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Making art in a ‘secret little gem’ in Northern Liberties

Artists and roommates Sarah Beaver and Michael Ciervo make the most of their live-work setup

When one is in the middle of a hunt for a new house or apartment, laughter isn’t usually part of the painstaking process. But that’s exactly what Sarah Beaver did when she found her future home in Philly.

“He sent me photos of the place via e-mail, and I remember that I started laughing,” says Beaver. “I said, ‘Is this a joke?’ because I thought it was so beautiful.”

To be sure, she set up a date with her potential roommate Michael Ciervo to see the place in person. Ciervo, a painter, didn’t have to do much convincing. “He opened the door and I said, ‘Yep, I’m good, I’m moving in,’” says Beaver. “I didn’t really need to see it. I knew this was the one.”

Roommates Beaver and Ciervo fill their light-filled live-work loft with plants. Beaver made the ceramic plant-holder for the cactus.

“The one” is a two-bedroom loft in an old warehouse building in Northern Liberties. Beaver calls the converted building “this secret little gem,” a fitting description in a neighborhood that’s been seen a tremendous about of development and new construction over the past few years.

Not to say that Beaver’s previous rental was drab—she rented a room in her friend’s condo in the Milk Depot Factory, another example of an adaptive reuse of an old warehouse building in Kensington. Moving to the Northern Liberties loft was what Beaver calls “a lateral move.”

Top left: Ciervo made the bookshelf and ladder. Top right: The loft features direct elevator access. Bottom: Ciervo has a studio in the back of the loft.

Beaver says she likes that the apartment building maintained many of its original details in spite of its adaptive reuse. As an artist who worked for years in historic preservation, historic and original character was on Beaver’s must-have list.

“I like when something is historic and looks age appropriate,” says Beaver.

She ticks off some of her favorite original features in the loft, starting with the freight elevator that opens directly to the apartment. That made moving in a breeze, says Beaver.

As an artist with a jewelry line, Beaver says the natural light that floods the apartment from a wall of windows was another bonus. Both Beaver and Ciervo consider their home a live-work space. Ciervo has a large painting studio in the back, as well as a small wood shop, while Beaver sets up her workspace in the expansive living area.

Given Ciervo’s craftsmanship, a lot of the loft was already outfitted with some of his own custom furniture before Beaver moved in. The built-in bookcase and library ladder were built by Ciervo, as was the kitchen table and bench.

So Beaver took to swapping in some of the older, hand-me-down furniture with vintage pieces. “I wanted something a little more interesting and uncommon,” says Beaver. “I don’t really like have something that a bunch of other people have.”

Some of the swaps were simple, like replacing an IKEA coffee table for a glass one, and a regular light source for a midcentury modern chrome lamp. But the biggest change was replacing the couch with a leather sofa she found on Craigslist. “I just had a gut reaction that I needed it in my life,” says Beaver.

Top left: Beaver says of her 10-year-old cat Astrid, “I’ve had her her whole life. We’ve been together for 10 years.” Her roommate Ciervo made the dining table and bench. Top right: Beaver makes jewelry in her live-work space for her wenvrsleep line. Bottom: The ceramic fruit bowl is by Ashley Hardy from local Philadelphia home goods store Yowie.

Beaver is quick to point out that everything single “new” piece of furniture she’s brought to the apartment was a Craigslist find. One of the finds she’s most proud of is a chrome midcentury modern lamp that she bought for $75. She later found the same make of it on eBay, valued at $795.

“My friends joke that my number one hobby is Craiglist,” says Beaver. “I’m just having a moment with it right now.”

It’s been four years since Beaver moved from her hometown of Harrisburg to Philadelphia, and she’s still just as thrilled with her change of scenery and sheer luck of finding a perfect place to call home. “I moved here and did not have a job lined up or much of anything else,” she says. “But it sort of all worked out in the end.”