Dilapidated North Side row house turned into dream home after 6 years of renovation

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The red brick lining the top of the North Side row house slouched and sagged inward, spreading across the facade like a sheepish grin. A tree sprouted through a hole in the roof and ivy crept up the walls, signaling that nature would soon claim the once-grand corner home that it seemed even time had forgotten.

Where the city saw a candidate for the demolition list, Paula Cellini saw her dream come true.

For the past six years, Ms. Cellini has been renovating the late 19th-century Italianate-style house back to its former glory while giving it her own contemporary twist. It is one of four house and three gardens open Sunday for the Manchester House + Garden Tour.

“Restoring a house has always been a dream of mine,” said Ms. Cellini, “I’ve raised three kids, sent them to college. I thought now it was my time to have some fun.”

She divided the three-story house into two spacious living areas — one for her and one to rent. Altogether, there are two kitchens, two living rooms, three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a study and a den.

“I wanted a big old house, and that is exactly what I got,” she said, chuckling. “The most important part was to get the bones right when we started.”

When she first saw the interior, the floors were covered with mounds of fallen plaster and debris that was damp and moldy from the leaking roof. The floors had settled so much that there was a 1½-foot slope from front to back.

Chuck Jesky of Keystone Masonry tore down and rebuilt the crumbling brick on the exterior. Kestner Wood Products replaced the rotting floor with oak, leaving a small section of the original near the entryway. Its age shows; some of the knots in the floorboards were so big that they needed to be sanded down. 

Ms. Cellini wasn’t afraid to add modern elements.She added a quaint Juliet balcony on the side as a nod to the double-decker porch she has heard was once there.

“I love old and new together,” she said,

The wooden staircase and balustrade, restored by Kellner Millwork, climbs all three stories. Ms. Cellini found matching newel posts in Erie and had local carpenter Lisa Anderson create new acorn-shaped tops.

To replace the rotting windows, Allied Millwork made 30 historically accurate wooden ones that were then installed by Gary Greeba. Most of the windows’ original interior trim was intact and has been restored. 

“This house has everything I love — exposed brickwork, big windows and woodwork,” said Ms. Cellini. “It’s clean and simple but with an eclectic feel.”

To contrast with the multi-toned interior brick, she mixed several paints to come up with a soothing taupe-pewter that covers the walls. The tiny garden between the rear of the house and a three-car garage features old brick pavers that her grandfather collected years ago. An antique tub installed on the first floor was salvaged by her friend, Peter Haskin, who handmade L-shaped screws to re-attach the original brass claw feet.

The master bath on the second floor boasts a luxurious 6-by-4-foot shower with mosaic tile trim and a stone floor that has a warm earthy feel. The second-floor kitchen is the larger of the two, with a large, brown tile-topped island that separates the kitchen from the den.

“There is something really magical about the third floor,” Ms. Cellini said, noting that one of the two window seats offers a majestic view of the West End.

“The help I have received in restoring this home has been amazing. I hope this inspires other women who may be nervous of taking on a project like this,” she said.

“I moved six times in 11 years when I was married, but not again. This house was worth it. I made it a home I know I can grow old in.”

The Manchester House + Garden Tour is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased until 4 p.m. on the day of the tour in front of Conroy School, 1398 Page St. Green Gears PediCabs will be available to transport visitors around the neighborhood. Information: www.manchesterhistoricsocietypa.com.

Campbell North: cnorth@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613.

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