Karen and Jeff have renovated their historic mansion, which was built by the Merck Chemical Company CEO. It has, among other features, a huge ballroom where legendary composer Igor Stravinsky once conducted members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in a private concert.

by Stacia Friedman

In the six years since Karen Regan launched her interior design company, Tallulah & Bird, she has made her mark on Chestnut Hill. Regan designed the Beer Garden at the Fareway, giving area residents an attractive new venue in which to socialize and dine. She also did the interior design and staged the Devon Village townhouses in Mt. Airy.

(Tallulah is a nickname Karen’s mother gave her for reasons that aren’t clear. As for the “Bird” in the company name, Karen is “obsessed with birds in flight and has always wished I could fly! I have picked up molten feathers all my life; hence the feather for my logo.”)

Or perhaps you know her as a realtor. Regan was at Eichler & Moffly for 10 years before joining Sotheby’s on Rittenhouse Square. However, Regan’s involvement with design started long before that.

Most little girls draw princesses or ponies. When Karen Regan was just 10, growing up in Boston, she was drawing floor plans. “My mother owned an outdoor furniture shop, and I accompanied her to trade shows, absorbing it all,” she said. Her first design project? “When I was 12, I designed the barn where I kept my horse.”

At 18, Regan met her husband-to-be. “I was studying interior design at a Vermont college when I met Jeff Regan in Puerto Rico. He was 21, had been building decks straight out of high school and already owned his own home in Elkins Park. I was dazzled and transferred to Drexel University to be near him.”

Good move. Karen, originally from Boston (she declined to provide her age), and Jeff, who had grown up in Wyncote, married and combined their professional design and building skills. Normally, this process is handled exclusively by a building contractor or developer with an interior design as an afterthought, if at all. Regan didn’t just “stage” the houses; she was involved in every aspect, from the ground up.

When the Regans first saw the historic home where they have lived since 1999, it was love at first sight. For her, that is, but not so much for Jeff. “I was supposed to meet Jeff in Chestnut Hill when I called him and said, ‘I’m home.’ He didn’t know what I meant, so I said it again. I’m ‘home.’” Meaning, she had found their dream house. Or was it a nightmare?

Hill designer Karen Regan is seen with her two Great Danes, Rembrandt and Posie. She and husband Jeff also have a Yorkie named Baggio and a rescue cat named Sister Pants. (Photo by Rachel Levin)

“When Jeff saw the property, all the color went out of his face. It was originally built for Frederick Rosengarten in 1929, designed by Willing, Sims & Talbutt. No one had lived in it for some time, and there were furry friends, living and dead, inside the house,” said Regan. “It was utter devastation,” echoed her husband. But, as Regan says, she “saw the mansion’s potential.”

(Frederick Rosengarten was one of the four Rosengarten brothers — Adolph, Frederick, George and Joseph — who owned Powers-Weightman-Rosengarten, a large Philadelphia chemical company that merged with Merck in 1927, which might explain why Frederick built himself a lavish mansion in Chestnut Hill. Frederick became the CEO of Merck.)

“We did most of the work ourselves and moved in within six months, picnicking by candlelight and camping out on the floor in sleeping bags with our three small children,” said Regan. Meanwhile, her husband refers to the house as “the consummate work-in-progress.” Now that the children are in their 20s, the Regans consider their house “almost done.”

The renovation included eliminating walls between a warren of servant rooms, turning a basement billiard room into a retro speakeasy and lending charm to a 30 by 40-foot ballroom with 16-foot ceilings. That’s right. It was a ballroom where famed composer Igor Stravinsky once conducted members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in a private concert for the Rosengartens.

When asked how many rooms are in her house, Regan said, “Oh, boy” as if the exact number had yet to be determined. But she does know the number of working fireplaces — 12! The estate, previously named Indian Rock for the statue of the same name, affords a breathtaking view of Wissahickon Woods.

Recently, Karen also redesigned the interior, including kitchen, baths and furnishings, of a modern home in Chestnut Hill, a rustic modern vacation home in Avalon, including a private wharf, and is currently drawing up plans for an older property on the Main Line, as well as creating a wine garden for Tria, a center city restaurant.

Not quite empty nesters, the Regans share their home with two Great Danes, Rembrandt and Posie, a Yorkie named Baggio and a rescue cat named Sister Pants. They enjoy entertaining and hosting fundraising events and weddings. Does Karen ever get tired of her whirlwind schedule? “Not when you do what you love,” she said.

More information at 215-704-1082 or tallulahandbird.com

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