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Rehabbing Your Rowhouse

Bringing an older Philly rowhouse into the 21st century can be challenging. We want to make it easier and more affordable. With 70 years of experience, our agents at Solo Real Estate have managed multiple home renovation projects across the city so we’re sharing some insights on what to look out for in a rehab property, and what you can expect to have to update. 

Whether you’ll be doing a gut-renovation or updating a few things, most row houses tend to have the same problems. They are dark and narrow with small kitchens, postage-stamp-size middle bedrooms, and outdated bathrooms. The secret to home renovation is knowing where and how to open up a space to more light and functionality. For that, you need to work with an experienced architect and contractor who have expertise in rehabbing homes like yours.  

Kitchens & Bathrooms

Even the most livable property usually requires a major makeover of the kitchen and bathroom. If sustainability is your goal, just say no to granite and marble countertops. “Custom made cast concrete countertops and sinks are better for the environment,” said Jayme Guokas, owner of Craftwork Design, a Philadelphia-based design firm specializing in customized living spaces. “Using cast concrete saves material from being quarried from the earth. It has a more hand crafted, warm feeling, especially with inlays of fossils, agate rocks and minerals,” he said.

When Guokas rehabbed his East Kensington row home, an 1880 structure, he conceived of it as a showcase for his business. “The house reflects my firm’s design principles as well as our ethic of sustainable building, using reclaimed and locally sourced materials wherever possible.”  

For example, Guokas used Heart Pine flooring from a South Philly factory and a former livestock tank as a shower base. The cast concrete throughout the house, on countertops, windowsills, and sinks, featured inlaid glass, stone, and antique tile. Guokas balanced the reclaimed accents and poured concrete with contemporary appliances, light fixtures and ceiling fans. Guokas also used custom cast concrete to update the kitchen of Deborah Solo.

Deborah Solo’s kitchen. Photo: Isaac Turner Photography

In his work for Parish House, a 1912 property in East Kensington, Guokas applied principles of sustainability. He created hand-troweled concrete countertops in all six units, as well as concrete sinks in two of the four bathrooms. An antique longleaf pine vanity is made from the beams salvaged from the adjacent church.

Parish House Interior by Craftwork Design. Photo: Isaac Turner Photography
Concrete Sink made by Craftwork Design. Photo: Isaac Turner Photography

Influenced by woodworker/designer George Nakashima and the Arts & Crafts aesthetic of Henry Mercer, Guokas uses birch plywood for kitchen cabinets with creative stain options. A beautiful example is the hand-stained cabinetry he completed for a house on Seventh Street.

Let there be light!

An open floor plan is a popular way to bring more light and flow into your house. Or add a skylight to the living room, kitchen, or at the top of the stairwell. When possible, enlarge windows or select a front door with a decorative glass panel. When it comes to ceiling light fixtures, consider mixing recessed lights throughout the first floor with contemporary or vintage hanging fixtures.

The lighter your walls, the more light bounces off of them. Go with bright neutrals or white. But not just any white. Sherwin Williams offers 48 shades, ranging from cool to warm.  Benjamin Moore has over 300! We recommend bright white for ceilings and a warmer white for walls. If you’d like to add a pop of color, paint an accent wall to create a focus area while maintaining a sense of openness with the surrounding white walls.

Doing away with the cramped second floor bedroom and enlarging the bathroom is an option if you do not require the room as a nursery or office. Another way to open up your home is to create a trendy roof deck with an outdoor spiral staircase.

The Rehab Bible

Before you make any decisions, read the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual, an online, free, homeowners Bible. It clearly spells out how to approach renovations and additions, permits and codes. More importantly, it tells you how to avoid costly mistakes.

  • Don’t try to be your own contractor
  • Don’t work with relatives or friends
  • Don’t work without a written contract
  • Don’t put down more than a 20% deposit
  • Don’t release more than 95% of the total cost before all work is completed to your satisfaction

“Managing over 400 units for different owners, Solo Real Estate is positioned to help row house owners identify reputable architects and contractors,” said Alex Franqui.  “We get multiple bids from contractors. If you have a small job, it’s difficult to find a plumber or roofer. But we do enough business with them that they will handle the job.” 

