First-Time Home Buyers Renovate a Philly Row Home on a Budget

published Aug 18, 2017

First-Time Home Buyers Renovate a Philly Row Home on a Budget

published Aug 18, 2017
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Square feet
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Name: John and Melissa. Kids: Elliott and Julian. Dogs: Beatrix (Boston) and Bacon (Frenchie).
Location: South Kensington — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Size: 1800 square feet
Years lived in: 2.5 years, owned

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This 1800-square-foot Philadelphia row home was just a shell when Melissa and John bought it two and a half years ago. On a tight budget, they applied for a special first-time home buyer loan to allow them to rehab the existing structure. They worked closely with a contractor, consultant and architect to create their dream home (as well as did a lot of the work themselves or with the help of friends). It was a true labor of love and a practice in patience; it took Melissa and John about two years to get the house to where it is today.

John is an audio visual consultant and musician in local Philadelphia band, Cape Wrath. Melissa is a registered nurse. And they love the tight-knit community their house is located in. With the kids’ daycare only two blocks away and friends nearby, it’s easily the favorite place they’ve ever lived in the city. A few months after closing on the house, they had their first child, Elliot. A couple of years later, Julian joined their family, and throughout it all, their dream home has continued to grow and evolve.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Warm modern? Is that a thing? We wanted to open up many of the rooms to allow more light into the rest of the house.

Inspiration: Grandmas, talented friends, office buildings, anime

Favorite Element: Dining room light and table

Biggest Challenge: Managing the budget while renovating. We applied for a FHA (first time home buyer) 203k loan. It is a loan that mortgages you the money to buy a house and fix it up; the loan falls under one mortgage, so in the end you have one normal mortgage payment for the house of your dreams.

We worked with contractor Paul Janaitis. As soon as we told people that we would be using a contractor to rehab our house we would hear a horror story. Everyone had a contractor horror story. I am so happy to report that our experience has been the complete opposite. Paul was incredibly communicative and all of his knowledge about the very complex 203k loan kept us moving right over all the bumps we hit.

What Friends Say: “That’s a huge table” “Ow, your dog has long nails” “The bathroom is bigger than my bedroom.”

Biggest Embarrassment: Borrowing and killing my friend Jesse’s paint sprayer because I have no idea how to do anything.

Proudest DIY: The bathroom sink. Found by a friend, Megin Sherry, and cut to size by our other friend, Jesse Parsons (Brass Tacks Woodworking). Jeremy Avellino (Bright Common), a family friend, designed how the bathroom is arranged. I exposed all the brick walls, and we painted ourselves. The bathroom sink base was built and installed by our contractor Paul Janaitis.

Biggest Indulgence: Lighting, all from Restoration hardware.

Best Advice: Spend a good amount on a few items you care about, and don’t stress about the rest.

Dream Sources: Restoration Hardware everything. Philadelphia Salvage marbles and concretes and woods.


Living room — Devine Starlight Target
Bedroom — Devine Horizon Target

Iron Horse Antiques metal table

Ekanaset Sofa — IKEA
Landskrona chair and ottoman — IKEA
Found and DIY wooden table
Besta TV units with DIY doors — IKEA
Shelf — Reclaimed wood from Provenance
Rug — IKEA Viktigt
Black rattan bench — IKEA

Russian Oak ten-foot table — Restoration Hardware
Giant Pendant Light — Restoration Hardware
Stefan Chairs — IKEA
Artwork — made by John

Custom cabinets — Brass Tacks Home
Ikea wooden countertop
DIY shelving
Bertazzoni stove top
Discountinued Nutid — Ikea oven and microwave
Ikea fridge

Side tables and lighting — Restoration Hardware
Tub — Provenance
Mirror — ReStore
DIY sink stand
Window frame behind bed from ReStore
Sewing table — Iron Horse Antiques
Crib — IKEA

DIY Sink
Tub — Provenance
Restoration Hardware lighting
Wooden bench — IKEA
Eames-style rocking chair — Amazon

Thanks, John and Melissa!

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