A Home Run


After more than a year, 1312 N Dover Street is finally finished. Well, almost. There are still a few punch list items, but today, it is officially for sale!

Restoring this home was a huge challenge and a labor of love. Along the way, I developed some serious home-building skills. I also learned some valuable lessons – when to be patient and when to be pushy; how to stop second-guessing and be decisive; how to ask the right questions.

Okay, now on to the fun stuff: the staging! Some of the furniture is rented, some of it is my own stuff. I staged the closets with brand name clothing – shirts from Brooks Brothers and Charles Tyrwhitt; even  cute pair of red polka dot espadrilles – all found at Goodwill!

The listing went live on Thursday evening, and already there are buyers who want to see it on Saturday. The open house is on Sunday. I am super excited!




“We got to move these refrigerators…”


Okay, so it’s cliche. But that old Dire Straits song is my ear worm, two days and counting! And for good reason – the kitchen looks great. We eliminated the long side panels enclosing the fridge and, thanks to Terri’s spectacular idea, cut it into pieces to trim the microwave cabinet. She also picked out the counter top – a white quartz with a little bit of sparkle – and the gray penny tile for the back splash.

Terri was my good luck charm and right hand sister the entire week. The chandelier she chose for the front entrance plays beautifully off the brick wall, which she pointed while I was out on a real estate photo shoot.  Adam was happy Terri was around, because she let him play hip hop.  Today I finally found the nerve to put up scaffolding and finish the brick wall, suspended ten feet up, over the staircase. Yep. Did that. I felt like the men in that old photo, eating lunch on a beam in the sky. But the wall is finally pointed, in 50 shades of gray grout. It looks ancient. My back will pay for it tomorrow. But it was deeply satisfying to not fall back on Chris and Adam for a task I swore I’d do myself. Plus, grout is a great exfoliant. My hands are so soft.

The closets are amazing, again thanks to Terri and her top-notch Elfa design skills. I’m going to stage it with clothing and shoes, some of it from thrift stores, because my target buyer loves ‘vintage.’  The powder room is still a work in progress. With the tile in place, the circles in the light fixture are fighting with the penny tiles. But I’ll see what happens after the grout is applied (*sigh* more grouting).  A side mounted mirror – the kind with the folding arm – is the only thing that will work in this tiny space, and not mess up the flow of the tile work.

Dinner in Chinatown

Now that the house really looks like a house, I’m emotional about it. I think about how much I wish both mom and dad could see it. Dad would have been all over the construction, and mom would have helped stage. It’s been nonstop lately: 12- to 14-hour days of constant movement, decision-making, paperwork, and shopping for building supplies. Yesterday I asked myself: “What is my life that I’m buying toilet paper from Lowe’s?”  But I always find time for prayer and meditation, and it keeps me sane, focused, and balanced.

Until next time,

Peace and Love!  – Valerie


Power Tools

Sweat equity (n): contribution to a project in the form of effort and toil

When I was a teenager, I recall my dad and his four brothers renovating my grandparents’ house. It was hot that summer, and the work was tough. The brothers had to finish in a week. They hammered and sawed until sundown. All, except one brother. My least handiest uncle had one job: Beer. Buy it, bring it home, keep it ice cold.

Knockout handsome, my uncle was a gifted pianist, a gracious host, and one of the kindest and most loving people you’d ever meet. But he did not know the business end of a screwdriver, unless it was made with vodka and orange juice.

I can definitely relate to my uncle. While my crew performs daily engineering miracles, my job is to drive to Lowe’s and buy stuff for them. And dole out checks. But yesterday I got my hands on a lovely device, the electric jack hammer.

It’s an intimidating piece of equipment, and it makes a huge racket. But that chisel blade turned a thick concrete wall to dust and rubble.  Now there’s brick along the stairs to the basement. And although my shoulders ache, I feel good about my sweat equity.  There’s something nice about coming home tired, opening a cold bottle of suds, and taking a long shower.



A Backyard Paradise

Here is the rear porch of the project I’m working on in Philadelphia.

