An old cottage's redemption

The third-floor children's room in the home of Thomas Scheufele and Michael Anderson on Iseminger Street, Philadelphia. The roof had to be raised to make this room usable.
The third-floor children's room in the home of Thomas Scheufele and Michael Anderson on Iseminger Street, Philadelphia. The roof had to be raised to make this room usable. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

The buyers didn't have to drive a hard bargain for the 1832 house.What was hard was transforming it.

Posted: October 02, 2011

What happens when a handful of young men rent a fragile 19th-century house and have too many parties?

That house is a real bargain when it hits the market.

"We got a good deal here," Michael Anderson says of the cottage on Iseminger Street that he and Thomas Scheufele bought in 2001. "Those kids really messed up the house, but as soon as we saw it, I wanted it and knew we could fix it up."

If the 1832 property had not been in such poor condition, adds Anderson, a flight attendant on international routes, he and Scheufele, who teaches economics at a secondary school in Stuttgart, Germany, probably could not have afforded it.

Once the couple purchased their bargain, the reality set in: The problems would be enormous - how would they proceed?

The first step was doing a lot of work on the exterior.

"We had to replace the shutters and point the bricks and follow [Philadelphia] Historical Commission guidelines," says Scheufele.

Front windows, originally nine panes, were increased to 12 by Scheufele, who imported the panes from Germany.

Another challenge: the third floor, which was virtually unusable because a slanted ceiling with a window in the middle took up half of it.

"No one could stand up in the room, at least not adults," Anderson says.

The men did as much of the work themselves as possible; also, they had issues with work done by some of their contractors.

"We discovered that the lining of the living-room fireplace was half-missing and a contractor failed to replace it," Scheufele says. "If we had started a fire, it could have been a disaster."

At one point, he says, he flew to Philadelphia in the middle of a semester in Germany to supervise a job they had contracted out.

Given that Anderson and Scheufele spend many work hours in Europe, rehabilitating the house took about 10 years in all.

Shortly after they bought the property, Scheufele renovated the kitchen with equipment largely found in Europe. He switched the sink with the stove so it would be closer to the refrigerator and positioned an Italian Zephyr hood overhead. He ordered French doors and installed spruce floors.

When the time came to reclaim the third floor, they sought help from architect Cara Carroccia, who lives in the neighborhood.

Scheufele says Carroccia went above the call of duty, going to the Historical Commission twice to seek permission to expand the front of the house. After she was turned down the first time, she returned to show the commission that others on the block had expanded their upper floors. The request was finally approved.

"Cara's design provided a new roof and gave us a totally new third-floor room without the slanted alcove," Scheufele says. "She went over the colors with us and helped us find an eggshell white that would add to the light and color of the room."

A small bathroom and a deck were added as part of the expansion. From the exterior, one hardly notices that about four inches have been added to the roofline.

Carroccia's work expanded the space from 600 to about 850 square feet. Though the footprint is still small, the house seems quite roomy.

On entering, the first thing a guest sees is a large working fireplace with a white mantel and a Hungarian Kalani Vasgyar stove set with candles in a corner of the living room.

In another corner stands a wooden cabinet holding a television and dozens of movies.

"We collect things everywhere," Anderson says, noting that their finds come from Europe, used-furniture stores, and Ikea.

The kitchen brings a visitor immediately back into the 21st century. Gleaming appliances curve along a tiny space highlighted by the special range hood.

"We have everything built on stilts, and it makes the room seem bigger," Anderson says, pointing to the steel legs that extend the height of the appliances.

Just past the French doors is a small garden patio with a table, chairs, and a wall decorated with an old oil painting that Scheufele found as he was replastering a ceiling.

On the second floor, a study for Scheufele features a surprising Marimekko curtain. In a guest room stands a sleigh trundle bed, where Anderson's twin 7-year-old nieces sleep when they visit.

Up a narrow, winding wooden staircase lies the large third-floor bedroom, which includes a large television and toys and books for the often-visiting nieces.

Throughout the house, the results of Scheufele and Anderson's tender loving care is evident.

It's just possible that, if this very old dwelling could talk, it would thank them heartily for rescuing it.

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