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Meltem Birey has an eye for rehabbing Philadelphia properties.
“I see them as a gift box that’s full of potential and possibilities,” said Birey, an architect, real estate investor, and owner of FLOTSAM+JETSEM, a studio of art and design.
Birey, who has flipped and lived in a number of homes in Center City, decided to venture northeast to Fishtown in 2007 when she came across a late 1800s property on Shackamaxon Street, which is right off Girard Avenue.
“It had many cool features – an outdoor space, a curved wall,” Birey said. “That’s what made me pay attention to it, that’s what made me see it. It had cool fireplaces and really big rooms. I could see that it could be a fantastic property once it was actually rehabbed.”
Birey said the home was falling apart, as it had not been given a lot of care since it was renovated in the 1970s.
But she imagined the “gift box” to be a place where she could house her studio, a place where her dog could run freely in the garden, and a place she could call home.
In just four-and-a-half months, Birey completely renovated the home with the help of professionals.
“I touched and rehabbed everything except the exterior bricks,” Birey said. “Everything had to be done – the ceilings were collapsing, the floors were falling apart.”
In the kitchen, which Birey says was barely functional when she got there, she opened some walls to make the cooking area, dining room and sun room one large open space where she could entertain a large gathering.
On the third floor, the 7-foot ceiling was elevated into a cathedral ceiling and some walls were knocked down to enlarge the space.
“I redistributed the loads in order to achieve the 14-foot uninterrupted ceilings,” she said. “When I first saw the space it had multiple rooms and a hallway.”
Now the large open room serves as Birey’s studio where she operates her business.
She also put in walnut floors from Carlisle on the first and third floors, and restored oak floors with mahogany inlay.
Renovating the outdoors was a whole other adventure.
When Birey purchased the home, the outdoor space was filled with debris. Over the course of two years, she removed the trash and transformed the area into a secret garden.
“It’s lush,” Birey said. “There are so many rose bushes and a vast amount of daffodils that open up as soon as it becomes spring. Something is always blooming.”
She also planted a yellow magnolia tree – which is now 30-feet tall – that can be seen from the master bedroom.
One of her favorite additions is the outdoor bathroom, which is attached to the home and looks into the garden.
“It’s floor-to-ceiling marble,” Birey said. “I used a type of marble that looks like a forest floor. I conceptualized it as a box of nature.”
After spending six and a half years in the Fishtown home, Birey is relocating her home and business to Florida to be closer to her family. She has put the home on the market for $919,800.
Birey said she enjoyed experiencing a different part of the city in Fishtown, as well as rehabbing many properties over the years.
“It’s wonderful because you contribute to your neighborhood something that was at one point wonderful and just needs your help,” Birey said. “When I first moved in [to the Shackamaxon Street property] my neighbor came across the street and hugged me and said, ‘I’m so glad someone is taking care of this property.’”
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