Interested in purchasing a rehab property? We can help! Learn more about our buying or property investment services here, and contact us for more information.

2126 Locust Street Renovation

When a fire at the building next door damaged Edward Grinspan’s property at 2126 Locust Street, he embraced the opportunity to renovate and reimagine the 8 (now 6) apartments. Grinspan poured thoughtfulness into every aspect of these truly unique apartments, all while preserving the original character of the building. 

 

Grinspan self-describes as a “frustrated architect”. Thus, he approached this remodel as if he was making each unit for himself, or for one of his children. The care taken with every last detail reflects this commitment to quality. Each unit was designed with consideration towards how people will actually live in the spaces.

 

Since all of his kids are avid cooks, he took a lot of advice from them on the kitchen remodels. Each unit features a spacious, light-filled kitchen with stainless steel appliances, dishwasher, and beautiful caesarstone countertops.

 

There are also in-unit washer dryers, plenty of windows, and modern bathrooms.

 

 

Pair these contemporary conveniences with the building’s original details and it’s the best of both worlds with these gorgeous apartments. Preserved features include refinished hardwood floors, restored leaded windows and stained glass, decorative fireplaces and mantels, the stairwell banister, original front door, and brownstone steps and mosaic tiles (an accidental but very special discovery) in the entryway.

 

 

Grinspan hasn’t just combined the charm of an old building with the advantage of modern upgrades. He also employed some creative solutions to tricky problems encountered along the way. For example, in the first floor unit he discovered a structural brick wall that he couldn’t knock out. So, instead he built around it, creating a bonus office space for the 1 bedroom unit and using a tripartite window between the living room and bedroom, inspired by New York City tenements, to maximize light and air flow.

 

Some other innovations made during the renovation were turning two small studios into a sleek bi-level 1 bedroom unit; opening up an underutilized attic to create a gorgeous vaulted cathedral ceiling on the top floor unit; and fabricating a truly one-of-a-kind tri-level 2 bedroom perfectly suited for roommates.

 

 

Grinspan’s attention to detail, care for preservation, and commitment to high quality design are enough on their own to make Solo happy to work with him. However, we have another reason to be thrilled about renting out these apartments. That reason is that Grinspan also just happens to be an old friend of the Solo family.

 

Not only have Edward and Deborah known each other since the two were children, the families have always been close. Grinspan is quick to note that the Solo’s were indispensable in getting him up and running when he originally bought the building in 2000. Solo helped him set up an LLC, taking care of all of the legalese in addition to managing and renting out the apartments. Working with Solo Realty made everything simple and streamlined, Grinspan remarks.

 

We can’t wait to share these exciting new rental units with you coming up this month! See the first available unit here.

 

Help Affording Home Repair

Home repairs can be expensive, as we illustrated in our last post. Did you know that many loan and rebate programs exist to assist with covering these costs? There are even grant programs for low-income homeowners. Solo is here to show you that you are not alone when it comes to repairing your home!

Our realtors are known for making themselves available to their clients after their purchase is complete. If the client has to make an unexpected repair, they can always reach out to their Solo agent for guidance.

As showcased below, Solo has a comprehensive knowledge of home repair assistance programs!

Of course, the easiest and best way to afford home repairs is to save for them.

The solutions below involve applying and being approved for loans, being placed on waitlists for grants, and fronting funds and being reimbursed for rebates—all of which take time.

Having the cash upfront will allow you to address emergency repairs immediately.

But even if you have been diligently setting aside funds, sometimes you may have to use that nest egg for an unexpected expense, or the repair ends up being much more involved than your anticipated, which is where the below programs can help!

LOANS

Worried you won’t qualify for a loan because of your credit score?

The City offers free credit repair with professional financial counselors. Set-up an appointment with a counselor near you by calling 1-855-FIN-PHIL (1-855-346-7445) or going tohttp://www.phila.gov/fe.

 

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Mini-PHIL and PHIL Plus loans

The Mini-PHIL Home Improvement Loan program helps Philadelphia homeowners with less-than-perfect credit obtain the money needed to make energy conservation improvements, emergency repairs or to do small projects. Leftover funds can be used to pay off existing consumer debt.

