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Modest makeover Fresh paint, new floors give Allentown home personality on a small budget

Richard Lambert and Mark Moretti have creative ways to describe their home's decor. The sofa with the loose-back cushions in the living room is the "Frasier Sofa" because it looks like the one on the set of the retired TV sitcom.

The refinished hardwood floor in the kitchen "looks like a floor from an old Tonawanda bowling alley."

The tiny guest room off the dining room is the "Pat Room," named for Lambert's sister-in-law, in case she needs some R&R from her own busy household in Hamburg.

And the shade of the walls in the den?

Bob Newhart Brown. It reminds them of the color brown used in Bob and Emily's bedroom on the 1970s comedy, "The Bob Newhart Show."

This small dwelling in Allentown has been their home for three years. Purchased for $50,000, the house is a fine example of the affordable housing opportunities that exist in their neighborhood, they say.

To fix it up to their liking, Moretti and Lambert repainted, installed Pergo floors in the living room, dining room and den; refinished the kitchen floor; added a gas fireplace in the den, which was drafty, and hung lots of artwork -- all on a budget.

Some of the decorative accessories came from thrift shops; St. Vincent de Paul on Main Street is one of Lambert's favorites.

They also are replacing some of the windows and plan to enlarge the deck this summer. Someday, they may also replace the shingles in the front of the house with clapboard, to match the back of the house. So far, however, they have only invested a couple thousand dollars in making the place their own.

"If you do it one step at a time, it is affordable," said Lambert, founder and executive director of the New Phoenix Theatre.

When they first saw the house, Moretti fell for the paneled walls in the living room.

"I liked the wood paneling; I felt like I was in a lodge. It gave it so much character," said Moretti, a software consultant.

The kitchen was another selling point, said Moretti, who enjoys cooking. He liked the roomy 14-by-15-foot kitchen -- a far improvement from the 3-by-5-foot kitchen in a previous apartment. Sunday dinners for family members are a tradition.

Moretti also liked the solid oak cabinets in the kitchen, where the original hardwood floors have been refinished to complement them.

As the home's new occupants, however, Moretti and Lambert early on set two priorities: Pull out the shag carpeting and lighten up the dark decor. They took a month to paint and install Pergo flooring before moving in.

Still, like many older homes in the city, this one has its quirks and surprises. The floors are not level, for one thing.

"Each room has its own charming tilt to it," said Lambert, whose feature-length film, "Sweet Jesus," opens June 3 at the Market Arcade.

And there are other quirks and details to note:

A trap door in the kitchen floor leads to the basement, where the laundry is. They call it "the door in the floor."

The popcorn ceiling in the dining room was one of the highlights for visitors when the house was featured on the Secrets of Allentown tour of homes in 2004.

The radiators, which have shelves built around them, blend into the decor.

And the house, which is approximately 1,450 square feet, is narrow but very long. A den, which Lambert estimates was added about 1950, is small but once functioned as a studio with sleeping loft for a tenant. A small bank of cupboards, sink and refrigerator remain in the room.

With its peaked ceiling and skylight, this room is the spot where Lambert and Moretti spend most of their time while at home, often with Cookie, the basset hound, curled up in her dog bed in front of the fire or balancing comfortably on the arm of the sofa.

Even with all this comfort, however, they do not know if this is where they will stay.

House-hunting is a bit of a hobby to them, you see.

"Never say you're not going to move," said Lambert, who enjoys touring open houses on weekends.

"Some day, maybe I would like to live somewhere I can't touch the ceilings," said Lambert, who, at 6-feet-3 1/4 inches tall, demonstrates how he can easily touch the living room ceiling.

Low ceilings. Tilted floors. For now, anyway, Lambert and Moretti are right at home.

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