It's amazing what paint, floor coverings and some lively furniture can do for a house. As legions of energetic people are proving all over the country, redoing a handyman's special is still the fastest--and often the only affordable--route to satisfying home ownership.
Take Richard Marencic, 31, and Sarah Vogt, 29, of Philadelphia. This married couple bought a modest row house slightly outside the city center for $64,000. Without spending a lot more--only about $20,000 over five years--they won a contest sponsored by Philadelphia Magazine for their imaginative furnishings and setting.
Marencic, a 1981 graduate of the University of Michigan's design school, and Vogt, a fine arts graduate of Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, chose the small three-bedroom row house in a working class neighborhood near the Philadelphia Museum of Art because it was convenient and they could afford it, with a little financial help from his father.
Though the house contains only about 1,200 square feet, excluding the basement, it has room for a studio for each. The location is convenient to Vogt's job as assistant manager of the Philadelphia museum store and Marencic's job as an interior designer with Daroff Design Inc. What it needed most was a large helping of style.
As a designer, Marencic was able to come up with a number of inexpensive but stylish stratagems. The couple hired a contractor to handle technical matters, then did some of the work themselves to save money.
So far, they have replaced virtually all surfaces on the first floor, fixed a leaky roof, removed partitions, old flooring and wall coverings, redone ceilings and upgraded plumbing and electrical systems.
"Our idea is to use furnishings rather than architecture to create interest in the house. As designers we enjoy being able to change the looks of our rooms," says Marencic, who is a co-founder of Tabula Rasa, a local group of architects and artists who exhibit their artwork and are interested in interrelationships among various media.
Marencic designed and built the dining room table, two etageres , two dining chairs and a number of art constructions. Virtually all the art objects and framed art in the house was made by the couple or their friends.
As designers, they enjoy combining many different styles. They updated old things with new colors or fabrics. For example, some boxy, blond, sun-porch furniture from the 1950s has been given a new twist with a jazzy new fabric that looks a bit like a Jackson Pollock canvas with its abstract mix of purple, magenta, green, black and white blotches.
From the outside, their house is almost identical to the others in the row. It has an indoor porch, living room, separate dining room, kitchen and small back deck on the first floor. The deck was rotten and had to be replaced--a project they planned jointly with their next-door neighbor.
Marencic provided the design: wooden planks laid on the diagonal and a privacy screen made of strips of wood to create the illusion of more space. A small round table with two chairs, a barbecue grill, and several small containers filled with flowering annuals make it a pleasant spot for Sunday breakfast or an afternoon snack.
Inside, the floor plan no longer resembles those of neighboring houses. There is a clear view from kitchen to sun porch, with most obstructing walls taken down. Those that are left have been painted white. A black and white scheme predominates.
For the kitchen, the couple purchased self-assembly furniture--inexpensive white cabinetry with simple U-shaped hardware. Black laminate countertops have been installed.
The kitchen layout has been slightly rearranged to make room for a large peninsula that surrounds the sink. Perched on a stool at this counter, used for quick meals and as a buffet surface for parties, one can see through to the sun porch. The floor has been covered with a rosy terra cotta tile.
Throughout the house the basic black and white background has been enlivened with a range of Memphis-inspired colors such as aqua, rose and purple.
Marencic's furniture designs, too, are inspired by the funky Memphis look with its odd angles and curves. His enjoyment of the offbeat also is evident in the window coverings--translucent plexiglass screens that he sanded for privacy. Small triangular cutouts create a peekaboo effect that amuses him.
The couple had a pleasant surprise when they removed existing shag carpeting: oak flooring. They finished it by buffing.
Distributed by AP Newsfeatures.