Category Archives: Just for fun

My April Fool’s Mansion Revisited

This weekend I was in the Wissahickon Valley Park (highly recommended) for a short hike. On the way back there was no choice but have a look at the place that surprisingly many people actually believed that I bought 2 1/2 years ago.

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This house is in Pelham, a section of Mount Airy that was one of the first planned suburban residential developments in the country. There is a mixture of detached homes and twins but all of them are set back from the street like in a modern-day suburb, but with cooler houses than most. If you’re a little older than me and used to watch Thirtysomething, that show was set in Mount Airy.

Below, note the inappropriate replacement windows on the first floor. If I lived here, these would bother me much more than the windows with glass missing.

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It’s pretty fancy for a colonial! Oh, and there might have been a little water damage here and there. (Photos with watermarks came from the MLS)3255092_103255092_5

But how about today?

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The stucco and pressed metal cornices are good as new! Looks like the original windows have been replaced, which is kind of sad. But it also looks like the replacement windows have been replaced, which was the most important thing in the world. But… I think I spot single panes of glass in the fanlights where there used to be really pretty patterned muntins. It doesn’t look like they cut corners with this place so I’m gonna assume that they had storm windows made and are using them to seal the house while the original sashes are out for restoration. I hope I’m assuming right. Also, how do I get to see inside?

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On Deplorable Screeds and Window Dressing

I write about problems like my terror of having the back exterior stuccoed in a texture that doesn’t look old. Sure, there are real problems that I care about, but there’s always someone who knows more about them than I do. And aside from what I know well enough to write about it, avoiding controversy is an important way to stay happy day to day.

Then on Saturday there was a canvasser coming around to register voters. My dad and I were chatting with him a bit when a neighbor let out an unhinged screed of misogynistic insults and unhooded racism, as well as bad words including the one that’s been all over the news this past week. You can ask me to e-mail you if I’m being too subtle. My standards are lower in a closed message. But it gets worse. He had the Irishman’s 3 and 5 year olds with him. Hopefully they didn’t pick up on all of it.

My roommate was downstairs, too, at this point. The three of us just stood there. I said something snippy at the end but didn’t stick around to find out if he heard me. Standing there might have been the way to put this situation to bed but I’ve been stewing over it ever since. But what would be worth doing? Saying nothing was bad but saying something could be oh so much worse. In the end all I could come up with was, well, window dressing.

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I’d say the signs lend a little class to my grotty façade. Now I can’t take credit for the orange Halloween lights; that’s my roommate’s doing. But I am proud of the DIY typesetting job I did for the sign on the right (which shouldn’t be controversial by the way). Microsoft Word really isn’t made for this. And after being on a war path for a couple days I think I’m ready to have an argument if I must. After all, this screed wasn’t just disgusting. I’ve sung my praises of this tidy little block and seeing someone chased off of it with the most disgusting insults possible is downright embarrassing. Plus, those kids next door may have to hear more than their share of ugliness, but it can’t hurt to throw a little wholesome discourse into the mix.

Well. I’ve drifted really, really far from the intended point of this blog. Next week I’ll be back to normal things like the missing parts to my vintage light fixtures. I promise.

Opening the Crooked House to the Public!

I’m gonna be on a house tour! Or actually better than that, a beer tour. This one will be especially interesting because the whole group moves from house to house on a schedule. That means I can expect about 70 people. And remember, this room is basically the whole house.

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So this should be interesting. But I’m excited. Also I’m relieved to be early enough that if it spills onto the sidewalk people won’t hate me.

And because I’m sure you’re either dying to come (or devastated to be too far away), here’s the event information!

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The East Point Breeze Neighbors Association (Formerly Newbold Neighbors) will be hosting their 10th annual ‘Beer Tour’ fundraiser on October 15th. The wildly successful and fun event attracts about 100 attendees each year.  The Beer Tour is a wonderful opportunity to meet new neighbors, eat great food, drink delicious beer, and tour some of the wonderful homes in the Newbold area.

Starting at 5:00 on Saturday, October 15th, we will journey through 5 different houses in the neighborhood.  Each house will feature food paired with 2 different beers. At the first house, each ticket holder will receive a pint glass designed by a local neighborhood artist, a map outlining the remaining homes and the beginnings of a good time. This event is 21+, so please bring your ID and make sure to buy your tickets in advance as the Beer Tour always sells out early.