For general information call: 215-851-1854.

Must apply through one of the City’s free housing counseling agencies:

http://www.phila.gov/ohcd/cslgagencies.htm

 

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Home Energy Efficiency Loan Program (HEELP) Loan

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA)

Applies to specific energy related home improvements (roof repair/replacement; caulking, sealing& insulation; heating/cooling systems repair/replacement; window and door replacements). Up to $10,000 for a term of 10 years at a 1% interest rate. Income limitations apply.

1-800-822-1174

http://www.phfa.org/programs/repairs.aspx

 

Renovate & Repair Loan

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA)

Homeowners or homebuyers can borrow up to $35,000 to make home repairs and improvements, as well as accessibility modifications to their home.

1-800-822-1174

http://www.phfa.org/programs/repairs.aspx

 

ACCESS Home Modification Program

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA)

This program provides mortgage loans to assist people with disabilities, or who have a family member(s) with disabilities living in the household, who are purchasing a home that needs accessibility modifications. It provides a deferred payment loan, with no interest and no monthly payment. The loan becomes due and payable upon the sale, transfer, or non-owner occupancy of the property. This program is used in conjunction with a PHFA first mortgage program.

Eligible modification items may include, but are not limited to, bathroom modifications; installation of grab bars and handrails; kitchen modifications; lifting devices; main level bathroom or bedroom addition; ramp addition or repair; sidewalk addition or repair; and widening doorways or hallways.

800-822-1174 or 717-780-3800

TDD for deaf and hard of hearing: 717-780-1869

http://www.phfa.org/programs/repairs.aspx

 

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Keystone HELP Loan

Keystone HELP® offers low-rate loans to help make affordable energy efficiency home improvements. Homeowners in Pennsylvania who own and are making qualifying improvements to their 1 to 2 unit primary residence located in Pennsylvania are eligible. There is a maximum household income limit of $250,000. Homeowners who live Philadelphia County are eligible for even lower rates through the special EnergyWorks program.

http://www.keystonehelp.com/

1-888-232-3477

 

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Homeowner’s Emergency Loan Program (HELP)

Philadelphia Water

HELP is an emergency plumbing repair program that can be used only when the Philadelphia Water issues a Notice of Defect to the property for a broken water or sewer service line. Loans are zero-interest and payable over a five-year period. Applicant must own and live in the property. Water bill or payment agreement must be current. If a leak has occurred in the water or service line, Philadelphia Water can be called for a home visit to assess the leak and issue a Notice of Defect.

www.phila.gov/water/education/customerassistance

215-685-4901

 

REBATES

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PGW EnergySense

PGW Home Rebates help you lower energy bills and save money. When you invest in a PGW home energy assessment for $150 (a $500 value) and complete eligible work, PGW will pay you a cash rebate up to $3,500 for qualifying improvements.

1-855-PGW-SOLVES

http://www.pgwenergysense.com/efficiencyhome-rebates.html

 

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PECO Smart Home Rebates

PECO Smart Home Rebates offers rebates for replacing older, inefficient appliances, and heating and cooling equipment, with new high efficiency models. PECO rebate applications can be completed online, or mailed along with proof of purchase for the appliance or equipment purchased and installed.

www.peco.com/smartideas

1-888-5-PECO-SAVE (1-888-573-2672)

 

DO-IT-YOURSELF

tool library

West Philadelphia Tool Library

Loans tools to Philadelphia residents so they can perform simple home maintenance, tend their yards and gardens, build furniture, and start projects. Sliding scale annual memberships ($20-50) based on income. Open every Monday through Thursday from 5:30pm to 8:30pm and Saturdays from 9:00am to 3:00pm.

1314 South 47th Street

215-833-3190 or info@westphillytools.org

http://westphillytools.org/

 

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ReStore

Habitat for Humanity

The ReStore is a second-hand retail outlet open to the public to shop for quality donated home furnishings, furniture, and building supplies at a fraction of the original cost, with all revenue going directly back into Home Repair Programs for low-income households.

