Design Matters

Sometimes the path to simplicity can be complicated

by Val Nehez
Posted 3/2/23

We worked for over a decade with one couple in their search for domestic simplicity. 

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Design Matters

Sometimes the path to simplicity can be complicated


We worked for over a decade with one couple in their search for domestic simplicity. 

The journey started in their substantial family home at the top of Norwood Avenue. This house is an eight bedroom Chestnut Hill landmark estate, but over the years it  no longer reflected the family's commitment to green energy, a smaller footprint and a simpler life. 

Our journey for domestic bliss started with a property on Waterman Avenue, with an existing  teardown structure. Working with green build experts, our idea was to build a passive home with ground source water. This project, intended to be a community model for what could be achieved in sustainable building, ultimately became too costly and not suited to the location. 

Then there were years of searching for other lots and remodel considerations, during which time we did a Center City row-house conversion (for their daughter), and a renovation of a twin on Evergreen Avenue with a possible addition into the side yard of the property. 

Living within walking distance to the shops on Germantown Ave was a huge priority for this particular family, so Evergreen was the perfect location. But the remodeled twin was just too small to hold two home offices as well as visiting children with their expanding families. We remodeled it, without the addition, as a temporary living situation. 

Ultimately, a stand alone house across the street came up for sale. This house had a facade that is commonplace for a classic three-story Philadelphia row home. Its footprint on the lot, however, was much more appealing than the renovated twin house that our clients were living in across the street. 

The lot was deeper and had a very private backyard. Old growth trees dotting the property shielded the driveway and nicely separated the house from the bustle of traffic on Evergreen Avenue. Just a stone’s throw from their cherished Germantown Avenue shops, it was an all-around sexier location. There was also room to expand in the rear. The decision was made. This was the final spot. 

Our design work started with locating all of the programmatic needs within the lot footprint – which included, first and foremost, a bigger kitchen. This required a complete gut of the existing house and an equal size addition to the building, including two rooftop decks – one off the owner’s suite and one deck with a completely private stargazing hot tub on the roof. 

We shared this clean and serene kitchen in our last column for the Local. Here, you can see the glass mudroom entry off the driveway and the connection between the back of the original house and the new addition. For the new exterior siding we used Shou Sugi Ban, a traditional Japanese charred wood technique that sustainably weather proofs the wood and shows off the grain. The living room is at the rear of the house and connects to the serene backyard. 

This house has been opened to the public during Chestnut Hill house tour events. 

Val Nehez is the owner and principal designer at Studio IQL in East Falls, which you can find at and on Instagram at studio_iql or for smaller projects quickandlovely_design.