo Alto via Boston via Chicago, where they first met. Dave’s acceptance into law school at the University of Pennsylvania and Amara’s ability to transfer her non-profit consulting job brought them to Philly. Buying was the obvious choice due to their desire to set down roots coupled with the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s unique financing options.


As for the style of house, they knew they wanted a rowhome, “it seemed very Philly to me,” recalls Amara. A move-in ready property without generic upgrades were must-haves; if the property was to have any signature detail Amara and Dave wanted it to be historic, not Home Depot. Hardwood floors were also a must. Carpet? A deal-breaker. A decent-sized kitchen and a third bedroom rounded out their list of wants. Luckily, this list could be satisfied by housing stock in many corners of the City. Which meant location-wise, Amara and Dave had options.


Amara & Dave Hahn (left) in their new living room, and their open floor plan living/dining room (right), a hallmark Philly rowhome feature the Hahns love


The Hahns were open to anywhere that met those three qualifications of walkability, connectivity, and activity—another list satisfied by many Philadelphia neighborhoods. What followed was a whirlwind tour of the City to narrow those potential neighborhoods down.


Dave and Amara had seen a property in Passyunk Square, but weren’t drawn to the neighborhood from their quick drive through it. Instead, they were initially attracted to Mt. Airy until Kevin showed them the schedule for the train line required to get downtown from there. After that, Mt. Airy was out.


On to West Philly, Fairmount, Brewerytown, deep South Philly! While they found many contenders, no property perfectly matched both Amara and Dave’s home design and neighborhood desires. Kevin encouraged them to give Passyunk Square another chance, and this time to get out of the car and walk around. Amara and Dave spent an evening dining at the local restaurant Izumi and were sold.


Finding the home that met their needs soon followed: in fact, it was Kevin’s wife Justine who found it, after also becoming invested in the Amara and Dave’s search. During the week while Amara and Dave were in Boston, Kevin and eventually Justine as well would “preview” properties so they could rule out those that wouldn’t be worth the Hahns’ limited weekend time.


After previewing five other properties one day, Kevin and Justine arrived at a two-story Passyunk Square rowhome with a classic brick façade, hardwood floors throughout, sufficient kitchen counter space, and the third bedroom that sometimes evades two-story rowhomes. Kevin and Justine turned to each other and said “it’s perfect,” and Amara and Dave agreed.


Amara & Dave’s must-have’s included ample kitchen counter space (left) – check! – and a 3rd bedroom (right) – check!


As a bonus, their charming home is located on a beautiful tree-lined block in close proximity to a grocery store, an asset that was not a “must-have” but which they are quite grateful for in hindsight. After 50 home viewings and 11 round trips from Boston, Amara and Dave came full circle to Passyunk Square!

New Digs: Committing to Passyunk Square for the Long Haul

You know you’ve bought the ideal home when you never want to move out of it. “Not only is this our first house, but our last,” jokes recent homebuyer Carly Goodman. Her husband, Andrew Thomas, puts it more bluntly: “We want to die in this house.” The couple’s interest in remaining in situ is not only due to an appreciation of their unique find, but also witnessing Carly’s grandparents’ experience of homeownership into old age.


A PhD program in history and law school at Temple University brought Carly and Andrew, respectively, to Philadelphia from Brooklyn about five years ago. Their initial impression of the City of Brotherly Love? “We visited Philly when we were accepted into Temple, and had the best time, and have been having a great time ever since.”


As their commitment to Philadelphia deepened, homeownership became a practical next step. Not only were Carly and Andrew prepared to commit long-term to Philadelphia, but also to a certain neighborhood, and, once they found it, to their house. Which indirectly explains their strong desire to have a powder room:


“It’s very uncommon to find a powder room on the first floor of Philadelphia rowhomes,” they realized. It was that lack of powder room that forced Carly’s grandparents to leave their Northeast Philadelphia home once her grandfather was no longer able to walk up the stairs. Thus a powder room was placed high on their list of “must haves” while house shopping, and in that respect their 3-story rowhome in Passyunk Square does not disappoint.


Carly & Andrew’s timeless brick facade (left) with black accents, and a view of the living room from above (right) facilitated by an unusual double-height ceiling with a walkway that hugs the second story perimeter


Beyond the powder room requirement, their new digs met a remarkable number of the couple’s “must haves”.  Foremost on the list was location; Carly and Andrew knew they wanted to live in “this quadrant of the city.” As former renters in nearby Washington Square West, they love Passyunk Square’s proximity to Center City as well as its local offerings such as Nam Phuong Restaurant and Devil’s Den.


Carly and Andrew worked with Solo Real Estate’s Alex Franqui, who respected their desire to look at as many homes as possible within that quadrant. The ability to look at a multitude of houses familiarized Carly and Andrew with which features were important to them and what square footage they wanted. While plenty of rowhomes were on the market in their desired neighborhood, they found that many were cookie-cutter rehabs and soon realized they didn’t want to buy new construction or a gut-rehabbed property.


Upon first visiting their current home, they were practically sold. It was an owner-occupied property, full of unique detail, and satisfied their remaining “must haves” with its large kitchen, outdoor space, and move-in ready status. Only one step remained: the approval of Andrew’s mother, an interior designer, and father, a real estate lawyer.


Some of the “must haves” in Carly and Andrew’s new digs: a sizable kitchen (left) and unique detail (right) such as this second story walkway and windowsill reading nook


On the day they were scheduled to visit the property with parents in tow, everything seemed fated against them. Despite torrential downpour and a blown-out tire, Alex ensured that Andrew’s parents were able to see the property, which fulfilled the essential last requirement: they loved it.