East Point Breeze Neighbors is a non-profit civic organization established in 2007 serving residents, owners, and businesses in the Point Breeze area of South Philadelphia west of Broad St. to 18th St. and south of Washington Ave. to Passyunk Ave. EPBN strives to engage residents, support sustainable development, promote local businesses, and strengthen our community through clean streets, greening efforts, public safety, planning, zoning, and outreach. The money raised on the beer tour goes toward community efforts like Big-Belly trash cans, block clean up days, and supplies for the community garden.

Event Details

Who: East Point Breeze Neighbors Association

What: 2016 East Point Breeze Beer Tour

When: Saturday, October 15, 2016 5-10pm

Where:  Newbold section of Point Breeze

Why: Meet your neighbors and help raise funds for community improvement projects.

How: Buy your tickets through this link: https://www.universe.com/events/10th-annual-east-point-breeze-neighbors-beer-tour-tickets-YGN1L4

There will be a 50/50 so please bring some cash.

Atlantic City – How do you restore a historic kitchen?

You’ve seen a lot that needs to stay in this house. What needs to change? The kitchen.

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Now, in the 20 or so years since I’ve first seen this I’ve come around to steel cabinets and chrome dinette sets. Retro Renovation often features people who send them out to auto body shops or powder coaters. But there’s gotta be a point of no return somewhere. And the fridge in front of windows is absolutely unacceptable. Also, a 6000 square foot, 10 bedroom house needs a kitchen that’s comfortable for several people cooking for at least 24 people.

Right off the kitchen is a fantastically intact butler’s pantry!

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When I was younger I thought let’s keep that sink and those cabinets and otherwise overhaul the space. Right behind the wall in the picture above is a small alcove leading to the den and butler’s pantry. Take all that out and you’d have this view right from the kitchen.

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And taking the wall out would give you room for a big island. But now I take all this back. I might be up for altering the butler’s pantry cabinets. It looks like they were altered before. Look at the unfinished side of the cabinets above. Right now it’s set up for a separate freestanding fridge and freezer, though there must once have been an ice box. I’d want a single fridge and more dish storage here. The drain can stay though!

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And the not-so-huge kitchen? It’s actually a fine space. Obviously this contraption stays, as do the buzzers in the bedrooms!

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I’d get rid of the table and move the stove and fridge to interior walls where they’re not blocking windows (or breaking building codes). Then to get better flow I’d add a second door opening from the kitchen to the butler’s pantry, right across from the breakfast room door below.

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Try to picture the breakfast room looking like a glassed-in porch. I know it’s hard – it’s the worst room in the house right now.

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There’s even a door to the outside behind the paneling to the left of this door:

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Another idea my friend’s mom had was reworking the back stairs to connect the kitchen directly to the roof of the garage.

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Right now this house has no back yard so this would give you a place to grill where you’re not right up against the street. It’s an interesting idea. But it would cost a lot. You’d probably have to cut a larger stairway opening and shrink one of the bedrooms. And there’s already a gap in that parapet where you could access the garage roof from near the back door. It’s not direct but it would do. And plus, the narrow nooks and crannies in the servants’ parts of this house aren’t what we’d build today, but they’re part of what makes this house interesting. And with 6000 square feet to play with, there’s definitely room to say these quirks matter. Plus, this kitchen has so many windows I wouldn’t want to give up this wall space.

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As for the style of the room, I’d say anything goes. The butler’s pantry ought to be fully restored including authentic reproduction tile wherever the existing material comes out and custom cabinetry if any is added. The main kitchen on the other hand will never be authentically 1919.

Now one more thing. I’m pushing for preserving as much of the old as possible in this house, but the truth is that I wouldn’t hold it against anyone to modernize this part of it if that’s what they want. After all, it’s not 1919 anymore and even millionaires are unlikely to have live-in servants. But no matter what happens, I want the world to see the back rooms as they were. What would you do if this kitchen were yours?

Atlantic City again – Preserving the Interiors

Now that I’ve scrutinized every detail  of the exterior let’s have a closer look inside. You’ve seen the magnificent hallway.

