UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS

Hit singer and songwriter Phil Vassar and his family make happiness and music in their 90-year-old home.

Phil Vassar puts down his cup of coffee and yawns. "Sorry, I got up at 5," he explains. "That's what happens when you've got a newborn." Downstairs, Phil's songwriter wife, Julie Wood-Vassar, is looking after the couple's baby girl, Presley Jade - as well as Haley, Phil's 6-yearold daughter from a previous marriage.

But for the moment, Dad has parked himself on a barstool in what he calls his "guy paradise," the attic he and Julie recently spent six months renovating.

"It was just a raw attic, but I always thought it was a cool space," notes Phil, who bought the 90-year-old house four years ago. "I thought it'd be a cool place to write my songs, watch TV and kinda get away. It's really quiet - shut that door and you really don't know there's anybody else in the house."

Guests - including parents and in-laws - often wind up bunking in the attic, but this little upstairs retreat was clearly built for a guy. "It's a neat little rustic area, very different from the rest of the house," notes Phil. "It's very masculine."

Most of the furnishings in the attic are relatively new, but Phil got the coffee table when his father died a decade ago. "I used to play in it with my sister," remembers Phil, now 39. "We'd climb in and out of it when I was a little kid."

Before heading downstairs, Phil compulsively bounds over to the synthesizer - set to "grand piano" - and tickles the ivories. He's in an especially good mood today, as he just discovered his song "In a Real Love" has reached No. 1 on the charts, knocking George Strait from the top slot. The tune is the first hit from his third album, Shaken Not Stirred.

"It's my best album, hands down," declares Phil. "I think the first two are really good, but this time I took a lot of time off, then got in the studio with the guys from the band and just had fun."

In fact, Phil took several months off when Presley was born. "I did the same thing with Haley," he recalls. "I wanted to be sure I got acquainted with them. The first couple of years or so are important for really bonding with your kids, so I'm making as much time for that as I can. That's the sad part of being away on tour. Haley's in school now, so she doesn't think about it so much, but Presley - every second of every day, she's doing something new."

Phil was a little better prepared for fatherhood the second time around. "The second child you kind of relax a little bit more," he confesses. "You know what to expect and don't get so uptight about everything."

But it's been a new thrill for Phil to see how Haley has taken to big-sisterhood. "She loves it!" he beams. "Are you kidding? She just about mugs Presley every time she sees her! It's like, 'Haley, you love her too much!' They're going to be really, really close."

Phil heads downstairs toward where the girls are playing, pausing to shoot a few balls in the poolroom. "Ever since we moved into this house, we've been ripping it up and doing different stuff to it," he explains. "It's been updated, and is still being updated.

"It's a great place for the family, and it's got a lot of room. It's right next to the woods - so you're in the city, but you're also in the middle of nowhere."

Of course, owning an older home comes with its own set of problems. "It's an old house, and I curse it because of that," he chuckles. "It's always something - a leak here, a leak there. We're getting a new roof put on the house right now, and I'm getting estimates today on everything. I'd better get to work and have some more hits!"

With that in mind, Phil walks to the "Florida Room" - so named because of its proximity to the swimming pool. The key to his hometown of Lynchburg, Va., hangs on the wall. "When I first saw the house and saw this room, it just blew me away," he says.

Phil sometimes writes songs on the grand piano here - but not lately. "I haven't written a song in about five months," he confesses, blaming his busy schedule. It might not matter - Phil has about 10 songs left over from the Shaken Not Stirred sessions, including a track featuring Keith Urban and Brad Paisley.

Those concerns are for another day. As the sound of Presley's laughter drifts through the hallway, Phil seems content to relish this day at home with his wife and children.

"This is it," he sighs. "It's exciting to just get to see my family. I walk around the house and think, 'Oh, this is why I work so hard!' "

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