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Blank slate becomes colorful urban jungle in Northern Liberties

Leeron and Allison Tagger’s loft is their ultimate DIY project

Leeron and Allison Tagger needed a change. Their Jersey City rowhome was too dark, too reliant on the few front and back windows for natural light. Rental prices were rising, feeling increasingly more out of reach. And Allison’s jewelry business was overflowing—literally. Their bath tub had become a storage bin for all of her materials.

So they started the apartment hunt just like any other person does—on Craigslist. They soon began to notice a trend. Every listing they liked and all of the apartments they could actually afford were located in Philadelphia. And they were all lofts.

"We thought, ‘Wow this is amazing what you can get for your money here,’" recalls Leeron.

And after looking at 13 different units, including some in Fishtown and Old City, they settled for the biggest, most light-filled apartment: A 1,980-square-foot loft in a Northern Liberties warehouse that dated back to about 1888.

A woman stands on a ladder bookshelf.
Allison and Leeron Tagger built this ladder bookcase using shelves from their neighbor down the hall. Leeron, an ecologist, found the driftwood during once of his trips on the Delaware River.

Remnants of the six-story warehouse’s long history remain. It started out as a horse stable and brewery: "The horses were used to deliver the beer throughout Philadelphia," Allison explains. Indeed, the couple’s loft is the only unit in the building that has an original sliding barn door, which they use as a "curtain" in their bedroom.

During prohibition, the warehouse was converted into a sewing factory. To this day, original sewing machines can be found on every floor.

Leeron and Allison say their dining nook is one their favorite spots in the loft. Banjo, their rescue dog, has gotten used to the loft noise, too.

The warehouse has become a sort of haven for artists, including Allison, who runs her lifestyle and DIY business out of small crafts space in their loft. Leeron, an ecologist, spends his days out in the fields, rivers, and marshes of New Jersey, but when he’s not on the job, he and Allison are working together on one DIY project after another.

"Lofts are a nightmare for artists," says Allison. "We’ll just say, ‘Let’s stay up all night and build a bar.’ And that’s literally what we did."

Nearly everything in their loft was either handmade, donated, or found on the curb. The most recent project, a ladder bookcase, was hacked from shelves given to them by a neighbor down the hall. "The ladder bookshelf is my favorite thing in the house. Ever since I saw ‘Beauty and the Beast’ I’ve wanted one," says Allison.

The blue bench in the cozy dining nook was an old coffee table. That, plus a number of other shelves and furniture pieces were built by Leeron, using scraps of wood he’s found on the side of the road or at nearby industrial warehouses.

"It’s hard to make things look decent," says Leeron, who doesn’t consider himself a DIY pro. "I can make something structurally sound, but to make it look decent? That’s hard."

And the swing in the middle of the loft? "That was just something I saw on Pinterest and thought, ‘We could definitely put a swing in here,’" says Allison.

With 14-foot ceilings, why not install a swing in the middle of their loft?
Video by Allison Tagger

Fortunately for Allison and Leeron, their landlord doesn’t seem to mind the changes they’ve made to what was once just one big room. After all, it sort of comes with the territory when one decides to rent out a warehouse to a community of artisans.

Another bonus of their south-facing loft is that it is constantly filled with natural light—to the point that they sometimes have to wear sunglasses in their own home. That’s allowed Leeron to fill the place with about 40 different plants, from sword ferns to Birds of Paradise to Norfolk pines.

Left: A swing that Allison bought in Costa Rica hangs in the corner of the Tagger’s loft surrounded by some of Leeron’s many plants. Right: The bedroom, still a work in progress, features an original sliding barn door that they use as a curtain at night.

But like with living in any old home, loft-living has its downsides. "The problem with lofts is that it’s really, really loud," says Allison. "Everyone who lives here doesn’t have a normal work schedule."

She ticks off a list of their eclectic neighbors: Artists, fashion designers, DJs, a jazz musician, a Christian rock drummer, even a mime.

"When we first came here, it was weird. We were just constantly looking up at every sound," says Leeron. "But it’s becoming more normal."

Top right: The couple stayed up all night to build this bar using scraps of wood Leeron found on a nearby curb. The bar stools are some of the few pieces of furniture that the couple hasn’t made themselves. Bottom: Allison and Leeron's respective workshops. The paintings hanging in Allison's office were created by her best friend Shonna, "who is a guiding force of inspiration for me."

The Taggers have been here for just under two years, and they’re still in DIY mode. It’s gotten to the point that they now daydream about downsizing.

And then they remember the "cave" that they lived in before moving to Philly. "I literally felt like I was able to think and see," says Leeron. "It’s super refreshing."

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