2930 Jasper Street

(215) 739-9300

http://www.habitatphiladelphia.org/restore

 

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Building Materials Exchange

Impact Services

Provides new and salvaged materials at low cost to low-, moderate- and middle-income homeowners. Free membership allows homeowners to purchase materials up to 85% off store prices. Available materials include: kitchen cabinets, lumber, mirrors, paint, toilets and sinks, used appliances and other home goods, and windows. Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.

124 E Indiana Avenue

215-423-3613

www.impactservices.org

 

GRANTS & SUBSIDIZED REPAIRS

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Rain Check

Philadelphia Water Department

Provides the following for a highly subsidized price: pavement removal, installation of porous paving stones, rain garden installation, and downspout planter boxes.

(215) 971-6151

http://www.phillywatersheds.org/whats_in_it_for_you/residents/raincheck

 

phdc

Basic Systems Repair Program

Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation

Free repairs to the electrical, plumbing and heating systems of low-income owner-occupied homes in Philadelphia. BSRP may also provide free replacement of a house’s roof if major interior damage such as a collapsing ceiling is evident. Resources are limited and there is a lengthy waiting period (3-5 years). Income limitations apply.

www.phila.gov/ohcd/bsrp.htm

Weatherization Assistance Program

Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation

**NOT CURRENTLY ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS**Provides free weatherization and energy-efficiency improvements to low-income owner-occupied and rental units. Services include air-sealing measures; window and door repair; wrapping of hot water heaters, heating pipes and ducts; sealing of basement openings, crawlspaces and chaseways; insulating and air sealing of roof area; repair and efficiency modifications to central heating. Resources are limited and income limitations apply.

215-448-2160

www.phdchousing.org/weatherize.htm

 

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ECA’s Weatherization Assistance Program

Energy Coordinating Agency

Heating, water heating and electricity conservation treatments and helps families save 20%-40% on energy costs. Can include insulation, heater help, new windows, and more! Income limitations apply.

https://www.ecasavesenergy.org/services/home-energy-efficiency/weatherization-assistance-wap

 

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The Other Carpenter Program

Habitat for Humanity

Home repairs for low-income residents of East and West Parkside, Belmont, Mantua and Cathedral Park, Mill Creek north of Haverford. Only for households willing to organize their entire block to apply, applications for individual households will not be accepted. Income limitations apply.

267-284-0310

http://beta.habitatphiladelphia.org/other-carpenter-program

 

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Homeowner’s Program

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia

Repairs for low-income homeowners. Critical repairs, energy efficiency modifications, adaptive modifications for older or disabled individuals, removal of environmental hazards (e.g. lead paint). Serves zip codes 19104, 19133, 19122, 19123. Only for households willing to organize their entire block to apply, applications for individual households will not be accepted. Income limitations apply.

215-568-5044

http://www.rebuildingphilly.org/homeowners.htm

 

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Low Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP)

PECO

Can help customers lower the amount of gas and electricity used. Installs free weatherization measures and provides conservation education.

PECO Customer Service Center

800-675-0222

https://www.peco.com/CustomerService/AssistancePrograms/Pages/LIURP.aspx

 

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Low-Income Conservation Assistance Program (LICAP)

Philadelphia Water Department

Provides water conservation to its low-income customers. This program serves over 1,700 households every year and results in average water savings of 28%. To apply, contact your Neighborhood Energy Center:

https://www.ecasavesenergy.org/resources/neighborhood-energy-centers

 

phdc

Adaptive Modification Program

Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation

Designed to help individuals with permanent physical disabilities live more independently in their homes. It provides free adaptations to a house or an apartment, allowing easier access to and mobility within the home. Modifications include stairway elevators, exterior wheelchair lifts and ramps, railings, first floor full- and half-baths, widened doorways, and lowered cabinets, sinks, and countertops. Available to homeowners and renters. Income limitations apply.

215-448-2160

http://www.phdchousing.org/adaptivemodifications.htm

 

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Senior Housing Assistance Repair Program (SHARP)

Philadelphia Corporation for Aging

Home repairs include replacing exterior doors and locks, rebuilding basement steps, making minor plumbing repairs and replacing electrical switches, outlets and fixtures. Service is offered on a first-come, first-served basis to low-income senior citizens.

