Three inches below Stacie Koroly's right knee is a scar roughly the size of a nickel. It's a souvenir of sorts, earned in a fall from the back steps during the yearlong renovation of her sprawling Victorian house in Media.
Among their many projects, Stacie and her husband, Joe, have ripped out walls, sheared off wallpaper, sanded floors, and even rebuilt the 755-square-foot front porch that graces the five-bedroom house on East Lincoln Street they bought in April 2007.
"What drew us to this style of house is our love for Victorians," says Stacie Koroly, 35, a Realtor and the mother of three young children. "The character, craftsmanship, pocket doors, moldings and high ceilings were all things we admired."
Nine years ago, the Korolys got engaged at the Humphrey Hughes House bed-and-breakfast in Cape May. They honeymooned at the Queen Victoria and the Dormer House there.
"We were hooked on Victorians ever since," she says. "We wanted to find one we could renovate and make our own."
On a rainy morning, the couple sits side by side on a sofa, in what was the parlor back in the house's glory days. Dressed in sweatpants and T-shirts, they are taking a break from Saturday plastering, patching and cleaning projects to reflect on exactly what possessed them to buy the dilapidated, 3,000-square-foot gem in the first place.
"I was driving through the neighborhood looking for Victorians with potential," Stacie says, between sips of water from a coffee mug. "I saw this house and just pulled over."
The house wasn't numbered; there was no sale sign. And Stacie vividly remembers noticing trees growing through both sides of the front-porch ceiling.
"I put my [business] card in the door and went across the street to the neighbor and asked if he knew anything about it," she says.
It turned out the three-story house was, indeed, on the market. It would mean a shorter commute to Joe's pharmaceutical-industry job in Center City than from where the Korolys were living in Malvern, as well as a return for them to Delaware County (Joe is from Drexel Hill, Stacie from Broomall).
And so began a whirl of events. Joe and Stacie walked through the property and refined their vision of how to restore its original grandeur. Then they made an offer and - against the advice of almost everyone who knew and loved them - purchased the place. They would have to sell the Cape they owned and move their three children, Joe, 6, Katie, 4, and Evi, 2.
"This was our third renovation in six years, so we had some idea of what to expect," says Stacie. But along with roof leaks and plumbing issues, there were surprises that popped up almost daily.
The wraparound porch was falling to pieces. In fact, the left side of its roof had collapsed. Before they replaced the porch entirely, Stacie's father fell through the floor. (He was not seriously hurt.)
"We rebuilt the entire porch and added columns, corbels and railing purchased on eBay from a salvage company in Connecticut. We didn't have enough railing, so Derek Steinbach of Brampton Enterprise reproduced perfectly 80 feet of railing to match existing railing," Stacie says.
Refinished, the porch now serves as a breezy focal point for outdoor entertaining.
One theory for predicting a budget for home renovations is to add 10 percent to 15 percent to cover unforeseen expenses.
"I say add a solid 20 percent to be sure, because you'll be over budget no matter how much you crunch numbers," says Stacie, who estimates they have spent $300,000 on remodeling. "People watch HGTV and see the flipping-homes shows and think it looks easy. Renovating a home is not for the faint of heart or those prone to stress. The process we went through was a huge learning experience."
"Stacie has the vision to see what it will look like as a finished product - and the guts to go after it," says Joe, 35. "I do the worrying for both of us."
And, it turns out, much of the hard labor. Joe ripped out all the carpet from the second floor and did demolition in the kitchen, removing countertops and metal cabinets. He and his father-in-law filled seven dumpsters during construction and after settlement. Joe's parents helped restore a mirror above the fireplace, and his mother made the dining-room drapes.
Researching Victorians online and making trips to Cape May proved helpful to the couple, who didn't use an architect for the rehabilitation project.
Joe's cousin, Tom Ford of Ford Custom Painting, painted the exterior of the house. Plumber Sam Savage spent three months replacing every water and sewer line, making the switch from a private septic system to a public system. In the basement now is what looks like an electrical panel but instead has the water lines labeled, and a key so they can turn lines off individually.
The roof was replaced and 34 new windows installed. The whole house was tuck-pointed, and a new driveway put in. A master bathroom was added on the third floor.
Steve Spranger, a cousin, cleared the lot and worked as a contractor on the house. When their spreader broke, Stacie reseeded the half-acre lawn by hand. And the children helped plant two weeping cherry trees.
The Korolys even found a use for a giant set of organ pipes (from a church in Philadelphia) discovered in trash bags under the porch.
Joe wanted to get rid of the pipes. But after six months, Stacie persuaded him to make them a permanent outdoor sculpture.
"We love older homes and have wanted to restore one for quite some time. For us, this is the ultimate recycle," Stacie says.