22 Summit St. is the sort of significant, historic home that makes living in Chestnut Hill special. (Photo by Michael Hirsch)

by Patricia Cove

Chestnut Hill has the honor of holding the title of National Historic District, one of only a handful within the city of Philadelphia. The honor is given by the United States Department of the Interior after a thorough inventory of a community’s significance in American history, archeology, engineering, culture and, most notably, architectural treasures associated with the lives of significant persons, or that embody distinctive characteristics of a type, period, method of construction, possessing high artistic value representing works of a master.

If a single building or a specific locale is deemed extraordinarily significant, the city itself can recognize and honor that location with the title of being on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, or becoming a Local Historic District.

Such is the case with Summit Street in Chestnut Hill. One of our most historic streets, it is so named as it is the only street that travels over the summit of Chestnut Hill, and is indeed the highest point in the city of Philadelphia. It was one of the first streets opened as a purely residential street in Chestnut Hill, and each of the homes along the street have been given Local Historic District status, as well as being listed as “Significant” within our National Historic Register. These are honors not easily attained, and ones that are displayed proudly by communities and home owners alike.

So living on a street like Summit, or owning a historically significant Federal, Georgian or Victorian manse gives individuals a sense of pride and a responsibility that comes from understanding how important these buildings and places really are. You can imagine what it must be like to have lived on Summit Street for over 30 years, raised a family, celebrated milestones, treasured the architecture and tended the gardens, and are now faced with saying goodbye to this very significant location.

The home at 22 Summit St. is owned by a longtime client, who has become a dear and wonderful friend. The home has been lovingly maintained – both inside and out – respected in its authenticity, and enjoyed with all its intrinsic historical features and layouts. There were upgrades to the bathrooms and kitchen that still maintain the original floor plan and left all the original trims and moldings in place, retaining the home’s historic value, while also providing the modern amenities that today’s homeowner enjoys.

The living room of 22 Summit St. features 10-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and a wood-burning fireplace.

There have been numerous debates whether interior architecture should match the exterior and style of a historically significant building. We are in a strange period right now, in that, historic homes, with all of their quality materials, sturdy construction, and significant architectural detail, do not exhibit those trendy open floor plans. You know the ones I’m talking about – no walls – the ones where you can see into most all of the rooms – except the bathrooms – while standing at the front door.

When I purchased my traditional Colonial home in 1995, that trend had started, and the wall between the kitchen and dining room had been taken down. Luckily that was the only wall that had been removed, and it was soon put back up, returning the Colonial to its traditional floor plan and its original layout. I also thought it was so much more appetizing to enjoy a meal without having to view the dishes in the sink or the pans on the stove – but that’s just me.

Interiors can always be updated with the trends, but large Federal homes like 22 Summit already have the larger interior spaces that growing families need.

Of course, kitchens can always change per the tastes and cooking habits of the owners, and smaller bathrooms can be expanded into adjoining rooms, giving any significant historic home the best of both worlds. It has been said that home buyers these days don’t want to deal with renovations.

But if you are planning on spending many years in a home, isn’t it wiser to create interior spaces that you really like, as opposed to buying cookie cutter new construction? I think so. What you end up with is something unique, historically significant, and wonderful stories about the neighborhood and the families that occupied those historic spaces.

So rather than settling for that newly built home, with the gray kitchen, and the gray walls, think big, expand your vision, see the detail, the quality and the distinction that history can provide.

Patricia Cove is the principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill, and can be reached through her website: PatriciaCove.com