This old house gets a fine new place to play

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The finished basement features a polished concrete floor in the home of Jon and Jessica Moore in Philadelphia on Aug. 18, 2016.

Jessica and Jon Moore's busy life became easier when a 1,000-square-foot basement renovation added a playroom and storage space to their five-bedroom, 133-year-old Victorian in West Philadelphia.

The additional space was badly needed. The couple, both computer professionals, are the parents of four young children.

"We wanted a place for the kids to play and a storage space for food and my canning," Jessica says.

The children, ages 3 through 11, had play space on the third floor, but "that didn't work when the kids got older," she says.

They needed a spot where their friends could come and visit. A spot that also could be used as a family room, and where Jon could host poker nights and the couple could watch television.

Plus, their 3,000-square-foot house didn't have enough storage room. Until last year, Jessica ran a business called Philly Cow Share, which involved groups buying a percentage of a whole cow from a farmer, who would butcher and prepare the meat. Group members then received packages of frozen beef that could last a year.

(Jessica sold the business and now acts as a consultant in the organic-food business, using her computer expertise. She and Jon met as students in a University of Pennsylvania graduate computer program. He now works for Comcast.)

So in addition to needing a place to store the periodic shipments of meat, Jessica needed room for the large jars of tomato sauce she puts up for the family's Friday pizza dinners and jars of peaches for favorite desserts. Their kitchen had been renovated in 2008, but it couldn't accommodate everything that needed to be stored.

To achieve their house goals, the Moores hired architect Kathryn Dowdell, principal of Farragut Street Architects, who lives in the neighborhood and was familiar with large West Philadelphia houses.

"We had been thinking of renovating the basement for a long time, but there were huge columns in the middle of the space supporting the floor above," Jessica says. "We left town while the work was being done. I wasn't afraid of the house falling down, I was afraid it would catch on fire."

Neither happened.

Dowdell designed a space to solve many of their problems.

"The basement was a typical West Philadelphia unfinished basement with a rough stone wall," she says. "We put 22-foot-long steel beams in the ceiling to replace the columns," she says. "This opened up the area and created a big space, which can't be found in these old big houses."

The renovation included designing and installing a pantry for all those jars, as well as polishing the concrete floor. At the end of the room stands a gigantic steel freezer capable of holding enough meat for the family of four for at least a year.

Walk up a flight of wooden stairs from the basement to the first floor, and it's easy to see why Jon and Jessica chose this big Victorian.

In the living room, a 5-foot-high gilt-framed mirror is the first thing you see. It sparkles in the middle of the room, done in brown and green, and reflects the high bay windows.

"We were lucky that the former owners didn't try to cover the metal in the room with paint," says Jessica, adding that they "saw many of our neighbors spending all their time removing paint."

As with other Victorians, the rooms in theirs were very small. So in 2008, the Moores hired architect John Holland to combine the dining room and kitchen.

He designed an island to replace the wall between the two rooms. Everything seems to emphasize the tall windows that show the garden outside.

Jessica says the move she and Jon made to West Philadelphia in 2003 "worked out well."

"We love the neighborhood and the beautiful large Victorian houses," she says.

Having the additional play space for the kids makes it even better.

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