A how-to on renovating the cities' finest oldies

With the green architecture movement taking the housing industry by storm, there's nothing more eco-friendly than buying and restoring an old house or even updating the one you have.

Ingrid Abramovitch's new book, Restoring a House in the City: A Guide to Renovating Town Houses, Brownstones, and Row Houses (Artisan Books, $40), offers an outline for work at any stage of the renovating process with the goal of satisfaction with the final product. Philadelphia is a prime location for applying the ideas in her book, the author said.

"Philadelphia is a city where the streets are just lined with historic townhouses," Abramovitch said. "There are up-and-coming neighborhoods, and . . . comparatively with New York, they are also very affordable."

The book highlights the history behind 21 city-home renovations. They range from old-meets-new "Simply French" in Brooklyn Heights to "minimalonialism" in Philadelphia's Society Hill. The wide range of homeowners include actress Julianne Moore and a photographer.

While working on the book, Abramovitch was referred to the Minima Gallery in Old City. When she contacted the gallery, Minima had just finished designing a 3,300-square-foot Colonial house from 1763 in Society Hill. The renovation took nine months, in a style called minimalonialism, a bold blend of minimalism and historic colonialism that Minima presented during a 2005 show at the gallery.

Minima owner Eugenie Perret said that, as in most renovations, unforeseen issues arose.

"We had many hidden structural issues," she said. " . . . The shutters were painted so many times they didn't function anymore, and the windows didn't open. But it's about taking those and making that work."

In addition to providing guidance on solving such problems, a focal point of the book is bringing life and sometimes modern flair to old homes.

"There's something romantic about old spaces," Abramovitch said. "A lot of people covet the old spaces people have. There's something about the lifestyle of living in an old house that's very appealing to a lot of people."

Between the histories of the homes are informative restoration notes - how to work with windows, woodwork, brickwork.

One aspect of restoring is keeping to a budget. Abramovitch offers recommendations for getting inspectors and making a priority list; the stories of others who restored their homes provide pointers, too.

"Most people didn't do it in one fell swoop," Abramovitch said. "They tackled one thing at a time. It's not only good for your budget but also the environment. It's good to store and recycle what you have already."

With color images and a Buyer's and Renovator's Guide, the book is intended as a one-stop source for everything restoration.

Abramovitch started working on the book three years ago as an editor at House & Garden, where she worked for 10 years before becoming a senior editor at Artisan Books. She graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and later worked at Martha Stewart Living as a senior editor and writer. Today she contributes to the New York Times, Elle Decor, Cookie, the Wall Street Journal, and Departures.

Throughout her involvement with house-related journalism, she said she never saw a comprehensive book about renovating city homes. She moved with her family to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn and decided she wanted to write that book about renovating old brownstones and other townhouses into attractive and practical homes.

"I wanted it to have a lot of layers of information so that if you had that book, you have everything you need," Abramovitch said.

For Perret the book "gives an inspiration that it can be done. It doesn't have to be so costly, or long in the renovations. . . . It just really gives people ideas of what works well."


Contact staff writer Jeff Davidson at 215-854-4193 or jdavidson@phillynews.com.