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Client Renovation Story: A Masculine Update in South Philly

This year I am happy to present real-life examples, from my wonderful clients, of people making houses their own. In many cases that I will share here, that goes beyond decor and paint. I have been fortunate enough to work with many wonderful clients who saw potential in a home and realized all or some of that potential in their homes so far. Its great to see people making less-than-perfect homes their own, earn some equity in the process and, of course, share their story!


For our first Renovation Story we have the wonderful Kevin, who is remarkable with the work he does on homes. (He's also a talented musician and you can follow him on Instagram!) 

This is actually his third home I've seen him work his magic on. When I helped him buy his current place almost 4 years ago, it was a typical South Philly row home. It wasn't awful, but it was a little bland and dated everywhere and the kitchen smelled remarkably of cooking oils. But Kevin had a vision and he knew he could make this home something special. 

Photo courtesy of Bright MLS

Photo courtesy of Bright MLS

Q: How much of your house renovation so far has been DIY vs hired out? 

A: I enjoy a good DIY project but when it comes to custom cabinetry and large scale concrete work, I have no problem letting someone else do the heavy lifting. In the kitchen, I enjoyed working with Weaver Custom Woodworking to finalize the design and layout of the kitchen cabinets and countertops. They handled the fabrication and installation of all the millwork in the kitchen including the custom walnut upper and lower cabinets, the window cap, and the Corian countertops. Not long after the dust settled, I took on the installation of the appliances which included running a water line to the fridge and coring a 5" hole through 9 inches of brick for the range hood exhaust! A lot of it was learning-as-you-go and tons of YouTube videos... especially when it came to installing the tile work on the backsplash. 

In these strange COVID times, it quickly became clear to me that social distancing was going to be the new norm. Restaurants and bars were closed. Public spaces seemed scary. And traveling? Vacationing?? Forget about it!! I figured I might as well make the best of the space I have. So I drew up some plans for a new outdoor space and got to work. I hired a mason to address the cracking rough stucco on the exterior back wall that was not only an eyesore, but it was allowing water to come in and drip down the beautiful new walnut cap of my kitchen window!! Luckily the existing stucco was in decent shape and he was able to apply a clean layer over the whole wall and sealed up the leak in the process. I also had him pour a new layer of concrete on top of my existing pad as well as pour a fresh layer down the alley-way to seal up those pesky holes at the base of the house that was letting all the water into the basement. And for a couple bucks I had him haul away the vine tangled chain link fence.

With the concrete work complete, I had a clean slate to build my new south Philly oasis. With my fence sketched out, I had a coworker hook me up with the guys at Holt and Bugbee Hardwoods to order the lumber. I got a great deal on mill-cut Red Grandis that is great for outdoor use and is a sustainable product with a beautiful red color similar to cedar but a fraction of the cost. Once I got the posts straight and my jigs set up the sawing, pre-drilling, countersinking, and sanding made for some good Saturday/Sunday busy work. Then staining and assembly was a breeze. My girlfriend was laughing at me for taking my measurements to a 1/16th of an inch. But who's laughing now?! 

As for the metal door, I bartered a bottle of Widow Jane Bourbon for the materials - two sheets of 1/8" steel and some aluminum angle. I made up a frame from the angle and bolted it to the two sheets after a few coats of metallic spray paint, then hung it on the fence. 

Q: Where do you get your design inspiration from? 

A: I work for a company called Amuneal Manufacturing, a custom fabrication shop that specializes in high-end products ranging from custom furniture and cabinetry to feature staircases, feature walls and permanent art installations. I manage a wide array of jobs that take me into the stylish renovations of lofty Manhattan corporate offices, landmark buildings, and the private residences of the 1%. As I walk through our shop floor, I am always amazed by the skill and careful workmanship of employees and the products they put out. Every day I am inspired by the latest architectural designs and fabrication methods I had never before dreamed of. To be able to take even a small part of this home and apply it to my own personal projects is very rewarding. I was always a measure once cut twice kind of guy, but this job has made me appreciate quality material and the patience and skill required to make a quality product. 

My kitchen in particular, was inspired by a project of mine at 90 Morton Street, NY. It is a beautiful residential building for which I am responsible for delivering on the fabrication and installation of these sleek blackened steel upper kitchen cabinets, along with various other components. The lower cabinets and surrounding millwork are all walnut with horizontal matched grain that are a sexy match with the upper cabinets. Now, my budget didn't allow for Amuneal custom metal cabinets, but I did splurge on a super clean and modern design with the horizontal matched grain walnut cabinets. 

Photo courtesy of Bright MLS

Q: How much did you spend on your kitchen (feel free to offer a range - $0-5,000/ $5-10,0000/$10-20,000/$20-50,0000) 

A: $15-20K

Q: How much did you spend on your backyard project? 

A: $6-8K

Photo courtesy of Bright MLS

Q: What do you love most about your house? 

A: I love the open floor plan of the first floor. The kitchen opens up to the living area making it feel roomy and spacious which makes all the difference for a little 1100 sqft house with a low ceiling. And with the new kitchen, it brings a whole new life to the house making it sleek and modern, but still very comfortable and homey.

Q: What issues did your renovation projects fix about your house? 

A: The kitchen was very functional but it was a run-of-the-mill south Philly special and dated. I chose the house because it was move in ready but wasn't a flip. There was a lot of potential to add value to the house over time and I always knew that the kitchen would be first on my list. Otherwise, there were only a few issues that had to be addressed. There was no exhaust over the range, so anytime I cooked, the smoke alarms would blare through the whole house. There was also a leak above the sink that only occurred when the wind blew the rain just so. Repairing the stucco on the back exterior wall fixed that up. Also, did I mention that my backyard was nightmare? The concrete pad was cracked and unlevel, the chainlink fence and barbed wire was less than inviting and the vines were out of control. 

Q: Whats next?! 

A: The next improvement might have to be an upgrade to the central air. The unit is about 15 years old and there are no returns on the second floor, which means the upstairs is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I might have to consider adding some mini splits to help with the upstairs. Hopefully the unit lasts me another year so I can plan on making the improvements in the spring. 

After that, who knows? Maybe I'll tackle the upstairs bathroom!

All updated interior photos courtesy of the homeowner


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