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.