On renovations small and large

Diane Menke of Myers Constructs goes over plans in the kitchen the Germantown firm is remodeling in the West Mount Airy home of Kim Pelkey and David Bushnell.
Diane Menke of Myers Constructs goes over plans in the kitchen the Germantown firm is remodeling in the West Mount Airy home of Kim Pelkey and David Bushnell. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)

With home prices still down and an uncertain economy, many choose big projects over a move.

Posted: October 21, 2013

In this post-housing-boom era, when prices still aren't what sellers want them to be, and there isn't a lot on the market, and a lot of folks are loath to move because of the uncertain economy, more people seem to be doing major renovations again - fixing up their houses for their own current use, or to update them for future sale.

After several years of minor repairs and roof replacements, residential contractors say, they are once again getting big projects.

Kim Pelkey and David Bushnell's undertaking, for example.

Nearly two decades after trading a cramped rowhouse in Fairmount for the larger and greener spaces of West Mount Airy, Pelkey and Bushnell are - with the aid of general contractor Myers Constructs Inc. of Germantown - getting a new, more efficient kitchen than the one they have been living with since 1995.

Not a snap decision, clearly. In fact, as Bushnell put it, "she finally wore me down," coincidentally just as Pelkey's late aunt left her some money.

For people who own big houses, especially the rambling twins and singles in the city's sylvan Wissahickon Valley, changes in living space tend to be gradual, for a variety of reasons. Bushnell confesses that the couple and their two sons lived without central air conditioning until just a few years ago. "As you get older, it is tougher to handle the hot weather," he says.

Older houses tend to break down more than newer ones, too, often bringing ill-timed surprises such as the plumbing leak that manifested itself in the pre-renovated kitchen ceiling - part of what Pelkey referred to as "the cumulative effect" that finally put them on the road to several thousand dollars' and three months' worth of work.

There's also a lot of house there - more than 4,300 square feet over three stories and a basement - often filled with more pressing replacement needs, such as outdated wiring and complex roofs.

"It was way too much house when we bought it," said Pelkey, noting that their older son, now a first-year student at Northwestern University, was a 1-year-old "and we were so spread out the third floor wasn't used."

The other major issue was finding a contractor, and one bad experience with a "fly-by-night" outfit some years back, when a leak required reconstruction of the master bath, made Pelkey and Bushnell understandably cautious.

A better experience with Myers when they redid their older son's bathroom a few years later led the couple back to the Germantown firm for their kitchen.

"Four years after the bathroom was done, there was a problem with the shower door," said Pelkey. "We called to see how to get it fixed, and they took the responsibility and came out and fixed it."

Myers could do the work and help the couple determine what was and was not possible, but Pelkey and Bushnell had ideas about what they wanted.

"I spent a lot of time with graph paper and cutouts, laying out the way I think things should look," she said.

"What we wanted was not their design," Bushnell said, but Tamara Myers, the sales and design manager, listened. "She looked at what we had done, and talked and planned it out before the estimate."

The goal: a highly workable and attractive open, eat-in (table, not counter) kitchen with radiant-heat flooring, soapstone countertops, tile backsplashes, plenty of natural light, and "surprise" storage areas - not only cabinetry and open shelving, but a linen closet of sorts in what was the back or "servants'" stairs common to many Mount Airy singles and twins.

The kitchen windows provide not only light but also an unobstructed view of the deck, "which we use a lot," Pelkey said.

Though the job is still a few weeks from completion, it's a vast improvement on the old kitchen and fits seamlessly with the rest of 1925-era house.

Work began July 1 with demolition, yet interim dining choices were not limited to Pop Tarts and pizza. Complete meals were produced in a temporary kitchen - the kind, Bushnell said, that one would find in a "nice New York apartment."

The dining room held not only the table and chairs, but hot plates, an electric skillet, and two toaster ovens, with a microwave nearby. Myers hooked up a dishwasher and water supply to sinks in the basement.

The transformation went relatively smoothly, although there were some anticipated delays in receipt of special orders, including the Marmoleum flooring, a natural linoleum - highly durable, nontoxic, antimicrobial, and easy to maintain.

Said Pelkey: "I remember what it was like having 1-year-olds."


215-854-2472 @alheavens

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