Renovation Progress in Philly


Five weeks ago

AS I WATCH MY SON Max and his girlfriend Alexis renovate the 1872 house they bought last June, I’m reminded of a few eternal truths about renovation:

  • It always takes longer than you expect
  • It always costs more than you plan for
  • Things get worse before they get better, because before you can do anything, there’s always something else you have to do first, ad infinitum, so you feel like you’re actually going backwards
  • Contractors (electricians, plumbers, etc.) invariably say previous contractors’ work is shit

Also, when you’re in your 20’s, a year seems like a really long time. It’s been almost that since, taking advantage of last year’s Federal tax credit, Max and Alexis bought a building in the rapidly gentrifying (hipstifying?) Fishtown section of Philadelphia. It’s a former corner cigar store with a bay window — the store had been converted to a rental apartment before they bought it — plus a 2BR duplex apartment above, where they live.

The ‘kids’ probably thought they’d be done by now. Instead, having torn out the existing kitchen and not quite put it back, and spent nearly all the money they had set aside for the renovation, they’re still living in near-chaos, especially on the lower floor, with an uncomfortably cramped bathroom, and eating out a lot.


Not fun

That said, much has been accomplished. Walls torn down to create open space out of a warren of small rooms; new electrical wiring; original pine sub-floor partly exposed and sanded; upstairs bedrooms painted.

The most spectacular part of the project to date is the kitchen, where Max has been building cabinets in shop space he rented not far away. (His day job is as a woodworker building high-end custom furniture, and at his previous job in Brooklyn, he installed a lot of super-duper kitchens at fancy addresses, so his standards are high.) They’ve bought all the appliances and a farmhouse sink, and installed a vintage-looking tin ceiling.


I spent Mother’s Day weekend there, mostly in work clothes, though we did find time on Sunday for a lovely visit to the Morris Arboretum, below.


Max’s goals for the weekend were two: to chisel a hole, below, in two layers of brick, which took a good couple of hours; and then install an aluminum duct pipe for a stove hood in the exterior wall.


This required his climbing up a 24′ ladder and drilling through the brick from the outside, below. I was very unhappy until he got down safely, and hope he never does anything like that again.


The other goal was to make three cuts in a massively heavy butcher block counter top to fit the L-shaped lower cabinets, below, with space for the sink. This required exactitude, and kicked up a fair amount of dust, but with earplugs, three pairs of hands, and a trusty Shop-Vac at the ready, that too was accomplished.


I feel somewhat responsible for this whole thing, since I encouraged them to buy the house in the first place. I may have forgotten (renovation amnesia, let’s call it) how stressful it can be, and how one needs a certain mindset to live through it. Some day, I hope, they’ll thank me. Right now, they just want to get it done.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in OLD-HOUSE MAKEOVERS, PHILADELPHIA, REAL ESTATE/INVESTING, RENOVATION and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Renovation Progress in Philly

  1. Cher@NR says:

    How awesome! I’m a little older than your son, and I feel behind in the buying a home part of being an adult!

  2. Eileen says:

    He’ll thank you someday… !

  3. Patti Hinkle says:

    Ahh your eternal truths about renovation. The final product always gives me renovation amnesia. A big congrats to Max and Alexis for tackling this project and hanging in there. Please update us on Max’s kitchen–I’ll bet it’ll be wonderful.

  4. Jenna says:

    Oooh, can’t wait to see the final results. Good for them, taking matters into their own hands!

  5. cara says:

    Thanks, all, for your comments. Wondering what’s on the list for this weekend!

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