For 12 years, Nicole Juday and her family lived across the street from a derelict 19th-century house in Philadelphia that was the despair of the neighborhood.
It wasn’t abandoned, but it may as well have been. A fire had destroyed much of the second floor, and raccoons were living in the attic. In the backyard was the marshy remains of what had once been a swimming pool, a cesspool that parents worried their children might fall into.
As for Juday, she thought the house would be turned into a residential mental-health center, like so many of the other large homes in the area, or that a developer would buy it and raze it, putting up a concrete-block apartment tower.
“More than wanting to save the house,” she says, “I wanted to save the neighborhood.”
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So in 2010, she and her husband bought the seven-bedroom house and all of its contents from the elderly owner for $125,000.
Even at that price, it was no bargain. “I think the house was possibly condemnable,” says Juday, 43.
It took another $400,000 and thousands of hours of labor to make it habitable.
That included rebuilding it from the studs out, with new wiring, plumbing, roofing and plaster, and installing historically accurate windows and millwork.
Beams were added to shore up the structure, and the brick exterior was repointed. The swimming pool was filled in, and an old caved-in Chevy was hauled out of the side yard.
Then, a year ago, about halfway through the renovation, Juday’s husband moved out. She has since finished the renovation on her own.
Juday’s mother, Lisa Montserat, now occupies a suite on the second floor, and Juday’s daughter, Rive, 17, and son, Asa, 14, have their own rooms, which they decorated themselves.
Throughout the rest of the house, though, Juday’s eclectic taste is on display. In general, she says, she prefers modern design, but she doesn’t like ultramodern style in an older home. “If something doesn’t have patina and you’re putting it into a place that has a lot of patina,” she says, “it can look too anachronistic.”
On the other hand, she says, “We’re not trying to reinterpret some kind of golden age of anything here.”
She tried to salvage what she could. The round table that sits in the entry hall she found broken in the house, but a local furniture maker refurbished it and covered the top with sheets of zinc punctuated by rivets.
The 19th-century dining chairs also came with the house, although one had been thrown out a window and was in pieces on the ground. Juday had the chairs restored and reupholstered in vintage Scalamandré fabric.
The wall dividing the kitchen and the old butler’s pantry was removed to create a larger space.
New appliances were installed, the original cupboards were restored and rearranged, and the original brick chimney was exposed, creating a textured backdrop for the butcher-block island and a rack of hanging pots.
What has such an extensive renovation and the accompanying upheaval taught her?
Most of all, Juday says, she has learned to trust herself.
These days, “I don’t overthink things,” she says. “Usually I go with my first instinct.”