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This is the only spot that has finishes in place – stacked stone ledgers, cedar decking and rails, and the bead board soffit.  My architect’s original design failed the zoning restrictions for setback distance and floor height above grade. It took over five months to redesign, submit, and get the city to approve the new drawings, by far the project’s worst delay.

Then, about a month ago, I found out that classifying the space as “rear open porch” instead of “deck” would allow me to keep the original square footage and height. So after months of heartache and costly delays, we end up building a rear open porch, using the original drawings. Yep. Simple as that. Took me only five months to figure that out, but live and learn, have a beer, laugh about it.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It is a rare look for this city – with most townhouses, it’s out the back door, down a few steps, and onto either a concrete patio, or that lovely inlaid brick from the late 1800s with the moss growing in between. This home had neither. This home had dirt and rubble. A rusty back door propped up by a derelict washing machine, leading to a heaping pile of car tires and beer bottles.

So, yeah, it was easy to re-imagine something entirely different for this space.

The first floor of the house is only 450 SF, and setting the porch floor at the same height as the kitchen floor was a point on which I did not want to compromise. Having everything at the same level adds livable square footage when the doors are open, and visual extension when the doors are closed.

Some aspects of my design came from a builder colleague (and fellow New Yorker), Mark Pfeffer. His houses feature steel framed window walls opening to the back. I wanted that look, but without the steel frame budget, and french doors solved the problem. (Notice how I totally bit his front door idea as well?)

Next up, we sand and treat the cedar, and put in the recessed lighting trim. Then it’s back inside to start drywall installation.

The Big Dig

As I leave the job site this morning for a breakfast break, the plumbing subcontractor has started excavating a sizable chunk of Dover Street. Of course, all my neighbors ignored the “Police: No Parking” signs, but with some diplomacy and door-knocking by Ezra, my right-hand dude, we did not have to relocate the cars.

It’s noisy and dusty, and no place for a lady. So of course I’m heading right back out there. How can I not?  I could go spend my money on a designer handbag and a mani/pedi. But not today. Today I bought a backhoe!

The Freeze and the Blues

Winter is finally here. And it’s not good.

It is the worst time to build a house. Mortar doesn’t set. Paint doesn’t dry. The rapid freezing and thawing has cracked my new concrete basement floor. For months, I pushed to get the house sealed and get the heat working before winter set in. But without a functional sewer line, I can’t pass inspection and start the interior work. That’s a big speed bump.

“Uh, there’s gotta be a sewer line down here somewhere…”

This is all part of a valuable lesson I had to learn. Planning around the “unknown unknowns” is an art.

But I’m always the optimist, so here’s positive news: the rear porch is framed out, the floorboards are being laid, and the stacked stone is looking mighty good.

The original back wall was sloping and crumbling, due to years of water damage. L&I made me tear down and rebuild the entire rear elevation, both the first and second floor. We literally cut off the back of the house and rebuilt it. So I thought: “Why not French doors!” It brings in the light; it’s unique for this neighborhood; and with the deck at the same height, in warm weather you can fling these doors open and extend the really small kitchen.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I should probably have the plumbers bring a gas line out here. Hmm…




My very first post

Welcome to my blog. Here you will find updates and insights into my housing development projects. Well, project. Singular. 1312 North Dover Street, to be exact.

There will be lots of photos, because transformation is really the sexiest part of all this. I will also post about construction, in case you need help falling asleep.

The row house I’m rebuilding is located in a section of Philadelphia called Brewerytown. Before the gourmet coffee bars and pizza joints arrived, this neighborhood was just part of North Philadelphia. And before that, back in the 1920’s, it was home to several large breweries. Now it is one of Philadelphia’s most highly-sought-after neighborhoods, located just 2 miles from Center City, and bordering Fairmount Park.

When I bought the house, it was in terrible shape, and had been abandoned for many years. Neglect and leaking water caused so much structural damage, I had to tear down the entire rear elevation, including a big chunk of the second floor.

Now that the structural work is complete, the plumbing, HVAC, and electrical are getting roughed in, and rear porch construction starts tomorrow. It’s going to be a beautiful home!