Victorian restored to glory

Eric Reisman fell in love with the house in Ambler at first sight. Then the hard work began.

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Eric Reisman on the front porch of his 1910 house in Ambler with his dogs, Deco and Athena. He bought the house in 1987. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

Eric Reisman went house-hunting because he wanted a dog. "I really just wanted a backyard," he said. "The house just happened to be attached to it."

Reisman had rented apartments in Chestnut Hill and Fort Washington for years, but on their initial outing, his real estate agent introduced him to quaint Ambler and he fell in love with the first house he saw, a sweet Victorian with an ample backyard that could be his on a limited budget.

"I saw great potential in renovating that house," said Reisman, a copywriter who ran his own business for 25 years before joining United Healthcare in the spring.

Little had been done to the interior or the exterior of the charming, 1910 three-bedroom. Reisman took ownership in November 1987, and two months later brought home a collie puppy he named Souad, Arabic for "to be happy."

Twenty-two years later, Reisman's labors have yielded a home for himself and his regal collies (two live there now) and a period house that is a showplace for his well-edited collection of art deco furniture and art and accessories from that era.

Before he could dress the place up, Reisman stripped it down to its essence.

Right after moving in, he learned that the bathroom pipes were severed. He worked alongside a friend with plumbing skills to repair them and install a new shower.

Reisman took on the dining room himself. It suffered from a redecoration gone awry: paneling and a drop ceiling that made the room dark and dreary. "It was like a mausoleum in there," he says. Down both came, and a window was replaced with French doors and a stained-glass transom.

The backyard was barren and beat up when Reisman moved in: "There was nothing but a couple months' worth of grass there." Slowly, he created natural-looking beds along its perimeter and in front of the house, and installed a brick walkway.

Because it was built in 1910, the house lacked some of the typical Victorian trim. Reisman added shutters and brackets and ball-and-spindle accents on the front porch. He found a company in Texas to custom-make it all.

"I took some liberties when it came to the trim and what to put on," Reisman said. Then he painted it purple and pink, earning it an affectionate moniker, "The Easter Egg House," from Susan Reisman, his sister-in-law.

Inside, he scraped decades of paint off moldings and doors and stained and coated them with polyurethane. Now, the glistening original woodwork complements stucco walls painted in deep earth tones.

For the master bedroom, he researched wallpaper and chose a geometric Frank Lloyd Wright print. Original World War II recruiting posters decorate the walls.

The main living spaces are where Reisman's love of collecting is evident. When he bought the house, he had one art deco coffee table. Many yard sales, estate sales, and trips to Adamstown later, his house is a trove of well-edited furnishings and accessories.

All come with great stories, including the deco table left at the side of the road in Mount Airy after a yard sale. He offered the owner $15.

To house his electronics, Reisman commissioned his sister-in-law's cousin Mark Hughes, an accomplished wood craftsman, to build a piece of furniture. The resulting tiger-maple-and-walnut entertainment center, with curvy stainless-steel inlays and Bakelite pulls, took a year to make.

"I like the [art deco] era because it represents an optimistic and promising vision people had towards the future," Reisman said. "It's represented in the bold, streamline look in everything from furniture and architecture to cars and fashion."

Not from that period, though it looks as though it could be, is his Schwinn leather chair with lights and replica fender arms. A decorator friend of Reisman's found the chair, made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Phantom bicycle.

Throughout the house are seven oil, pastel, and pencil pieces by his artist sister, Lisa K. Reisman of Germantown (http://lisakreisman.blogspot.com/). There is a street scene of Manayunk called Morning Walk, a watercolor of his house done when he first bought it, and a still life of favorite deco accessories.

Reisman also has framed newspapers touting the opening of the 1939 World's Fair (found in a friend's father's garage) and a deco cabinet holds his collection of World's Fair pins and salt shakers, Bakelite boxes, and napkin rings. On a shelf, colorful Hall China Co. pitchers from the 1930s are displayed.

Reisman has another, more unlikely collection: rocks picked up during two climbs he has crossed off his "bucket list" - Mount Kilimanjaro and an area within a couple of miles of Mount Everest.

Looking around his place, he said succinctly, "The house is really a reflection of my interests and tastes and love of travel."


Is your house a Haven?

Tell us about your haven by e-mail (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.com.

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