The homeowners in Philadelphia's East Falls neighborhood sit by the brick fireplace in a living room furnished with a tan leather sofa and chairs. A rose, blue, and gold Sarouk rug covers oak flooring. The husband and wife have turned on the tall radio console as if to listen to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fireside Chat to the nation.
In reality, the couple, Ed Ruback and Judith Lopez, had not been born when Roosevelt gave his first Fireside Chat in 1933. The radio, though, made around 1929, could have broadcast the talk, and the furnishings are consistent with the Craftsman-style home, built in 1904.
Ruback owns several radios in various sizes and designs that are old enough to have broadcast all 11 years of Fireside Chats. The collection, accumulated over 40 years, includes a Bakelite burgundy and mustard-colored Fada from the 1940s and a tabletop "cathedral" that Atwater Kent made in Philadelphia in the 1930s. A century-old crystal set sits on a shelf with vintage radios and antique aeronautics gauges on the enclosed front porch. When Ruback listens to music or up-to-date news, he tunes in the sleek contemporary radio in the breakfast room.
Ruback says he has "72 radios and climbing, A to Z, Admirals to Zeniths."
While Lopez rolls her eyes at her husband's boast, she has managed to attractively display his beloved radios, as well as her own treasures.
Lopez spent her early childhood in New York City before moving with her parents to Puerto Rico, their homeland. She returned to the States as an adult.
Her late mother, Antonia Robles, was a gifted decoupage artist, and Lopez has several of her mother's works. In the breakfast room, she hung Robles' Puerto Rican street scene depicting houses made from paper cutouts festooned with flowers and fruit fashioned from cornstarch and water. A tiny frog and lizard create whimsy. Another decoupage of lovers beneath a mango tree hangs nearby. The walls behind the artwork are painted rust orange and harvest gold to complement the artist's color choice. Walls throughout the rest of the house are painted cream with pale olive wood trim.
Ruback, 73, and Lopez, 67, met at a singles dance in Philadelphia. After marrying in 1994, they lived in a small house in Roxborough. They bought the large East Falls twin in 1998 because they like to entertain and wanted a formal dining room.
"We got the dining room," Ruback quips, "and the 12 extra rooms that came with it."
Previous owners had taken out back stairs, converted the pantry into the kitchen, and made the kitchen into a breakfast room in the late 1980s.
Ruback and Lopez kept the wood-toned kitchen cabinets but replaced formica countertops with granite and purchased new appliances. They updated powder room fixtures and remodeled bathrooms upstairs.
The second-floor master bedroom now has a wall of closets. Visiting family and friends have their own suite on the third floor, including a refrigerator and sink in the den. The den also serves as a warm "winter quarters" for the couple when the rest of the old house feels chilly.
Lopez calls the longed-for dining room "our Out of Africa" room. There is a silk-screen print of Massa the gorilla by Tom Palmore, a woodcarving of Haitians picking breadfruit, and sculptures of a rhinoceros and of an African tribesman. The built-in corner china cabinet is balanced on the opposite wall by a corner shelf matching the maple dining table.
Outside, a red "sail" has been strung over a new deck. Red Adirondack chairs surround a blue coffee table on the brick patio. Terra cotta planters are filled with coleus and begonias. Ruback, a retired wholesale clothing business owner, and Lopez, a retired social worker, also have plots in the local community garden and are part of East Falls Tree-Tenders, an organization that plants and cares for neighborhood trees.
With the deck finished, Lopez is considering another project: opening a skylight covered over years ago on the third floor. Ruback isn't keen on the idea.
If he wants Lopez to be amenable to his purchasing more radios, though, a compromise might be forthcoming.
The Craftsman twin will be among homes featured on the East Falls House Tour on Sunday, Oct. 28. For information, go to eastfallscommunity.org/events.
Judith Lopez's and Ed Ruback's most recent project: A deck at the back of the home covered with a red sail.