Haven: A new lease on life for home, owners

The family room has an interesting ceiling of doors of different styles and colors and furniture salvaged from thrift stores.
The family room has an interesting ceiling of doors of different styles and colors and furniture salvaged from thrift stores. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 28, 2013

It was only as a courtesy to friends, Fran Crotty says, that she and her husband, Jim, toured a 100-year-old Victorian in Glenside five years ago.

Good bones aside, the 2,300-square-foot dwelling was a mess, with outdated electrical systems, a neglected yard, and a cracked sewer pipe.

Yet, instead of walking away, the Crottys rescued the house and found solace restoring it as a turbulent physical and spiritual journey wound down.

Growing up, Fran sewed her own clothes and sketched pictures, and she took art classes at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx. She longed for an art career but followed her mother's counsel and earned a psychology degree.

She worked in human resources in Manhattan, where she met Jim. They married in 1988 and often moved for Jim's career in consumer products. Then, in 1995, Fran started experiencing severe headaches.

"They would feel like a vise grip was on my head," she says.

After six months of tests, she was diagnosed with a rare disease, Wegener's granulomatosis, which causes inflammation in the tissues and blood vessels. Complications triggered facial swelling, vision loss, a collapsed vertebrae, and deteriorated hips, requiring Fran to have replacements at age 35. She was also diagnosed with Crohn's disease.

"Through it, I'm thinking, 'How did I ever get into this hellhole,' " says Fran, 50, who clung to her Catholic faith for strength.

"Thankfully, we had the support and encouragement from many friends and family," says Jim, 52, who is quick to count their blessings.

Fran credits those dark days with helping to launch her present career: "Being confined in hospital beds, I had plenty of time to pore over home magazines. I would rip out decorating ideas, and think, 'I can do this.' "

Today, she studies interior design at Philadelphia University and runs a business through Myfolksyhome.com, emphasizing green decorating.

And the Crottys' disaster of a house is now a seamless blend of thrift-store purchases, online castoffs, and estate-sale merchandise - an endorsement of Fran's talent.

An inviting porch with 1950s metal chairs, an old bench, and a wood-burning stove leads to the foyer. For outerwear, an armoire was scooped up on Craigslist. Across from it, a cabinet from Vintage Home in Paoli, distressed in blue chalkboard paint, stores keys, maps and phones and is surrounded by thrift-store artwork and Fran's nana's lamp.

Anchoring the living room is the original fireplace, with a wooden mantelpiece from a second-hand shop. A slate hearth is fashioned from the tops of lab tables from the former Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, now part of Drexel University College of Medicine.

Rounding out the room is a 1930s heirloom sofa, a blue chenille chair from a Charleston, S.C., thrift shop, an antique sideboard, and framed menus from ports visited by Fran's Navy-veteran father.

Niko Dyshniku, a master artisan who grasped the family's vintage-decor philosophy, opened up the kitchen doorway and installed the midcentury Chambers stove, cherry cabinets, and subway tiles, all saved from the landfill.

Fond childhood memories persuaded Fran to buy the farmhouse kitchen sink at ReStore in Port Richmond - it's like one in her aunt's beach house.

The dining table, made of recycled barn wood, was constructed by a woman in her barn and is flanked by two butler's pantries from an estate on the Main Line. The Crottys embellished the "fifth" wall with embossed tin that helps showcase the chandelier.

Likewise, they crowned their family room's ceiling with a rustic grid of doors in various shapes and colors.

Throughout the house are lamp shades, pillows, and curtains - like the drapes in 13-year-old Maura's bedroom - sewn by Fran from fabrics that once belonged to relatives.

As his wife searches out treasures, Jim frequently handles the hauling and transporting. "I'm her partner when I need to be," he says playfully.

These days, Fran is still prone to setbacks, combating her illness with both alternative and traditional remedies.

"I was once a living example of being worn out and broken down," she says. "With love, I was transformed. That's what I see when I find what others might call junk. A little attention, and a second life is born."

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