Restoring a Colonial Revival The house had "good bones." David and Carole Alfe brought back features that had deteriorated.

Posted: November 01, 2009

When David and Carole Alfe bought a six-bedroom Colonial Revival house in Camden County, they knew it needed a lot of work.

"It reminded me of working on a battleship," says Carole Alfe, 55, museum-shop manager at the Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania.

"At times, we kicked ourselves for buying it," adds husband David Alfe, 54, a therapist.

But all the effort has paid off. The house is now their home, and one that stays as close to the period as possible.

The Alfes, who married in 2000, decided to move out of their three-bedroom twin in Ardmore because of David's job in New Jersey. They looked for a place that was close both to his workplace and to Philadelphia.

This house came up late in their hunt. And even though it was far from perfect, "it had good bones," Carole says.

The dwelling was built in 1923 for a wealthy couple who had no children but did have live-in help - hence the six bedrooms. By the time the Alfes bought the house in 2003, it had fallen into disrepair.

But because of the neglect, most of the house's original features were intact: Pine floors, now exposed, had been protected by carpet; the original American chestnut woodwork and doors remained.

Except for a doorway between the kitchen and dining room, that's true even today. The couple wanted the two spaces to feel more open, so they replaced the solid-wood door with a French door with glass that matches others on the first level.

They worked "from the top down," David says, first replacing the roof. They repainted everything, inside and out. Wiring and plumbing had to be replaced, as did the second-floor bathroom. The couple did the work themselves with help from David's father.

The biggest change came in the kitchen, which was vital for Carole, who loves to cook, and for David, who spent 20 years in the restaurant industry before becoming a therapist.

The original galley had an attached refrigerator room (a small pantry that kept the food and the fridge separate from the prep area). There was little counter and cabinet space because all the appliances were against one wall.

So the Alfes knocked down the refrigerator-room wall and added lots of storage. In the center of the kitchen, they placed an island with pots hung above. The old laundry room houses a wet bar and more storage.

They also reopened the porch, whose doors had been painted shut. "I chiseled them open," David says.

Steps were added, as well. They now lead to gardens that Carole has transformed from the dirt and trees the couple found there.

"I begged, borrowed, and stole everyone's clippings," Carole jokes. But with them she created a lush landscape, from herbs to a grapevine that hangs across the top of the detached garage.

The transition from modern twin to rambling Colonial Revival wasn't easy. Carole was accustomed to white wood in every home she had owned, so getting used to the dark chestnut took time.

It also complicated picking paint colors, since she wasn't sure what would look right. In the bedroom, Carole ended up using two colors - pumpkin along one wall and a muted yellow.

The house isn't too big for them, the Alfes say - every bedroom is used.

Extra spaces on the second floor serve as a sitting room and an office.

The third floor has a guest room for visitors and another sitting room that David calls his "bicycle room." He is an avid bicyclist, and when it's too wet or cold to ride, he spins in this room while watching tapes of the Tour de France.

Along the way, the house gave the Alfes some surprises. While stripping wallpaper in the kitchen, for instance, David found marks on the walls where bells for the servants used to be. There were corresponding buttons in the dining-room floor that sounded the bells.

A door that looked like it would lead to a linen closet actually led to a space that held an ironing board. Now, it's their spice cabinet.

Up on the third floor is a casement window that they guess was used for ventilation. To get to the window, though, you have to walk through the trunk room and open a door whose sole purpose is to provide access to that window. It's a quirk, but one they love about the house.

Their rehab project isn't finished yet, the couple insist. When they redid the second-floor bathroom, David asked his father to run the plumbing up to the third floor. They have plans drawn for how they could convert the entire third floor into a suite - eventually.

"We brought it back its dignity," Carole says of the house. "It stands up taller now."

Is your house a Haven?

Tell us about your haven by e-mail (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.com.

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