… and another that may be a Furness

In Riverton, two Philadelphia transplants energetically repaint and rehab an 1880 house they believe was designed by Frank Furness.

Bob and Aggie Kennedy are redeeming their home's 19th-century glory through restoring wood and removing aluminum siding.

Bob and Aggie Kennedy traded their 1,500-square-foot rowhouse at bustling Third and Bainbridge Streets for a rambling 1880 Victorian in tranquil Riverton.

"We wanted something a little bigger," Bob Kennedy says as he studies the house from the sidewalk on a hot July morning. (Actually, it's about four times larger than the Philadelphia abode the couple left more than eight years ago.)

"We wanted a Victorian with a garage, and a nice, big kitchen, and air conditioning - you know, something that was finished," says Bob, a consulting engineer.

"We walked through this one, and it had shag carpets, dropped ceilings, and ugly green paint everywhere inside," Aggie says.

"No garage, old bathrooms, and an old kitchen," Bob adds. "And we ended up loving it."

Though they don't have the documentation to prove it, what they bought is probably a house designed by Frank Furness.

"When we were thinking about buying it and we found out it was potentially his house, we asked George E. Thomas, who coauthored the book on Furness, to come over and look," Bob says.

"We videotaped him walking through the house, talking about all the Furness accents that are here. When he walked out of here, he was about 95 percent sure that it was a Furness house."

Aggie points out that their house has many of the same elements the Furness-designed Emlen Physick House in Cape May does. And a first-floor mantelpiece is just like one at Knowlton, the Furness estate in Northeast Philadelphia.

"It likely was a product of his firm," Bob says.

A former special-education teacher, Aggie Kennedy has spent untold hours collecting data to guide the restoration they've undertaken, as well as "pulling down drop ceilings and pulling up shag carpets and repainting."

With about one-quarter of the house finished and furnished, the Kennedys have turned to the exterior. For appropriate paint colors, Aggie checked the Internet and magazines.

In the 1950s, Bob says, the owner decided that cladding the exterior in then-newfangled aluminum siding was easier than painting. But "because they only installed the white siding up to the stick trim around the windows, the appearance of the house was still that of a Victorian."

Over the years, there had been other exterior alterations. The square two-sided porch had been rounded and a porte-cochere added. The square columns bracketed to the porch roof were replaced by rounded ones and the brackets removed.

Though complete exterior restoration isn't out of the question, siding removal, insulation and painting became the Kennedys' focus last year.

"We knew we didn't want a white house, but when I scraped it down, all I could find was cream or white," Bob says. A late-19th-century photo in black and white "and all the scrapings showed . . . that the trim was darker."

Removing the aluminum siding revealed some olive cedar siding. "But olive wasn't our color, so we decided that we weren't going to go with the original, but choose something that we liked," he says.

For help, Aggie found an exterior-paint consultant, Robert Schweitzer of the University of Michigan. For a basic fee of $550 and using photographs and other facts the Kennedys provided, he made recommendations.

"We haven't followed everything exactly as he suggested, but he did provide us with plenty of useful information," Bob says.

They chose the base color - a lightened version of Sherwin Williams' Foothills, a brown - with the help of a Haddonfield homeowner whose house they passed on one of their "looking for ideas" trips.

"The owner asks to borrow my penknife," Bob says. "He then gets down and crawls through some prickly holly bushes and cuts out a chip from the basement window and hands it to me."

The Kennedys gave the chip to one of their painting contractors, Bob Hall of RJH Painting in Delran, who was able to match it.

Preparation for this phase of the restoration started in March, when Greg Maute, of Bill Maute Insulation in Riverside, removed all the aluminum siding, then punched holes in the exterior to pump in cellulose insulation.

The insulation will make the paint job last longer, "because it prevents moisture from passing through to pop and crack the paint," says Hall, who painted the house with Kevin O'Shea of Affordable Image of Delran.

Any cedar siding that was rotted or split was replaced by Maute.

Hall spent a month scraping and power-washing and filling in all the nail holes created when the aluminum siding was installed. He and O'Shea began applying oil-based primer in late May, then began spraying on the base coat.

For various pieces of the trim, they used unlightened Foothills, actually a dark brown; Teal Stencil, a light aqua; and a light brown Maison Cream. The green on the doors is Koi Pond. (All are Sherwin Williams colors.)

In all, more than 60 gallons of paint were used.

After the prep work, the toughest job was the third floor, with its peaks and valleys and nooks and crannies. O'Shea and Hall had to set up scaffolding and ladder jacks to get to the hard places.

Still, with spot touch-ups, the paint should last 15 years, Hall says. "Mother Nature takes care of everything sooner or later."


Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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