Laura B. Hoover | Laura B. Hoover

Tudor of an Architect’s Dream

By Laura Beitman Hoover
For The Inquirer

The English Tudor was nothing like the Elkins Park tract house David Feldman grew up in. Aside from the expansive landscaping – thanks to his talented mother – that 1950s property lacked character.

But the Tudor, nestled near the Narberth-Merion border and walkable from the train station, had a lovely front pocket garden and the deep windowsills, stone walls, and woodwork that Feldman always coveted. The neighborhood looked like an English suburb at night.

Still, the house needed work.

“It was a dump. It was filthy and furnished weirdly,” says Feldman, an architect and former Habitat for Humanity executive director. “I’m never going to win a housekeeping award, but the neighbors said, ‘Wow, it’s so much cleaner.’ No one’s ever said that to me before.”

This is the third house for Feldman, who redevelops urban properties with a sustainable bent for his company, Right-Sized Homes L.L.C. The four-bedroom, two-bathroom dwelling follows a livable shell in the Graduate Hospital area he started renovating when he was 28 and the home nearby where he lived when he was married.

He paid less than $200,000 for the 1,800-square-foot Tudor in fall of 2000.

But before moving in, he followed a piece of advice he gives his clients: He refinished the hardwood floors and updated the wiring. The latter job included one of his biggest pet peeves, separating the lights and the ceiling fans from the same switch. Then, instead of installing 60-watt lightbulbs, he put in 75-watt bulbs on a dimmer, at about 80 percent.

“The bulb last four times longer. I rarely replace lightbulbs,” he says.

Over the last 11 years, Feldman – who admits to being particular about some decorating details and laid-back about others – has completed several more updates to the house, such as a new heating system, energy-efficient windows, and a top-to-bottom third-floor renovation. More important, perhaps, he left other things alone, such as the hexagonal-tile floor and original 1928 pedestal sink in the second-floor bathroom.

But first came the color. Literally. “It took me eight years to get rid of the white walls,” he said.

He started with the living room, painting the walls two shades of gold and red. In the circa-1950s-but-updated-in-the-’70s kitchen, he used pink, purple, and yellow paint left over from his daughter’s room to create a slight Alice-in-Wonderland effect.

Upstairs, the rooms are gold, pumpkin, and purple with crisp white trim. However, the serene dining room, punctuated by an original walnut border on the oak floors, is painted a sophisticated green, influenced by his studies of Scottish architecture.

“In Edinburgh, there were a lot of green dining rooms,” he says.

Feldman incorporated special pieces into the downstairs living space, including an Oriental rug from a synagogue auction, an estate sideboard, and a mid-century-modern cabinet filled to the brim with toy houses and figurines from Quebec and other places he has traveled.

He says he has no qualms about mixing antiques with pieces from Ikea.

“I like items that have clean lines, good design that is enduring, not fleeting or trendy,” he says. “I love things on wheels and decorative objects that say something about where or how they were made and the artist who made them.”

In the light-filled hallway, that includes 1930s glass-plate fashion silhouettes that were owned by his great-aunt, a dress designer who came to the United States from Odessa, Ukraine, in her teens and taught him to draw.

Inspired by his travels to the United Kingdom, Feldman turned a former ironing-board closet in the kitchen into a tea shelf.

He also added a new refrigerator. It’s titanium, because stainless steel doesn’t hold magnets – something very important to Feldman because he and his daughter have collected hundreds and organized them carefully.

He installed a stove left over from a work rehab project in Fitler Square.

The third floor was Feldman’s real labor of love. Spending more than $16,000, he dismantled the dropped ceiling, added a bathroom, put in an energy-efficient dormer window, and superinsulated the walls and the roof. Pine floors are painted a bed-and-breakfast-inspired green-and-gray checkerboard; the dormer-turned-sleeping-alcove holds an Indonesian daybed.

“I’ve done all these houses, but I’m still not done with mine,” he says. “I continue to move things around, add new items from travels, friends, family, and life in general, and rotate out things to keep the house from getting too full.”

Most proud of how efficiently yet spaciously his was designed, Feldman knows a home is never just a home. It’s about the neighborhood, too.

“A lot of people in the suburbs want their privacy. We’re the kind who like to know our neighbors,” he says from his porch, framed by yew bushes. “There’s cat-sitting, taking in each other’s mail, an annual block party, a communal snowblower.

“We spend a lot of time on the porch. There’s a sense of community.”

Baseball and Life

By Laura B. Hoover

A version of this essay was published in the Philadelphia Daily News

I am starting to realize how important baseball is to life. This is an absurd statement coming from a 35-year-old pregnant woman seven months along, but this is a truth I can no longer deny.

