A canine on the front door knocker guards Joe and Elena Cappella’s home with a menacing scowl. The canine basking in the sun behind the glass storm door is more sweet-tempered. Nessie, a Sheltie, loves to watch other dogs and their owners walking to nearby Schuylkill River Park.
The Cappellas purchased the door to let in light -- and for Nessie, a certified therapy dog who deserves pampering. For several years, Elena and Nessie have entertained patients at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and elsewhere.
When she is not working or observing street life, Nessie runs next door and cuddles with a stuffed toy Sheltie in the master bedroom. The Cappellas' home in Fitler Square is actually two connecting structures built a century apart.
The older building, a brick rowhouse, was constructed about 1900. The adjacent garage -- with a den and garden in the rear and a master bedroom, dressing room, bath and small deck upstairs -- was erected on a vacant lot about 2000.
Researching the properties, Elena, a retired lawyer, discovered that her block was once called Factory Street, presumably for the industrial buildings then situated along the river. The modest two-story rows may have been built for factory foremen.
Before moving here in 2005, the Cappellas had lived nearby in a modern house. "It had seven levels with lots of steps, and no bathroom on the kitchen level,” Elena recalls.
Their current home has a convenient powder room and other benefits, including “lots of light and proximity to the river,” says Joe, a professor at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. He bikes to work, but the garage does house a car.
“How else to get to the Shore?” he quips. Elena reminds him that he sometimes takes the Atlantic City train from their vacation home in Brigantine.
The Cappellas strive to be eco-friendly. Almost all their furnishings were acquired at estate sales or secondhand shops, including a settee and matching chair with violin-motif wood trim in the living room, the mahogany dining chairs and a table that extends to sit 14, the peach upholstered furniture in the den, and the teak and oak furniture in the three bedrooms. A neighbor was throwing out the glass oval that's now a table top in the Cappellas' breakfast room.
Previous owners of the house had added the glassed-in breakfast room and a shelf-lined study upstairs. They also renovated the kitchen with walnut cabinetry. The Cappellas installed new granite countertops last year.
When Joe and Elena purchased the home, floors were covered with white carpeting. Pulling them up revealed top-nailed parquet downstairs and pine floors above. For the master bedroom, Elena chose a floral-patterned cream-and-green wool carpet. “It doesn’t show the dirt,” she says.
White carpet even covered the sides of the garage. The padding protected two cars the previous owners managed to squeeze in. With just one car, Joe and son Jeffrey lined the walls with storage shelving and had room for a workbench.
Besides assisting with carpentry, Jeffrey contributed to the décor. His clay pots are displayed on the fireplace hearth downstairs, and a bright poppy painting adorns a wall upstairs. Other art, such as two Korean ink-and-wash paintings in the living room, were gifts from Joe’s students.
The Cappellas also have a daughter, Elise, a grandson, and three granddaughters. Joe was raised in upstate New York; Elena in Brooklyn. They met at Le Moyne College in Syracuse.
Her mother was a seamstress. His father was a tailor. “Joe and I both had great outfits for our college dances,” Elena says.
The couple’s three granddaughters loved to bathe in the Jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom, whose twin toilets, sinks and bidets, and shared shower and tub were admired by participants on the Center City Residents House Tour in October.
The Cappellas’ granddaughters are too big to take baths together now, but the tub is great for bathing Nessie, who must be clean for her visits to CHOP.
“Because you can get to the tub from either side of the bathroom, I get on one side and Joe gets on the other,” Elena says.