215-765-9040

www.pcacares.org

 

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Emergency Heater Hotline

Energy Coordinating Agency

Repairs heating systems for low-income homeowners. Both emergency service and preventative maintenance are provided.

215-568-7190

https://www.ecasavesenergy.org/services/heating-repair-and-replacement/heater-hotline

 

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Veteran Weatherization and Home Repair Program

Habitat for Humanity

Low-cost home repair and weatherization services, you or a household member must be a U.S. military veteran and provide proof of honorable or general discharge. Surviving spouses of veterans are not eligible, but veterans awaiting discharge due to injuries sustained in the line of duty may be eligible. Veteran need not own the home, but the home must be owned by an occupant (not rented), and must be the primary residence of the veteran. Limited resources are available.

(215) 765-6000

MeghanH@habitatphiladelphia.org

 

NCCC

Lead & Healthy Homes Program

National Nursing Centers Consortium

Helps make homes safe for households with children under the age of 7. Includes free testing for and assistance getting rid of pests (bedbugs, roaches), sources of lead, factors causing asthma in the child, and general unsafe conditions.

267-765-2320 or email shawana@nncc.us

No matter what your situation, there is a way to keep your home in tip-top shape!

Opening image: “Installing a Hardwood Floor – Construction” by Scott Lewis – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-2.0 via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/99781513@N04/17316606304.

Home Renovation Costs: What to Expect

When perusing real estate listings, many buyers are enticed by the low monthly mortgage payments projected by websites like Zillow. Aside from excluding property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, those numbers also do not include the cost of home repair. Solo is here to elucidate those costs!

Our real estate agents have an extensive knowledge of home repair and remodeling, with backgrounds in real estate investment, property rehab, and architecture.

When visiting properties, Solo agents work with clients to understand what necessary repairs or desired upgrades will cost. This knowledge is essential for making an informed choice as a buyer!

A general rule of thumb is that the homeowner should expect to pay annually an average of 1-4% of the price they paid for the home for home repair.

Of course there are many variables affecting this number, including the age of the house and the condition when it was purchased.

Based on that rule, a home purchased for $150,000 will have an average of $1,500-$6,000 in home repair expenses per year.

This means the home will cost $125-$500 per month in addition to the cost of the mortgage payment, property tax, and homeowner’s insurance.

A few rowhome-specific costs include:

  • Flat roof replacement: $3,000 – 8,000
  • Wooden cornice, window frame, and doorframe repainting $1,000 – 2,500
  • Removing pavement from backyard: $10/square foot

Choice Home Warranty has created another helpful infographic to help illustrate other home repair costs:

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Please include attribution to Choice Home Warranty with this graphic
Please include attribution to Choice Home Warranty with this graphic

 

Combined with the earlier Choice Home Warranty infographic we featured on the lifespan of different home appliances and upgrades, these repairs can be anticipated and saved for, making them manageable.

When you’re prepared for repairs, you can enjoy the opportunity to make upgrades to your abode!

Opening image: “Custom Kitchen Island with Range” by Sitka Projects – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-2.0 via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sitkaprojects/5052101012

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: DIY Dreams Come True in South Philly

Unlike many buyers, Caitlin Perkins was not looking for as much square footage as her budget could buy. Nor was she looking for recently rehabbed. Caitlin was looking for a house as small as possible with a sound structure, in South Philadelphia, to be her canvas. Solo found her just the place.

 

As a mixed-media artist, print maker, and painter, she knew she could peel back wallpaper, pull up carpet, and build furniture. Aside from structural integrity (and a basement), her priorities were size and location—and not in the typical sense.

 

As for size, Caitlin was inspired by the sustainability of the Tiny House Movement and originally sought to purchase a genuine “tiny house” on wheels (usually around 170-300 square feet), and a vacant lot to park it on. However, no bank would give her a mortgage for a house with wheels or vacant land.

 

Then a colleague pointed out that many houses in South Philadelphia fall within the tiny house criteria of 172-875 square feet. Added bonus for Caitlin was the fact that her employer, Fleisher Art Memorial, participates in Philadelphia Home-Buy-Now, an employer down payment matching program providing assistance for employees purchasing homes, typically near the workplace—in this case, zip codes 19147 and 19148.

