When Donna Pancari and Kevin Parker stumbled upon the circa 1800s brick trinity in Queen Village in 2005, they were intrigued. They had seen their share of duds, including a house with a tree growing through the roof. But this was unique: a rowhouse with only one shared wall, a southern exposure, and a playground and tennis court across the street.

“It has such life in it and is so beautiful,” said Pancari, 48, who was moving from Westmont in Camden County. “We were able to comfortably move in and slowly make the changes we wanted.”

The house includes a small outdoor patio, with a wooden wall for privacy.
The house includes a small outdoor patio, with a wooden wall for privacy.

In a 200+-year-old home, there was plenty of structural work for them to do, including replacing exterior doors and windows, repointing the brick to replace rotting grout, and updating electrical work and cracked, leaky pipes. “We were really on borrowed time,” she said.

With the help of contractor Buckminster Green of Philadelphia, they completed a half-dozen projects over 12 years to turn the 1,160 square feet into a comfortable space that fits their lifestyle, while still keeping with the home’s historic origins.

“We were interested in environmental efficiency and reuse of materials — the salvaged wood, recycled tile and brass,” Pancari said. “But we also wanted to have elements that connected one floor to another.”

Donna Pancari and Kevin Parker like to spend snow days in their cozy basement.
Donna Pancari and Kevin Parker like to spend snow days in their cozy basement.

Upon entering the home, a staircase leads downstairs into a cozy den with a wood-burning fireplace. The couple, both ninth-grade English teachers at Washington Township High School in Gloucester County, enjoy this space especially on snow days. Even though the room is below ground, the area gets natural light since they removed bunko doors and added a door with glass panes.

The basement also includes a large pantry where the couple stores food they grow in the community garden or buy in local farmer’s markets.

One flight up on the main floor is the kitchen, gutted and remodeled into a space where the pair can now easily cook and entertain. In addition to removing a half bathroom within the small space, they added an induction range, a countertop made from recycled paper, and high efficiency appliances, conveniently laid out for optimal use.

“Before, when the dishwasher door was open, if you were at the sink, you were trapped in,” recalled Parker, 42.

The kitchen includes a throwback SMEG refrigerator and an antique file cabinet.
The kitchen includes a throwback SMEG refrigerator and an antique file cabinet.

Adding open shelving saves space and a hidden pullout stool behind the kickplate helps Pancari reach the top shelf.

“People say things get too dusty, and you’re not going to want your things on display, but once we carefully calculated what we were going to put there, we went with the usefulness and aesthetic benefits,” Pancari said.

A throwback SMEG refrigerator and antique file cabinet harken back to the home’s origins. “As English teachers, we thought the cabinet’s card catalog top was cool,” she said.

Up one more flight is the guest room, adorned with Parker’s guitars and a full bathroom. Up another flight of stairs is the master bedroom and bathroom.

The guest room is adorned with Kevin Parker's guitars, which he still plays on occasion.
The guest room is adorned with Kevin Parker's guitars, which he still plays on occasion.

The couple especially enjoy spending time on their patio with their 4-year-old cats Viola and Sebastian, named for the twins in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

“It was unique to find outdoor space in a house this small,” Pancari said. A recently added 6-foot wooden wall helps keep out noise from the restaurants and delivery trucks, and a fountain and string of lights add soothing ambiance.

The couple met on the job in 2001 when they shared a classroom. They began dating on Halloween night in 2003. Not only did they discover that they shared many passions, including food, theater and literature, but coincidentally, their grandmothers had roomed together on a seniors' trip to Italy. The couple shares that love of Italy, traveling there every other summer for vacation.

Pancari and Parker commute together to and from work in South Jersey but try to quit the shop talk once they cross the bridge.

“I especially respect and appreciate him as a colleague in our department,” Pancari said. “We don’t just teach together but we teach the same thing.”

At home, they enjoy spending time alone but also sharing their carefully renovated home with friends and family. “This is a much more welcoming space for other people,” Pancari said.

Is your house a Haven? Nominate your home by email (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.com.

The narrow patio provides a hidden retreat for the couple.
The narrow patio provides a hidden retreat for the couple.