Once, it was a dilapidated day-care center on North Fourth Street.

But today, two years after Linda and Seth Soffer bought the century-old structure at a foreclosure auction, it has been transformed into their own family utopia - on a budget.

Many of the furnishings were acquired from salvage yards and Ikea. Burnished pine floors are the result of long nights of removing linoleum and pulling out nails.

The Soffers' 4,000-square-foot Northern Liberties home now sports features that many people can only dream about. Four-year-old Ruby has her own 15-foot steel slide. Linda has a spacious studio for her work as an art therapist. And Seth, a computer programmer, has ample space for his 25 video games in the first-floor arcade.

When they bought the place, the day-care center had only recently closed, its toddler-sized toilets and sink left behind. Orange exterior wiring ran through each room.

Reinventing the property became a full-time job for Linda, who had been working from home since her daughter's birth, and an after-work project for Seth.

"We both try not to take things too seriously," Linda says. "We had to have a sense of whimsy when things became really challenging, and we sat and made our lists of what we needed to do to make the move and not let it get too overwhelming."

Linda facilitated the planning with her drawing ability, Seth says. Seth's programming acumen was essential in installing equipment in their new home, Linda says.

Then there was Kate Midgett of Star Contracting, whom the couple credit with much of the project's success and for the fact that they moved in on schedule last year.

Their shoestring budget was maximized by the imaginative Midgett, who turned to contracting after a career designing stage and television sets and who takes on only projects she finds interesting.

"Linda met me with an exact spreadsheet of what she wanted to do in each room and how she would accomplish it," Midgett says. "I never saw so much determination. Both Soffers were pulling out nails and removing layers of linoleum and finishing floors, as well as relocating . . . wires after I gave them directions."

These days, no signs remain of the construction site that was the Soffers' house until spring of last year.

A visitor arriving at the red-brick building notices a colorful array of spring flowers planted beside the front door - in a tiny toddler toilet.

"We had lots . . . and decided to make use of some of them," Linda says, laughing as she opens the door.

Inside is a dimly lit room, filled with vintage, blinking arcade games from the 1970s and '80s, along with a classic jukebox and a bar.

"I have been collecting video games for a long time, and one of my goals was to find a place to put them," Seth says.

The Soffers entertain in the room, he says, and recently used the arcade as part of a benefit for a sick friend.

"Seth insisted on refinishing the floor of his video arcade . . . and told the contractors he would do it himself," his wife says.

A door from the arcade leads to a large patio area, where Ruby reaps the benefits of her home's former life as a day-care center: the slide, a trampoline, and a large playhouse.

From a deck overlooking the play yard, the Soffers say, they can sit and watch the sunset, with the Philadelphia skyline as a backdrop. Their favorite ginkgo tree rises nearby.

French doors lead from the deck to the 800-square-foot kitchen, a highlight of which is the vintage Western Holly gas stove Linda found.

An island with bar stools is adjacent to a formal dining area.

Off the kitchen are former day-care rooms now combined to create a family room/playroom with abundant toys for Ruby and an adult living-room area with traditional chairs, couches, and an entertainment center.

Linda's studio houses about 700 square feet of tables for art material and projects and, starting next year, for Ruby's home-schooling.

The third floor has three bedrooms: one for Ruby, one for her parents, and one for guests.

The little girl's room has a large faux fireplace with a mantel Linda says she found in a salvage yard.

During a tour of the house, it seems as if every few feet one of the Soffers is pointing to molding or paneling or a door that was rescued and used for the renovation.

The result: A home in which everything fits together, one that looks like an architectural showcase.

"We both see this as our final family home for at least 20 years," Linda says. "Our former little house on Leithgow Street was purchased with the idea of being a stepping-stone to the large, unusual house we both wanted. We loved our first house and wanted to live near the neighbors there.

"Without that house, we never would have found this one, nor could we have afforded it."

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