Sunday, December 21, 2014

Haven: On century-old home, a DIY job

HAVEN | 105-year-old Fishtown house gets cleaned, painted, fixed up mostly by its owners.

The living room in the home of Joe Horan and Kate Davis-Horan. Both architects, they knew how to go about updating the space while keeping the charm.
The living room in the home of Joe Horan and Kate Davis-Horan. Both architects, they knew how to go about updating the space while keeping the charm. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
The living room in the home of Joe Horan and Kate Davis-Horan. Both architects, they knew how to go about updating the space while keeping the charm. Gallery: Haven: On century-old home, a DIY job

Architects Joe Horan and Kate Davis-Horan spent much of their first months as a married couple five years ago using scraping tools and hammers to remove plaster and bricks from a wall separating the kitchen from the living and dining rooms of their new house in Fishtown.

Joe, who is employed by Kimmel-Bogrette Architecture + Site, and Kate, who was working for a small New Jersey firm at the time, moved in two months after the wedding.

They'd had little money to buy in Fishtown, their desired neighborhood, and the house hunt had taken about nine months. But the couple, who met in Drexel University's architecture program, knew what they wanted.

"We have very similar aesthetic tastes, and we found most of the houses we saw had no charm," says Kate.

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  • A narrow, alley-like street "with its quiet little houses" was just the ticket, Joe says: "We had seen all sorts of drywall boxes that we didn't like. When we saw this house that was built in 1909, it won us over."

    It was, Kate adds, "something old where we could put a modern feel inside." When she first saw it, she says, she exclaimed, "This is our house!"

    At 20 feet across, it was wide for a rowhouse, but dark where the wall separated the dining room from the kitchen. The latter room had another problem: The refrigerator took up half the space.

    So on nights and weekends, the newlyweds changed the lights, removed the plaster, cleaned and painted the five rooms in their 1,200-square-foot dwelling, and felt lucky to have bought the rundown property, a bargain, from a longtime owner.

    Kate, who is from Pitman, and Joe, who hails from Oxford Circle, said it was important to them to make sure the house was comfortable and welcoming to both their families.

    "It was important to both of us also to maintain the charm of the old house," Joe says.

    They were relieved to see they had very little, other than cleaning and painting, to do in the large bathroom, which came complete with a vintage claw-foot bathtub.

    Joe and Kate hired a mason to finish removing the bricks in the kitchen and to install a steel frame around the new opening between the spaces.

    "The steel frame is a reminder of the industrial past of the neighborhood, and just looks right against the bricks," Joe says.

    The result of their efforts is a seamless creation that colors the walls of the 105-year-old building in modern, muted hues and bathes them in light.

    Behind the kitchen, where the warmth of wood countertops balances the cool of stainless-steel appliances, a former porch has been enclosed and transformed into a place to house their refrigerator and washer and dryer.

    "It is nice having the kitchen as a work space and not a storage place," Kate says.

    A patio has been reborn, as well.

    "It was a dumping ground," Joe says. "I used some leftover tiles from a '60s Mitchell/Giurgola building we were renovating. The patio is now a nice place to garden and barbecue."

    Kate and Joe "flipped" the interior living spaces so that strategically placed tables and the soft brown sofa with white pillows - where the couple likes to have meals or watch television - are situated adjacent to the kitchen.

    Their high brown mahogany dining table and chairs sit under the front window.

    "We liked having the living room near the kitchen, and it doesn't matter if the dining room isn't quiet," Joe says.

    Upstairs, Joe and Kate painted their bedroom a gray that contrasts boldly with the grid-like white trim of a compartmentalized closet that stretches across one wall of the room. It replaced a tiny pocket closet original to the house.

    By doing much of the work themselves, the couple probably saved an amount equal to the price of the house itself, Joe estimates.

    An affordable and now comfortable home for Joe and Kate and their pit bull mix, Zeus.


    Diane M. Fiske For The Inquirer