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Critically, I can’t see any water damage in here since I imagine that helical curved plaster would be especially hard to replace. The only big job to do with this plaster is make sure the electrician doesn’t rattle it off the lathe with a Sawzall. (Ask me how I know.)

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Then let’s proceed to the living room. It’s massive. It has fantastic original light fixtures. But you see the 2 holes in the ceiling? There are bathrooms up there. (You may want to enlarge these panoramic shots)

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I wanted to get a better look at the polychrome paint on the chandeliers, so I wiped one off with a damp cloth. The paint came off with the dirt, I recoiled in horror, and that was the end of that. If this were my house, I’d immediately take them all down for restoration.

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Then there are these built-ins. My friend’s grandparents bought the place and did some light remodeling around 1960. I want to like the weirdness of mismatched styles, but I just can’t come around liking these. Plus, to make way for this bookcase they got rid of the cross set on the left side of the door trim (which is replaceable).

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And a sconce, which may or may not be. Paging Ross. Though they put a lot of original bits in the basement when they took them out. The original could still be around.

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Then in the dining room, once again part or all of the ceiling has to go. And once again the really bad spot is underneath a bathroom.

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You need a better look at that chandelier.

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Then there’s the den. In here we have another fantastic light fixture. Some of the oak paneling is warped from water damage, but I believe just a few panels of good oak plywood and a careful staining job would undo the damage. (This photo was from the listing and can be found here on Old House Dreams.)

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And mandatory ceiling light closeup.

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Also this fantastic desk.

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Then off the den is the conservatory or breakfast room. This room is a blank slate. The French doors were boarded up and covered with paneling to make room for record storage, the floor covered with the type of asbestos tile that reminds me of school, and then it got lots and lots of water damage. I’d try to clean up and reinstall the casing around the doors because it wouldn’t be cheap to replace.

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Then because this post is already long let’s look at the bedrooms. There are 10 of them. Of those, 4 have very little wall space thanks to fantastic French doors everywhere.

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Some of these also have circa 1960 lights that I’m totally on board with keeping.

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Then there’s what my friend’s little sister called the spook floor. She had a point.

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All I can see is fantastic irregular shapes from that Mansard roof. But she does have a point.

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My sister’s boyfriend did this epic house staging.

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I also love that the original 1919 furniture just got shoved up here in the 1960 remodel. And yes you read that right. They have the original owners’ stuff from 1919! Given this light fixture, it’s clear that this was a servant’s bedroom.

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Then there’s this gem. A closet of light fixture globes!

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But where are the fixtures? I bet they’re around. Here’s one!

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We’re still not done, so see you next time.

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Restoring the Exterior Back in Atlantic City/Imagination Land

Back in imagination land, there are a lot of details on this house that (to me) absolutely cannot change – or have to be changed back – and some of that will be hard. But I like hard. So let’s start at the top.

The roof is terra cotta tile glazed green. There are fancy finials on all the gables – but with one or two missing. And there are box gutters integral to a fancy stamped copper cornice.

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You probably missed the ugliness. Here, have a closer look.

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The roof has been leaking for decades, and the salt spray has blasted holes in the outside of the cornice halfway around the house. You’re looking at a lot of money right here, probably about $300,000.00. It’s a good thing this house sold for a million dollars cheaper than similar houses in the neighborhood. An inaccurate roof and cornices would be really, really sad. Better than demolition of course, but sad nonetheless. And so if this were my house, it’s a no brainer. I’d save my money on things that don’t matter, like the kitchen.

Is there a way to save money on this that’s wouldn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out? Could we re-line the gutters with new copper, make spot repairs on the cornices, and leave the fancy corbels with holes in them? That would certainly be better than an inferior replacement.

Moving downward, you saw the big porch with the big balcony on top of it.

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But doesn’t it look a little off?

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Clearly it was redone. Badly. It looks like the cracks were patched up but re-cracked, and original detail was stripped off. And I have a treat for you!

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So what can we see from this photo?

  1. D’aww!
  2. Yes, that tiny woman had all those kids.
  3. A parapet! Here’s a closer look.

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So, I have a feeling it’s time for a new porch, and not a cheap one. We can’t know for sure what the parapet looked like, but the garage gives us a pretty good guess. There is a little more fanciness in the unaltered corner of the porch against the wall if you look back at that. (And also the garage clearly has issues, too.)

