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An invading squirrel prompted this couple to finish renovating their Ardmore home

For several years, the family had put up with antiquated plumbing, drafty windows, and a “disastrous” dark kitchen with storage space. The squirrel damage gave them the push they needed.

Inspired by the Ardmore Kitchen Tour, Susan Bruce and Neal Fitch hired Cottage Industries to redo their old kitchen. One of the many doors in the room now matches the cabinetry and opens to hidden pantry.
Inspired by the Ardmore Kitchen Tour, Susan Bruce and Neal Fitch hired Cottage Industries to redo their old kitchen. One of the many doors in the room now matches the cabinetry and opens to hidden pantry.Read moreCottage Industries

Thanks to an ill-fated rodent, a century-old house in Ardmore has a bright new kitchen, three renovated baths, a new powder room, and more.

Susan Bruce and Neal Fitch purchased their three-story home in 2012. The house featured two fireplaces decorated with Moravian tiles and sunny enclosed porches on the first and second floor, as well as a gracious open front porch. Improvements, though, were needed.

The couple had oak floors refinished and central air installed. Fitch removed old floral wallpaper throughout the house. When he stripped one room, he discovered that two paperhangers had left their signatures with the date, 1958, on the wall. Bruce, who is fond of Mission-style furnishings, bought a Stickley settee from Sheffield Furniture in Malvern for the living room.

“Then things snowballed,” she said.

The couple got busy with their jobs. She is an energy attorney in Harrisburg, and he is a regulatory affairs director for an energy company in Philadelphia and often travels to New Jersey. And their family grew with the birth of their son, Foster in 2013.

“The house was getting short shrift,” Bruce said. “We were living a nomadic existence, sleeping on inflatable mattresses.”

For several years, the family put up with antiquated plumbing — only one of three bathrooms was usable — drafty windows, and a “disastrous” dark kitchen with no counter or storage space.

“We ate a lot of takeout,” Bruce said.

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In February 2016, the family returned home after a week’s absence to find “what I thought was a pile of leaves in the living room.” Fitch said. He then realized that the pile was wood shavings. Nearby, a window muntin had been eaten away. Other windows were similarly damaged. A squirrel had gotten in through a hole in the fireplace damper and tried to escape. The intruder was found — deceased — under one of the inflatable mattresses.

Bruce and Fitch decided it was time to make the house a home. The fireplace damper was repaired, and beds were ordered.

Two months after the squirrel attack, Bruce went on an annual tour highlighting new kitchens in Main Line homes, a benefit for the Ardmore Library. She saw several homes with large kitchens in new additions. But Bruce did not want to change the footprint of her house. She preferred a smaller kitchen on the tour, which was renovated by Cottage Industries in Wayne. Bruce got to chat with Cottage co-owner Nick Walker, who was in the kitchen.

Walker put Bruce and Fitch in touch with interior designer Regina Hoffman. Eventually, Hoffman and the Cottage Industries team upgraded all areas of Bruce and Fitch’s house.

The kitchen was the biggest challenge. The room had five doors breaking up space: to the center hall, the dining room, the basement, the back stairs, and the shed, which led outdoors.

The renovators removed the wall between the dining room and kitchen. A French door at the end of the dining room now leads to a patio. The door from the center hall now opens to a powder room with a space-saving corner sink.

Access to the pantry, formerly the shed, is from a door cleverly disguised as a kitchen cabinet. The door that blocked a window was removed from the back stairs, which were retained. Two of the old doors were repurposed for closets added to the primary bedroom.

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New windows now make the enclosed porches cozy. The first-floor porch is furnished with upholstered turquoise chairs from Tropicraft Patio Furniture in Ardmore. The upstairs porch is a playroom for Foster, now 7.

With Hoffman’s help, Bruce furnished her home with Mission-style items, including a mirror over the living room fireplace and a Stickley dining table and chairs purchased from an online consignment store.

Their new kitchen was chosen for the 2020 Ardmore tour, but because of the pandemic, Ardmore Library decided in March that it had to make its 2020 kitchen tour virtual. So instead of welcoming visitors to their home, Bruce and Fitch watched online as Walker displayed photos and described how his crew had remodeled the kitchen with white cabinetry, a farm sink, stainless steel appliances, and a cleverly hidden pantry door.

“We were pleased to be asked to support this year’s kitchen tour and be able to ‘pay it forward,’ given that we found Cottage through a prior kitchen tour,” Bruce said. “And, of course, the library is a great cause!”

The 2020 Ardmore Kitchen Tour, “Meet the Contractors,” is available for free online viewing.

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