Haven: A 19th-century home for a young Philadelphia couple

Jacqueline and Dave Zavitz in their dining room, where they removed a wall that separated it from the stairs.
Jacqueline and Dave Zavitz in their dining room, where they removed a wall that separated it from the stairs.
Posted: June 11, 2012

Since 2000, 50,306 additional people between the ages of 20 and 34 moved into the city of Philadelphia, according to the 2010 Census.

Meet two of them: David and Jackie Zavitz. This young couple, who met in Washington, where they were both living at the time, chose to move to Philadelphia when they married in 2003.

"We wanted to put down roots," says Jackie, 34, a search professional with Korn/Ferry International. Philadelphia is "very accessible. I love city living. It’s been a joy that way."

They bought, and renovated, their first home in Queen Village, and in 2007 hoped to buy a bigger place in the neighborhood but prices were too high.

A sale sign went up on their property. But in a week, the sign came down, the house sold that quickly, says David, 38, who works in finance at Comcast. (The air in the real estate bubble was just starting to leak out.)

"We had 60 days to find a house and close," David says. "I was looking at 10 houses a weekend. Everything was overpriced." To make matters worse, Jackie was traveling a lot for her job.

And then David saw the one: a circa 1890s rowhouse in the city’s Graduate Hospital area.

"It had curb appeal," he says: The external brick was well-pointed; the door had a transom above it, as well as a marble arch; the windows were arched and had the same marble treatment, and it had window boxes and a tree by the street. Inside, it had distinct rooms — the great-room idea just doesn’t appeal to them.

Once this house became theirs, David and Jackie set to work to really make it their own. Not exactly handy — though David did put a chair rail in the living room — they hired contractors to follow the designs they’d created.

First off, let it be said that this couple love color — no white walls for Jackie Zavitz. "That looks unfinished," she says. "It’s a style thing."

And we’re talking rich color, no pastels, thank you. The third-floor bathroom is teal set against a white floor and white clawfoot bathtub. Next to the bathroom is a media room in tangerine with two sofas — one dark brown leather, the other a natural-hued fabric. The kitchen is deep yellow, juxtaposed against white cabinets, black-and-white shades, and a rosewood floor.

Perhaps the most neutrally colored room belongs to Hala, the couple’s 17-month-old-daughter — it’s painted a deep pearl gray with a horizontal pink stripe.

But there was more than painting done here. The house is narrow (16 feet) and deep (60 feet). And though they love separate rooms, Jackie and David decided the first floor needed more light.

The front of the house, where the living room sits, is north-facing, and the kitchen, in the back, faces the south; between the two is the dining room. The Zavitzes removed a wall that ran along the side of the dining room, next to the steps leading to the second floor, and they took down another wall between the kitchen and the laundry room.

The result: two distinct rooms, yet with plenty of space and lots of light, as the one side of the kitchen has four long windows. In the back of the kitchen, the couple added a half-bath and a stackable washer and dryer behind a closed door.

Other improvements to the first floor: a built-in, floor-to-ceiling, wall-size hutch in the dining room, and that rosewood flooring.

The couple has tried to maintain the 1890s character of the house. "We kept the original molding where we could," Jackie says, but some areas, especially the curved crown molding where the wall came down, were replaced.

David points out the spindles on the railing leading to the second floor. Each was removed, stripped, and repainted, he says. The stairs were replaced because the staircase was "settling away from the wall."

Upstairs, the couple has dealt with the bones of the house in different ways. The floors still have their random-width pine planks. Because there is no subflooring underneath, and also because they have been sanded so many times, the couple has left them alone.

At one point, the house had been converted into apartments, and then reconverted into a single-family dwelling. But whoever did that was painfully true to the original construction — and neglected to put in modern-size closets.

That was one bone these two professionals, with professional wardrobes, had to gnaw. What do you do? Make the master bedroom smaller and add significant closet space — his and hers.

But it’s on the third floor, where Hala can roam and play with her toys and Jackie and David can just relax, that the couple has integrated the 19th and 21st centuries. They left bricks exposed and painted the walls a savannah green. Beams in the ceiling are exposed, but between them is stuffed drywall and insulation.

David says the prior owner had taken away all the material between the beams, so there was no insulation. "So you were looking at planks. We put in the insulation and high-hat lights."

"We really like it up here," Jackie says. "We spend a lot of time up here."

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