 

The tiny house (left) and Caitlin, the tiny house owner and visionary (right)

 

With her budget and specifications in place, she needed a realtor to help her find and buy her future canvas. Caitlin reached out to several agencies to set up introductory interviews. “Deborah Solo was the only agent who took time to meet with me in person,” she recalls. “Everyone else was too busy to bother and just sent me a brief email back.” Deborah, on the other hand, thoughtfully walked her through the home buying process before Caitlin had even committed to being her client. Caitlin was sold.

 

Deborah was able to quickly identify properties that met Caitlin’s criteria and budget. Within a few showings, they found the perfect property in the Whitman section of South Philadelphia, and immediately put in an offer. Two other developers also put offers on the house. Deborah encouraged Caitlin to write a personal letter to the owners in addition to going in at the full asking price that the developers were offering. The letter worked, and the seller selected Caitlin’s offer!

 

Did we mention that the house, weighing in at 728 square feet, had drop ceilings, wood paneling, velvet wallpaper, and 30-plus year old carpet? In other words, in Caitlin’s eyes, “I knew this was the perfect house.” On March 1st, a week after closing, she began peeling back the layers on the walls, floors, and ceilings in the house to get down to the original structure, with the help of her friend and handyman Tom Karu. Caitlin began adding her custom, creative finishes from there.

 

The dining room before (left) and after (right). Caitlin cleverly painted the wood panelling and installed new pine flooring to bring this room into the 21st century

 

By the time the photographs were taken for this article in mid-May, Caitlin had made an astonishing amount of progress. Exceptionally astonishing considering she did all the work on the property while working her full-time job. “I find it energizing,” she explains.

 

Only an energized individual could remove five layers of flooring from the living room, layers of wall paper from each wall, lift drop ceilings, build custom kitchen shelving and countertops, patch plaster walls and use the historically accurate technique of lime washing.

 

Caitlin built this sideboard (left) out of a wall cabinet from the kitchen, and crafted a bedroom closet (right) with three folding chairs

 

Out of these and many more accomplishments, the only thing that temporarily thwarted Caitlin was the staircase. “It almost broke me,” she recounts, “it had carpet, then linoleum, then several layers of paint and adhesive…it took forever.” The results of her hard work? A house that is a Pinterest DIY dreamscape, and a homeowner who lost four sizes in the process!

 

The stunning kitchen counter, custom-made with metal pipes, butcher block, and a repurposed cabinet

 

Not only has the house itself been a canvas, Caitlin also plans to use much of the space in the house to create art in. The front room will be primarily a painting studio, the basement a printmaking studio, and the second bedroom is her writing room.

 

The living room, desperately in need of an update before (left), elegant modern painting studio after (right)

 

We may have to make a second visit to Caitlin in a few months, at the rate she’s enhancing the property, it has many more dramatic transformations to come! She has already decided that creating a water-saving washing sink in the bathroom will be her next project.

Pink Bathrooms: To Praise or Raze?

Pink bathrooms were ubiquitous in the 1950s. Many have since been deemed “horrendous” and been demolished, but a fledgling movement is on the rise to save them or even recreate them.

The question is what would you do faced with a pink bathroom? After reading this article, you may not be so sure…

Supposedly popularized by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, SaveThePinkBathrooms.com estimates there were at one point as many as 5 million of them in the United States.

The trend was solidly underway by 1953 and faded out of fashion by the early 60s.

Nowadays, on home design tastemaker outlets like Home & Garden TV (HGTV), a pink bathroom would be the first thing to go on a typical renovation show.

Two preserved pink bathrooms, in all their retro glory

Why the resurgence of appreciation for powder pink-hued powder rooms? Much of it can be credited to the increasing popularity of mid-century modern (MCM) design.

Pink bathrooms get grouped with the mid-century renaissance along with Eames chairs, retro credenzas, and artichoke lamps.

The Eames chairs, lamp, and coffee table are all relics of Mid-Century Modern design

While some purist may argue for keeping the bathroom as authentically MCM as possible—the founder of SaveThePinkBathrooms.com had one rebuilt from scratch identical to originals from the period!—others tout blending the old with the new.

