Sarah and Neil Greenstein knew the Tudor they wanted to buy three years ago in the Penn Valley section of Lower Merion needed work. They were not deterred even after “the housing inspector flushed the toilet on the third floor and got Niagara Falls,” Neil recalled.

“The house had good bones,” he said, “and Sarah likes a challenge.”

His wife had refurbished two previous homes in Lower Merion, and both sold well, he said. The couple, who met in a high school ceramics class, married in 2003 and have three children.

With ample space in the home, sons Eli, 7, and Jonah, 9, have their own rooms with a bath between on the second floor, where the main bedroom and bath also are located. There also are a guest room and bath by the back stairs, giving visiting grandparents privacy.

Daughter Hannah, 11, has a bedroom and bath on the third floor, where Sarah has her office. Neil uses a desk in the basement. Both are working from home for Johnson & Johnson.

Neil Greenstein says he had confidence in Sarah's ability to tackle the renovation because she had refurbished two previous homes in Lower Merion.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Neil Greenstein says he had confidence in Sarah's ability to tackle the renovation because she had refurbished two previous homes in Lower Merion.

For a year, the family lived with a small galley kitchen. To reconfigure space, Sarah engaged designer Samantha Kreindler, who is based in Philadelphia. She recommended Manny Mantakounis of EGM Construction of Glen Mills as contractor.

Their plan was to combine the kitchen and breakfast room, and break into the attached stone-walled, two-car garage to create a mudroom and a one-car garage.

“Manny let me take the first swing with the hammer,” Sarah said.

The mudroom houses closets, the washer and dryer, and a built in crate for Zoe, a pit bull mix.

Sarah chose white and gray quartz for both kitchen countertops and backsplash rather than subway tile. “I didn’t want to be scrubbing tomato sauce off grout,” she said.

Two large windows were preserved. The new floor resembles the original wide plank oak in the living and dining rooms and foyer. White cabinetry hides the refrigerator, microwave, toaster, and coffee bar. The Thermador range has a grill Sarah uses often to prepare quick meals for children off to soccer or baseball practice.

Living room ceiling beams are painted white. “We considered refinishing the original pine but the wood was too soft,” Sarah Greenstein said.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Living room ceiling beams are painted white. “We considered refinishing the original pine but the wood was too soft,” Sarah Greenstein said.

Sarah and Neil kept many of the original features in the house, built in the 1920s, including leaded multi-paned windows, the wrought iron staircase railing, and rough-coated plaster walls.

The plaster wood-burning fireplace in the living room was replaced with a gas-burning fireplace. Most walls are cream with white trim. The dining room is black with a white ceiling, although light from the windows can change the color to midnight blue or deep purple. An oak cabinet in the corner was made by Neil’s cousin Tristan Harner when he was a teenager. The oak table from Restoration Hardware has an easy-to-wipe glass top.

Furnishings range from the black chairs in the dining room from Target to custom pieces such as the black and cream patterned ottoman in the living room from Chairloom in Ardmore. Chairloom also reupholstered Sarah’s grandmother’s wing chair.

Living room ceiling beams are painted white. “We considered refinishing the original pine but the wood was too soft,” Sarah said.

The slate floor in the basement playroom was covered in kid-friendly COREtec, a cork-backed vinyl. A black cupboard stores games, and a white cupboard acts as Sarah’s pantry. The centerpiece of the playroom is a copper-hooded stone fireplace. Just before the pandemic, EMG Construction finished work on the basement gym.

The Greensteins painted the brick buff on the upper facade of the house so it would better blend with the stone below.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
The Greensteins painted the brick buff on the upper facade of the house so it would better blend with the stone below.

The family also exercises outside, playing basketball in the driveway and doing yard work. During the summer, the children and Sarah planted a vegetable garden. Eli loved growing tomatoes and peppers, she said, but lantern flies got the cucumbers. Neil replaced overgrown rhododendrons with hydrangeas and other shrubs and power-washed the mildewed flagstone patio and paths.

The original red brick on the upper facade of the house clashed with the muted stone below, so the Greensteins painted the brick buff and painted the wood framework gray to blend with the stone. Several front door panels were replaced with glass to let in more light.

Early on, the couple renovated the powder room and three baths. Sarah has one more project scheduled. She plans to replace the pink-and-purple tile and old plumbing fixtures in the main bath. She and Neil want to prevent another “Niagara Falls” incident.

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