When Dan and Katie Mickelson first saw their circa-1920s Bridesburg rowhouse, they were hooked by the driveway (wide enough for two cars) and the large yard. Though the house needed a lot of work — both structural and cosmetic — they were excited for the challenge.
“I didn’t want to have to fight for parking in the city,” recalled Dan, 40, who had grown up in a rural community in central Michigan.
The couple settled on the house in November 2010 and gave themselves five months to renovate before moving in. They immediately began ripping down wallpaper and pulling up layers of carpeting. Dan, owner of On Mission Builders and BUILD at the nonprofit Greensgrow Farms, combined his building skills with Katie’s creativity to craft an eclectic, warm and cozy home where they could raise kids Noah, 4, and Molly, 2.
They were encouraged to discover a plastered-over brick wall and beautiful hardwood floors in decent shape. But not all of the surprises were pleasant. Their biggest challenge came when they removed a wall to open the living room into the dining room.
“When we opened that wall, we found a chimney that went from the basement all the way through the roof,” Dan recalled. The upside: After removing the three-story chimney, he had room to build a linen closet on the second floor.
They worked room by room throughout the 1,700-square-foot space, including three bedrooms, 1½ bathrooms, and a basement. Katie scoured Pinterest for ideas, and with an eye on the budget, they opted for reclaimed materials wherever possible. They shopped at salvage stores and used discarded or leftover materials from job sites (with the owners’ permission, Dan clarified).
“Normally, I think a house like this would cost well over $100,000 to renovate, and I probably spent $40,000,” he said.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Katie, 36, a teacher who is now staying home to raise the kids.
Hours after closing on the house, they began removing the plaster that covered the exposed brick wall in the living room. It was not, however, an ideal way to meet their next door neighbor.
“It was a day of an Eagles game and my neighbor, a huge Eagles fan and a super-nice guy, whose TV was hanging on the other side of that wall, said, ‘Maybe you could wait until tomorrow to do that,’” Dan recalled.
Across from the brick wall, he built a fireplace out of reclaimed travertine from a job site and bricks he found half-buried in his backyard. He added crown molding around the ceiling throughout the entire room.
Dan spent months building the dining room’s coffered ceiling — “in an old home there’s nothing that’s ever square or straight or plumb,” he said, laughing. Each panel has four pieces of crown molding, which Dan insisted was a labor of love to install. “The reward and visual pleasure afterward is really nice.”
A lover of interesting and unusual doors, Dan found the perfect pair from an old farmhouse on Craigslist for $400. “They were exactly what I wanted, not the standard run-of-the-mill French doors,” he said.
Needing more space for the kids to play, Dan renovated the basement, adding about 400 square feet of living space to the home. He built an adorable playhouse under the stairs and a fun space for the kids and their friends.
In the kitchen, Dan raised the ceiling, added 38 dimmable recessed lights, installed a cork countertop, and refinished the cabinets.
The couple love their home and their town, which Dan had discovered when he first moved to Philadelphia in 2004, to finish his undergraduate degree in Bible studies at Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University) while working for a builder.
“I planted my roots here,” he recalled. “I found the school, my job, my church, and a place to live.”
Katie came into the picture one Sunday morning at Liberti Church in 2005. She and a friend had dropped into the adjacent coffeehouse earlier in the week, and the proprietor, who happened to be the pastor’s wife, invited them to come back Sunday for church. “I met Dan that Sunday at church,” recalled Katie. The pair married in Ocean City, N.J., in 2008.
The family spends most of its time in the kitchen and basement, usually surrounded by lots of other neighborhood kids.
“It feels like my calling, that God put us in this area to help out some of the other moms who don’t have a yard or finished basement,” Katie said. “I’m meeting a lot of moms who can use our space and let loose a little bit.”
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