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Liz Solms is putting a sustainable touch on apartments her late father renovated

Late-morning sun fills the two huge windows behind Liz Solms, who is seated on a sofa in a one-bedroom unit she recently refurbished at Touraine, an apartment building she co-owns at 15th and Spruce Streets.

Late-morning sun fills the two huge windows behind Liz Solms, who is seated on a sofa in a one-bedroom unit she recently refurbished at Touraine, an apartment building she co-owns at 15th and Spruce Streets.

In one hand, Solms holds a three-page printout, a list of the materials she used in the renovation of the 986-square-foot unit and what makes each of them "green."

She doesn't really need the cheat sheet. She is Stephen E. Solms' daughter, and - like the legendary developer of Historic Landmarks for Living, which repurposed and revived such Philadelphia properties as the Chocolate Works in the early 1980s - she possesses not only his attention to detail but also his passion.

"He was a pioneer with incredible vision," she said.

Touraine is familiar ground for Liz Solms, 30, who once called it home. Her aim today is to take every unit as it becomes vacant and redo it using sustainable, environment-friendly materials "to create a look and feel that pays homage to the architectural integrity of the old buildings."

In recent years, Solms has spent much of her time in a rural area of Jamaica with her husband, Giuliano Pignataro, developing sustainable agriculture projects as he promotes green building. In a spot so off the beaten path by four-wheel-drive vehicle that "you go to sleep at 7:30 p.m. because there's nothing to do," she said, the couple have just completed a house with solar power and a rainwater-collection system.

Since her father's death in August at age 71, however, Solms and Pignataro have been "slowly transitioning back to Philadelphia," as she puts it, without pulling out of Jamaica completely.

"We are trying to stay fluid," she said of their plans.

That's because she and her mother now own Historic Landmarks for Living and its 13 buildings in Philadelphia, West Chester, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Chicago that weren't sold to Jeffrey Reinhold, of Reinhold Properties, five years ago.

Reinhold Properties manages the buildings. Touraine's monthly rents range from $1,400 to about $4,000.

Liz Solms lived at Touraine until she was 18, in an apartment her mother - Ellen B. Solms, executive director of the Avenue of the Arts from 1993 to 2000 - still occupies.

"She's just finished renovating it," Liz Solms said.

Stephen Solms, who used historic-property tax credits in the late 1970s and 1980s to transform Old City, bought the 180-unit building, built in 1917, in November 1983, then restored and renovated it.

"I loved it here because I would go trick-or-treating in the building when it was raining" on Halloween," Liz Solms said. She was a self-described "menace," who, at 5, would press all the buttons on the elevators until the manager caught up with her.

What Solms has set out to do at Touraine is not easy, given that sustainability remains a relatively new concept. But Jamaica, where she landed six years ago armed with a grant to establish an organic-farming cooperative, "taught me patience."

And, after all, what she intends is essentially what her father did.

"In the early 1980s, he walked through Old City and saw the potential in abandoned warehouses," Solms said. "He used the historic tax credits then available to rejuvenate these spaces as residential and make them vital again, and not even changing the names.

"It was, in a sense, recycling," she said.

The essence of his vision is what Solms hopes to capture at Touraine: "to preserve the architectural integrity of the building using sustainable materials and building practices."

Eventually, the effort will extend to all the buildings managed by Reinhold Properties, she said.

The now-refurbished seventh-floor apartment at Touraine, which will be available for rental this week, is, Solms said, "a trial-and-error unit for something that we want to get down to a science."

The renovation, which took four to six months from conception to completion, argues against the belief that Philadelphia renters won't settle for less than "stainless steel and granite," she said.

The tile in the bathroom, for example, is an American Olean product made of inorganic materials and recycled scrap - even the leavings from the production process are reused.

The paint has no volatile organic compounds. The blinds are the originals, as is most of the glass.

The Ecotop countertops in bathroom and kitchen are made of recycled fibers and bamboo bound with a water-based copolymer resin.

There also is an effort to reduce the carbon footprint by buying local, Solms said.

"We do this wherever possible," she said, although things such as the bamboo floors must be brought in.

The lightbulbs in the apartment and Touraine's hallways are compact fluorescents, though "I'm not crazy about them," said Solms, who chose lighting fixtures with frosted glass to make things look warmer. She is banking on rapid changes in technology to make LED lighting less costly and "warmer."

"Green" costs more initially, Solms said, about 28 percent, but some of that is attributable to "design upgrades."

"We see that number shrinking as we find more sources and distribution becomes efficient," she said. "My guess is the premium will completely disappear within one or two years, especially as volume increases."

Liz Solms sees her efforts at Touraine as the start of something bigger - which, she acknowledged, is taking a page from Stephen Solms' book.

"Dad was always into what I was doing," she said, encouraging her to go to Jamaica to break new ground.

"If I had told him I was going to start a marshmallow factory, Dad would have been behind me."