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Then, I said there are 11 Juliet balconies. And there’s a big hazard with these. The railings are too low to meet code.

And I have a story. Once I got locked out on one of these Juliet balconies. I squeezed through the aluminum storm door and never noticed that it was locked. I asked my friend’s little brother, who must have been like 3, to let me back in, and instead he locked me out on the next one over. And then I got upset and so he CLIMED OVER THE RAILING to be in the same one as me.

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So pretty scary, right? Nope, that’s not it. After all, this scariness would never have happened if the tacky storm doors weren’t there. So I don’t blame the railings for any danger. No, I’d be scared that I’d be required to bring them up to code. Especially since some of them definitely have to come down for restoration.

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So what to do here? Exemptions? Leaving them as is and repairing them without permits after the project is done? Temporary railings that come down the day after the inspection? Everything is on the table except permanently altering them to meet code. As Boar’s Head says, compromise elsewhere.

And… one more essential is missing from the front entryway. Can you tell what it is?

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It’s those piers with not-so-big flower pots on them. They are for the original lights. But we’re saved! They were in the garage!

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And then there’s one restoration I probably wouldn’t do. Originally the terrace had pretty tile. (Also my friend’s dad on a trike.)

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Let’s Pretend We Have My Favorite House

I’m terrible at picking favorites. Ask me my favorite color or food and I’ll tell you I can’t pick just one. You’d think I’d have just as much trouble with houses. But you’d be wrong. This has been my favorite house for a solid 20 years.

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It’s in Atlantic City. More specifically, it’s in the nice part of Atlantic City. It’s the third house from the beach.

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And it’s huge and fancy. But it’s not the hugest or fanciest house I’ve ever been in, I don’t even want a big house, and I’m not really a beach person anyway.

So what is it?

Well, sentimental attachment. This house used to belong to a good friend’s grandmother, and after thinking a 50’s Cape Cod was a palace, I was in awe.

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Of course you love this foyer. But imagine seeing it for the first time when you were 6. And now imagine running all the way up to the top and pelting things at your sister.

And there’s this thing! It still works! (Or at least it did last year.)

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And back then I thought circular flow was the gold standard of a nice house. Though our house didn’t have it, my grandparents’ homes did, and I’d run in circles in them. I will never forget the sound of my grandfather’s hutch rattling as I ran through the dining room. But in THIS there are so many rooms, alcoves, doors, and stairways you can do figure 8’s! And with 4 Jack and Jill bathrooms, 2 of which open to the same bedroom, you can even get through 3 different bedrooms without going into the hall! Plus, most of them are original (from 1919) and completely wrecked! My 2 favorite things.

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And the balconies! So many of them! I believe there are 11 Juliet balconies, plus 2 large ones off 4 of the bedrooms and a partially covered wrap-around terrace downstairs to which all the front rooms except the dining room open.

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And then every room was jam packed with weird stuff that had been there for decades.

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The original owners took off for Europe and sold the house to my friend’s grandparents with much of the original furniture included. They then incongruously modernized some of the décor in 1960, and then basically let the place rot.

And really, there’s no better way for a house to win my heart than to need saving really badly. This house sold last year for $250,000. That’s about a million dollar discount versus a house in good condition. I have no idea what’s being done to it but that means that by rights it will be cost effective to save it.

I kind of want to knock on the door sometime, even though I’d be scared to actually do that. But I’ve pondered on how to restore this place for years. Before I know what happened to it, I want to go through what I would do. So this summer I’ll have a few posts where we can pretend that I’m a multimillionaire and that I want a shore mansion. This imaginary Chad does a lot of entertaining. I can’t figure out why else he’d want a 6000 square foot house with 10 bedrooms. But because he’s still a lot like the real me, he doesn’t care a hoot about having huge bedrooms and bathrooms and he’s going to keep the upstairs more or less the same as it is now. Maybe I should also consider what I’d do if I could have flipped the place to resell. Of course, this flip would be atypically preservation-minded and unprofitable.

So next time we’ll talk in a little more detail.