Some people spend their whole lives searching for a home with that ideal blend of location, space and features.
Others take a hands-on approach - finding the space, then adapting it to suit, sometimes from the ground up.
Ten years ago, Jane McGuffin, a psychologist and songwriter, and her husband, Chuck, an architect, took on an ambitious project: converting a 4,000-square-foot garage into a loft in southwest Center City, where they had lived more than 30 years.
They were living in a Victorian townhouse Chuck had renovated in a modern way, while still leaving touches of yesteryear. But after Jane took a fall on the stairs, the couple decided to make a move. In March 1997, they bought a two-story garage in the neighborhood that had been used as storage space by a local plumber.
"The original idea was to build a more conventional three- or four-story house," says Chuck. "But that turned out to be a bit too ambitious and expensive, so we quickly changed to our current loft design."
The long property stretches across a city block, from street to street. The large two-story living area features two gradual staircases, which lead to the master bedroom and bathroom in the front of the house and two more bedrooms, a full bath, storage space, and a garden deck in the back.
The open living area is especially appealing, Jane says, because it's perfect for displaying her art collections and has plenty of room for large gatherings. There, she has hosted an art opening that drew more than 120 visitors, as well as two big parties where the floor was cleared for entertainment by a DJ and break-dance crews.
To get a unique look for their house and lots of natural light - which can be a rare commodity in a city dwelling - the couple removed the garage door from the facade and put in a wall of picture windows.
"I really didn't want to do the traditional Philadelphia front," Chuck says. "This is certainly more of a modern statement."
Lighting the long expanse between the front and back rooms proved to be a challenge, because the house shares walls with a neighboring townhouse and a business. They couldn't add windows there, so Chuck opted for several skylights. The deck also lets sunlight in, and a special variance was obtained to allow windows toward the rear.
"I realize, now that it's getting dark earlier and we get home late, that I've been living in the house for three months without turning on a light, except in the kitchen to cook supper," Jane says.
While they waited for the space to become livable, the couple lived in an apartment in the city. They hoped the garage conversion would be ready in three months, but as the work got under way, they discovered problems that needed addressing.
"Once you start getting into a home, you discover slight, or even major, changes that you have to make," Chuck says. "For instance, I had hoped we could keep the existing roof, but there was dry rot in the rafters, so we had to replace it."
But they were able to salvage a lot, too, including enough space in the back for a single-car garage, the old metal garage door, and a full first-floor bathroom installed by the plumbing company.
After 13 months, the McGuffins decided to move into their unfinished home. Although that came with its fair share of inconveniences, Jane and Chuck had done it before and learned that, sometimes, it had its advantages.
"You get ideas about how to solve design and functional [issues] that you might not have had before living there," Jane says. "You get practical information about what it's like to live in the space, and you can decide, for example, that you don't want the refrigerator where you thought you were going to have it, or things about light and color."
Chuck and Jane still see their home as a work in progress. He hopes someday to add a second roof deck, where they can have a skyline view of sunsets and fireworks - one of the things they enjoyed most about the old townhouse. They aren't sure whether this loft is their last project; both talk of remodeling others, and Chuck, a carpentry enthusiast, spends his weekends at the Shore, renovating a house the couple bought about the same time as their loft.
In the meantime, they say, they're happy to share a space in the neighborhood they have called home for most of their adult lives. Even if it isn't the perfect home, it's very close.
"There's the idea in psychology that people search and wish for a better parent, and after a certain time or after therapy, they just accept that the parents they had were 'good enough,' " Jane says.
"This home is more than just the 'good enough' parent. It's a wonderful place to live. The light and the space make me happy every morning."
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The McGuffins' house is among the stops on the Center City Residents Association's 50th Anniversary Tour, from
1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 19. Advance tickets for the self-guided tour may be purchased for $20 ($15 for groups of 10 or more) at www.centercityresidents.org or by calling 215-546-6719. Buy tickets the day of the tour at Trinity Center for Urban Life, 2212 Spruce St., or Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, 300 S. 18th St. #1.