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Renovation Diary Part I: Finding potential in a 776-square-foot Trinity

As our Renovation Diary series begins, an out-of-towner dives into her latest home renovation project in Philly

RoseAnn Hill’s new home sweet home.
Photos by Melissa Romero

After years of fixing up homes throughout rural Pennsylvania and abroad, RoseAnn Hill had the itch again to renovate. Only this time, the home she fell in love with was in Philadelphia, and at 776 square feet, it was the smallest property she’d ever taken on. Follow along the renovation process from start to finish in real time, as the 52-year-old works with local architect Timothy Kerner of Terra Studio to fix up a traditional Trinity in Queen Village.

Editor’s note: this story package was originally published in 2017 but each piece has been updated with the current information. This is part one of five stories to come.

I’ve always had a thing for renovating. The first home I actually bought at auction was an old Victorian in the country—I moved from Chicago to rural Pennsylvania. Later, I read this Wall Street Journal article saying that Nova Scotia was the next Hamptons. I found a piece of land there, eight acres, and bought it for $40,000 with my husband at the time and built a home right there on a cliff.

Basically, fixer-uppers are like puppies to me—I can’t go shopping because I love them so much. With this latest project, I was thinking that my kids were getting older and that they were eyeing a move to Philadelphia. I hadn’t even seen the Trinity in person when I bought it. My realtor Facetimed me while touring it and I bought it right then and there.

From the research I had been doing, I really loved Old City and was leaning toward buying a smaller building or loft. But I didn’t want to have to have that burden of dealing with a condo community. I liked that the Trinity was a single-family home.

RoseAnn Hill purchased this Trinity for $263,000 in 2016. It features the traditional winding staircase.

It’s 776 square feet, and it’s a classic Trinity with some exposed brick. But over the years, I think there’s been some poor design choices. There’s dry wall where it doesn’t need to be, for instance. There are layers that can come off to make it feel more airy and have cleaner lines.

The wood floors are original, and we were thinking of exposing some beams in the kitchen and bedroom. [Tim] has so many lovely ideas, and I really like the way he thinks.

Common in traditional Trinities, the kitchen is located in the basement. The plan is to completely gut the room.

I’ve never worked with an architect. It’s a luxurious thing —like having a lawyer. But since I live out of town I think it’ll be helpful working with Tim. His aesthetic is matched to what I’m looking for. We took about two hours going through the Trinity from top to bottom and discussed structurally what needs to happen, including updating the plumbing and electrical.

The master bedroom is located on the third floor. The plan is to expose the ceiling beams, if they exist.

We want to do this correctly. I like these high-design elements and want to make it more modern and relevant. I’m not looking to sell it, but at the same time my kids will probably be using it in the next 10 years. This generation is not living in old homes that your grandmother designed. I want to make sure it’s a little more current.

I want to keep my cost at $125,000. I know it’s probably going to be more than that, but that’s the budget I’d like to stick to.”

As told by RoseAnn Hill

Stay tuned: With an architect’s help, how to make the most of a small space, when Renovation Diary returns.