Though pink tile can be polarizing—people tend to love it or hate it—it can also be toned down or played up to meet the tastes of either camp.

If this has piqued your interest in pink privies, you can find one in our current listings: 829 Cross Street in Passyunk Square.

Bold wallpaper gives pink tile a contemporary feel (left), which could be done with the bathroom of 829 Cross St. (right)

The lucky buyer will be faced with an important decision when it comes to their new bathroom: to praise or raze?

The first three pink bathroom images courtesy of RetroRenovation.com, pink tile with black and white wallpaper courtesy of Lonny Magazine.

New Digs: Brewerytown Renovation Part Two

Finding beautiful hardwood floors under nasty green carpeting was one of many big surprises that Ashley and Thomas in renovating their first home. We’ll explore these and other unique moments in Part Two of our New Digs: Renovation series.

For Ashley and Thomas, removing that tired carpet was just one of many necessary leaps of faith taken during their first home renovation process. While they lucked out with the home’s hidden hardwood floors, other surprises and tough decisions were frequent and not always so positive.

“We really had to learn how to roll with the punches” Ashley says with a laugh.

The new house, a Brewerytown rowhome purchased for under $50,000, needed some major work done. The newlyweds were smart enough however to know they needed a good contractor to handle not only this older property’s known issues, but also those surprises as well. After getting some lowball offers, they found a local contractor who was both realistic about their budget and, just as importantly, a good listener.

Basic renovations to the plumbing and electrical systems came first. Even then though, Ashley and Thomas were eager to add their own touches. When remodeling the kitchen for example, they chose to have the sink face out towards the dining room: that way they could talk to guests while doing the dishes and ultimately better incorporate the kitchen into the flow of their home.

With so many of these needed and technically complex renovations going on, the newlyweds knew it was important they stay informed even if they didn’t quite have an opinion/choice in the matter. “I just had to keep telling myself ‘You are allowed to ask as many questions as you want’” Ashley says “and I’m glad we had a contractor who got that.”

Once the big-ticket changes were made, the couple got their chance to make some more fun, cosmetic changes. Raising the ceiling in the master bedroom, restoring an original skylight in the bathroom and scrapping the ancient wallpaper for fresh paint helped personalize and brighten their new home.

Sitting in their beautifully renovated living room, Ashley now has the chance to wax philosophical about the whole renovation experience. “You learn you have to go through open doors and if you come across a closed one, well, you find another way forward.”

To see Ashley and Thomas’ fully renovated home, check out the video below.

New Digs: Brewerytown Renovation Part Two

New Digs: Brewerytown Renovation Part One

Buying and renovating a home is tough business, especially for first timers. In this two part series, we’ll meet Ashley and Thomas, newlyweds who recently purchased a house in Brewerytown and got to experience the ups and downs of the renovation process.

Ashley, a mental health therapist, and Thomas, a youth soccer program director, were renting in Fairmount when they decided it was time to test the waters of home ownership.

They set about to make their limited budget work in the nearby (and up-and-coming) Brewerytown and Francisville neighborhoods. “There are some great opportunities around here if you’re willing to do the work” Thomas notes.

After seeing a number of homes in need of serious TLC, Ashley and Thomas got a call from their Solo Real Estate agent to come see a rowhome just north of Girard before developers scooped it up. The two rushed over and quickly made an offer on the 3 bedroom / 1 bathroom house. While it took several anxious weeks for their offer to be accepted, they eventually settled for just under $50,000.

The newlyweds however quickly realized they needed to keep their vision in line with their finances. While their FHA 203k loan was enough to make the major updates the house needed, they knew they’d have to be smart about which cosmetic changes they could afford to undertake. Finding the right contractor to help make these big decisions was key, too.

Keeping an eye trained on the big picture and the small details then, the two were ready for the challenge of transforming their new Brewerytown home.

Check out the video below to see Ashley discuss her new house while it was under construction. Also, stay tuned for our next article in this series to see this couple’s dreams for their home meet the realities of the renovation process.

New Digs: Brewerytown Renovation Part One