"But when the Realtor went to open the doors, she realized she had the wrong keys. They were for the house across the street, which was also for sale," recalls Greg, 49. The Realtor suggested they take a look.
Only two other families had owned the house with the wide porch, built in 1900 by William S. Kimball, a developer who designed many of the houses in Spruce Hill. The semidetached dwelling was outdated and needed work, but details such as pine and oak flooring and thick, wide chestnut moldings captivated the couple, who share a passion for period architecture.
Adds Mary, 46, chuckling: "And then there were some things we didn't expect" - such as the cracked plumbing stack missed during a home inspection.
Even so, Greg and Mary, an architect and interior decorator, respectively, easily imagined this grande dame being restored to its original splendor, but with features for their modern family, which includes Victor, 15, and Ava, 13, as well as Streak, a rescued greyhound, and a languid kitty named Tim.
After purchasing the 3,700-square-foot Colonial Revival house, the Berzinskys, with the help of experts, started the task of installing new electrical, plumbing, heating, and central air conditioning systems. Then the kitchen and adjacent sunroom got an extensive overhaul.
Greg and Mary rolled up their sleeves and did a lot of the dirty work: framing, flooring, siding, and installing doors and windows.
"As the renovations were winding down, we had my sister's wedding in the house," says Greg, whose firm, Berzinsky Architects, is within walking distance. "It all worked out . . . although we did make everyone promise to stay only on the first floor."
Today, with the larger construction projects finished and the results of the Berzinskys' design and decorating talents everywhere, the house is a real gem.
Past the vestibule, where the original mosaic flooring is intact, thick arches lead to the front parlor and beyond.
The couple have assembled notable furnishings by Knoll, Paul McCobb, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier and have managed to mix them effortlessly with accessories from Target or castoffs found in nearby college trash bins. Lining the walls are figurative artworks and photos.
Among Greg's favorite pieces is a salvaged midcentury desk that sits in the front parlor next to one of the house's three fireplaces. On the opposite wall is their Yamaha piano, a 1957 teak beauty.
Family members, as well as 20 people from Greg and Mary's dinner club, are often entertained in the dining room, where more vintage furniture, including a table and buffet, has been given a second life. Built-in hutches hold dishes and glassware.
Last year, more customized cabinets and granite countertops were installed during a mini-makeover of the gourmet kitchen, and part of a servants' corridor was transformed into a powder room.
On the second floor is the living room, the true emblem of Greg and Mary's smart styling. The vast room, which often holds Bible study meetings for 70, has a retro sofa, a repurposed TV credenza, and streamlined chairs that take up little space. A funky circular coffee table made from willow branches, a gift from a friend, is a real treasure.
A hallway leads to the master bedroom, which features 1964 furniture that used to belong to Mary's parents. During the rehab, the homeowners also hung their own drywall, paneling, and trim in the master bath, now a luxurious refuge surrounded in marble.
"And in here is where we watch TV, especially the Phillies," Greg says of the media room, with its flat screen.
On the third level are two guest rooms, another bathroom, and the kids' rooms. Victor's is airy and light-filled, with a classic bureau by George Nelson that offers sleek and practical storage for a high school student. A low-seat red sofa perfect for lounging shares Ava's room with a white four-poster bed and brightly flowered wallpaper.
To lend warmth throughout the home, the owners painted all the trim and woodwork in creams and whites and used spa-like colors in soft blues, browns, and greens. Patterned area rugs add their own sense of art.
An expansive and lush backyard overflows with hydrangeas, ivy, and rhododendrons.
The Berzinskys are most proud of their home, but they know their neighborhood, rich with ethnic restaurants, farmers' markets, and good schools, is a winner, too.
"We've had friends visit," Greg says, "and they tell us how much they'd like to live in our neighborhood."