What do you give a house that needs everything? A couple of energetic optimists

But Robyn and Steve Krassas looked at their real estate agent, Phyllis Lee, and said, "We'll take it."

Never mind that they lived in Charlotte and had to manage a total restoration long-distance. Never mind that the house wasn't finished when the movers unpacked all of their furniture with construction dust still swirling in the air. " It was hard," Robyn Krassas says, "very hard. We'd lie in bed at night so exhausted, our bodies just aching from pounding up and down those stairs with dirt all around us. But there was never a time when we regretted it. We've gotten 10 times out of it what we put into it, because we truly love the city and Church Hill."

They'll demonstrate their affection for the neighborhood when they open their house for Church Hill's annual Christmas House Tour on Dec. 15. Visitors will see "before" photographs that show how decrepit the 1901 house was when they bought it three years ago. They'll notice Robyn's clever space-planning ideas, which allowed the couple to add bathrooms, closets and a welcoming backdrop for their urban-whimsy style. " Having grown up with a mother with fabulous taste," Robyn says, "I always knew what my house would look like. I'm one of those people who gets up early in the morning and just stands in my dining room, looking at how the light comes in the windows, thinking about what else can be done."

Visitors will descend into an English basement that is now a pub room and home office, the coal dust scrubbed from brick flooring and the room invitingly furnished. A keeping room by the kitchen offers another cozy spot for sitting, its walls layered with a gallery of black-framed family photographs. Every corner offers a sense of the owners' spirit and energy, and displays some of Robyn's collections of treasured objects. "I like to cover a surface with things that say something about the people who live here," she says.

"Steve and I have lived lots of places," Robyn says, "and we've always been urban. We totally love the church we go to, St. John's, and the people and families here. The most lovely thing about Church Hill is the integrity of the community. There's not a person I've met here who's not completely committed to that." HS



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