A casual brunch with a friend brought Ray Cancio to the ”starter home” he may never leave.
It was 2007 and Cancio, an equities trader in Center City, had commuted from Bucks County for 10 years and rented a loft near Chinatown for six more. Now it was time for a place of his own.
He had been looking in the Point Breeze neighborhood, but “I found the area congested, and the rehabbed homes felt kind of dark inside.”
A friend suggested a meal in Northern Liberties, and as they were walking through the neighborhood, they spotted an “open house” sign outside what appeared to be a fairly conventional double trinity home on a narrow side street.
Twelve years later, standing in the living room of that house with light pouring in, he says, “I can’t see living anywhere else.”
It was love at first sight, but the sort of love one might have for the classmate no one else is chasing.
The neighborhood seemed a bit far away from his office, although there was easy access by SEPTA. “There was talk of it being up and coming,” he says, “but it wasn’t there yet. There was just one building at the Piazza.”
But “the house had good bones,” he says. “I knew it had potential. Even though it’s only 1,050 square feet, it felt bigger.”
So he saved for three years before undertaking a series of renovations that blended the eclectic with the economical. Even though it’s a galaxy apart from the way he makes his living, “it was always my passion to do interior design,” he says.
Partly because he wasn’t wealthy and partly because he didn’t want to make an investment he couldn’t recoup, he scoured Craigslist, Home Depot, and salvage sales, looking especially for ’70s and ’80s office furniture. “I just like the ’70s and ’80s look,” he says.
The only splurge for Cancio was marble countertops in the kitchen, where he also put in new appliances and IKEA cabinets and hid the toaster oven and microwave in a cabinet.
He ripped apart the backyard, which he described as “a huge flower bed” with a large tree in the center, turning it into an oasis of relaxation for himself and Cooper, the high-energy Maltipoo that joined him a year after he moved in.
The second-floor living room is furnished at an angle, and he installed a tiny balcony where he can look down into the yard for what he describes as “a treehouse feel.”
There is a cowhide rug, a Roy Lichtenstein print, and a piece of abstract art he bought on Craigslist.
The third-floor bedroom has a skylight, and the third-floor bathroom uses porcelain tiles on the floor and walls. Above the bed is a whimsical, blown-up photo of Cooper the dog in a superhero costume.
“I wanted to keep everything white because it was such a small area,” Cancio says. “And I like to keep everything simple. I don’t like clutter.
“You walk in and it’s modern, and that’s unexpected. It feels a lot bigger with all the light coming in.”
During his time in Northern Liberties, he’s watched the neighborhood evolve.
“It used to be all factories and dilapidated warehouses,” he says. “Then there were the hipster bars and restaurants, but that’s shifted into Fishtown.
“It’s turned into more of a family-oriented neighborhood.”