I acquired Susquehanna as a flip project in 2011. The century-old, 3-story row home sat on a developing street in the heart of Fishtown here in Philadelphia. It had been vacant for only six years, but the exterior told a different story. From its drab, yellow siding, to the outdated stone facade, to the built-in air conditioner, Susquehanna looked like its last days of glory ended in the 70s. My team and I had our work cut out for us.

We knew from the beginning that everything had to go, but the risk you run with siding and facades is that there’s no way to know what’s underneath. What may look like an aesthetic choice might actually be hiding serious and potentially costly damage. We didn’t need that kind of monkey wrench thrown into our plans (or our flip budget), but in the end, we decided the outside of the house had to match the modern loveliness we were planning for the inside. We crossed our fingers and removed the siding.

As luck would have it, the condition of the bricks was pretty good–nothing a little grinding and repointing couldn’t remedy. The problem was that, even under the siding, the bricks were painted! Again, we were confronted with the choice of leaving the paint, or taking a risk on whatever lied beneath. Call me a daredevil, but I wanted the paint gone. We decided to acid wash it away. I partly expected the find a bunch of mismatched, ugly brick beneath, but again, the bricks were just fine.

With our plans to add central air to the house, we had no need for the clunky, built-in air conditioner. But while there was no doubt about removing it, we weren’t sure what to do with the big hole it would leave in front of the house. We toyed with the idea of installing a picture window to replace the hole and the two front windows, however the structural work required to make that a reality just wasn’t in the budget. As such, we started searching demo yards for bricks matching the existing bricks to patch the hole.

Side note: Matching bricks is serious business. Not only will matching your bricks make for a consistent and attractive look, but it will also ensure the structural efficiency of your property! When and how a brick is made affects how it reacts to the local climate, how it holds moisture, and even how it bears weight. A bad brick match can cost you time and money in the long run, so always do your research.

That said, the search for the right bricks took my contractors out of Philadelphia! We actually found the closest match in a demo yard in D.C, and the trek was well worth it. We chucked the air conditioner and patched that baby right up.

So, about that egregiously 70s stone facade. Again, we chose to gamble on what we would find underneath. This time, our luck ran short. The facade had been applied with some kind of mason’s adhesive bond, and the brick beneath was beyond saving. We would have to cover it with something else. Limestone or brownstone would have been ideal, but with our budget in mind, we opted for dryvit stucco. The dryvit stucco achieved the clean, modern look we were aiming for without breaking our bank. We extended the stucco around to the back of the house as well for consistency.

With the major work behind us, we repointed the brick, installed a new door, and even updated the old transom. And that’s it! With a bit of research, elbow grease, and good old-fashioned luck, my team and I brought the facade of Susquehanna out of the 70s and into the present.

See Susquehanna’s full transformation here.