This isn’t about the World Series, two no hitters, or even watching Carlos Ruiz jump for joy- something I never tire of – it’s about everyday moments, and everyday conversation with strangers, co-workers, even family.

I thought about this recently as I sat in a room full of people for my baby shower. The swirl of faces ranged from neighborhood friends, college roommates, and many family members whom I haven’t seen since the wedding. Touched by their generosity, I still felt awkward about how little we really know about each other. But after the pastel tissue paper had been unwrapped, after the marble cake with butter cream frosting had been eaten, we returned to what we all know and care about, the Phillies.

The night before, I had picked up my childhood friend from the airport. The first thing out of my mouth when she got in the car was: Jimmy Rollins just hit a grand slamcoming back after months of injuries. A Chicagoan, she said, nice to see you too. But by the end of the weekend, she understood better, my putting down roots in this city and with my new family.

Baseball is a safe topic at work, and much more comfortable and at times appropriate than my expanding stomach. My husband and I talk about baseball at least once a day. At the end of chores, home improvements, and attempting to get ready for baby, there is baseball.

If my dad were still alive, we’d be talking baseball, too. A longtime northern New Jersey resident, he would have loved teasing me about the Yankees. But he would have enjoyed the Phillies run as well because he just loved the game.

I know there are more important things in life than baseball. There are the arts, and music and getting off the couch. Even Shane Victorino took time off for the birth of his son. And there is this baby, coming whether we are ready or not. One thing we know for sure is which team to talk about and root for.

Fresh Greens from atop the Four Seasons Hotel

By Laura B. Hoover

Published PHSonline.org, 2009

On a sunny crisp afternoon in late September, 30-year-old Grace Wicks locks up her bike and crosses 18th Street. Carrying a basket filled with plant stakes and seeds, she says a quick hello to the doorman and climbs up nine stories.

A member of PHS’s Young Friends group and owner of her own edible garden business, Wicks recently designed a rooftop garden at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia in Center City. The project was just another step in the hotel’s climb toward sustainability.

“The chef wanted a garden forever,” said Wicks, speaking of the hotel’s famed Chef Ralph Costobile, who has worked at the hotel’s Fountain Restaurant for more than 10 years. “I worked with him on what he would like. We installed it together.”

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Chaucer Re-Imbodied

By Laura B. Hoover

Published in Penn Arts & Science Magazine, April 25, 2006

Ask David Wallace who a modern-day Chaucer is, and he’ll fold his hands in his lap, exhale lightly, and explain. It’s not someone in the United States whose words and ideas follow familiar English patterns established long ago. And it’s not someone in the European-influenced city of Philadelphia or in the sharp and at times street-savvy student body of the University of the Pennsylvania. A new Geoffrey Chaucer would be lurking in an emerging country that is still fighting for its modern identity, its voice. “If there is one, she’s probably in Africa,” Wallace said recently.

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Back on My Feet

By Laura B. Hoover

Published in the Philadelphia Daily News

I’m a walker.

I’ve walked from Manayunk to the Art Museum, the length of South Street river to river, and from 49th Street in West Philly to City Hall.

I walk because I don’t like waiting for the bus, because I don’t always feel like paying for a cab, and because I like the rhythm and the air. Mostly, I walk because I like to observe the world. I like to see.

Being able to walk around is one of the reasons I love Philadelphia, why I decided I could live here three years ago when walking my sister’s dog, and why I prefer it over Baltimore and the other places I’ve been.

But on a recent Sunday night as I was heading home, I was targeted by three young men. I can only guess that it was because of my size, my gender and, most likely, my two tote bags and brown leather purse.

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One Philadelphian’s Garden … Italian Style

By Laura B. Hoover

Published PHSOnline.org, 2009

Giacomo Portolese may not have the property he had back in Italy: a 10-acre expanse filled with chestnut trees, an olive grove, and the Mediterranean Sea off in the distance. But that hasn’t stopped the 89-year-old Philadelphia transplant from having a verdant garden here.

Over the last 36 years, Mr. Portolese, a native of Santa Cristina d’Aspromonte, a mountain town in the Calabria region in Southern Italy, has transformed the little yard behind his two-story row house in Chestnut Hill into a dense urban vegetable garden, one that yields enough organic fruits and vegetables to feed at least three families. The elder Portolese speaks little English, so his son Tony helps translate. “What do you call them here…frozen dinners?” Tony notes while standing in his father’s yard. “You won’t find them here.”

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