HABITAT: Home of the Month Is a Victorian Vision

Victorian Vision
For one Wayne family, city life is gone but not forgotten.

Victorian Vision
For one Wayne family, city life is gone but not forgotten.

On the dining room wall hanging next to the fireplace, there’s a small sketch of Marla and Peter Neeson’s last home, an 1815 Federal-style townhouse on Delancey Street in Philadelphia. Now Philly is a place they visit, and a 1905 Victorian in Wayne is what they call home.

After almost two decades of city living, the Neesons decided to move to the suburbs two years ago. Their daughters, 10 and 12 years old at the time, were the main reason for the decision. The couple wanted access to the best public schools the Main Line has to offer. Another plus of a home in the suburbs: a yard for their active kids. “Playing field hockey on a cobblestone street is a little difficult,” says Marla Neeson.

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With prior renovation experience, the Neesons knew they could choose almost any place to live and modify it to fit their lifestyle. The surroundings were more important than the style of home. “You can renovate any house, but you can’t build a neighborhood,” says Neeson.

Early on, she and her husband identified Wayne as one of the communities they preferred. It met all their requirements, including a downtown area that replicated some of the aspects of Center City living they were accustomed to. “We wanted to be able to let the kids walk into town and go to the stores on the weekends,” she says.

The Neesons immediately saw the potential in one particular three-story home in the south Wayne area. But small closed-off rooms on the first floor and only one bathroom in the house made renovations a must. The couple called on Philadelphia architect Mark Thompson, who had guided them through the renovation of their Delancey Street townhouse. In addition to residential work, Thompson has a variety of other projects keeping him busy, including the new athletic center at Villanova University.


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When the original bids came back, the Neesons were 100 percent over budget. So Neeson mapped out the renovation of the kitchen herself. “Kitchen design is all about thinking through every detail of how you really use the room,” says Neeson (pictured above in the finished space). “It’s not just about making it look pretty.”

First, she brainstormed all the pros and cons of her previous kitchens. For the Neesons, a functional room was a must, because cooking is a family affair. “Both my husband and daughters enjoy it,” says Neeson.

A large island serves as both a workspace for cooking and a homework spot for the kids. “A definite was the cooktop on the island,” says Neeson. “I do much more cooking than baking, so I can stand and cook while facing my daughters or guests who are sitting at the island.”

A stainless steel, independently suspended hood above the cooktop creates a focal point, while the granite-topped cherry wood island accents an expanse of light maple cabinets. To save money, Neeson used stock cabinetry, measuring everything from her olive oil bottles to her dinner plates to see how much space she needed. Moldings and columns make the cabinets appear almost custom-made.

On the floors, Neeson opted for porcelain tile that looks like slate, allowing for the installation of radiant heat so toes stay warm on cold mornings. Pocket doors provide convenient access to the dining room from the kitchen during dinner parties.

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Room to Live
The home’s original layout didn’t have a family room, so the Neesons devoted the back half of the house to that purpose. Since a table didn’t fit the kitchen’s setup, there’s one across the way in a section of the family room (pictured above). “Our family sits down to dinner every night, so it was important to have enough space for an eating area,” says Neeson.

On either side of the fireplace, deep window seats provide additional storage space, while plush armchairs and a leather couch provide comfortable seating op-tions. A cabinet above the fireplace hides the television and other electronics.

Sunlight floods the room through a wall of windows, and French doors lead to the backyard. Neeson chose “phantom doors” (with screens that retract into the door’s molding) so they’re hidden when not in use. A large column separating the open family room from the back kitchen entrance looks like it might be original to the house, but it’s actually hiding a non-functioning chimney. Removing the chimney in the three-story home would’ve been expensive, so builder Richard Morsbach of Richelou Builders in Berwyn devised this more cost-effective solution.

On the other side of the column near the back door, Neeson assembled a family message center complete with chalkboard and corkboard, as well as a place to file magazines and mail. A row of cubbies next to the door provides storage for coats, boots and book bags.

The Neesons converted the home’s original living room into a dining area. “We love entertaining, so we wanted a big room,” says Neeson. The deep red paint on the walls warms the space; original Mercer tiles frame the fireplace and the floor in front of it. Across from the dining room, the parlor serves as a living room. The cozy spaces features rich gold walls and barrel-shaped mohair chairs—a favorite spot for reading and enjoying hors d’oeuvres before dinner. A wall of shelves holds books, pictures and various mementos.

Upstairs, the Neesons combined a sleeping porch, a bedroom and a small space used as an office into a master suite complete with master bath and walk-in closet. The home’s third floor is dedicated to a laundry room, craft room and home office.

Once the renovations were complete, the Neesons could focus on getting to know the community.

“After years of living in the city, my husband and I transitioned to suburban life quite well,” says Neeson. “We still go down to Philadelphia for dinner and to meet up with friends, but this is a spectacular neighborhood.”

The last Wednesday of every month, the ladies of the neighborhood meet for WINOS (Women in Need of Socializa-tion) Night, a tradition that began more than 25 years ago. Once a year, the neighborhood also has a progressive dinner with up to 150 guests.

And on the Neesons’ block, they now have porch parties. “These Victorian houses have wonderful porches that are hardly ever used,” says Neeson. “So we decided to start these Friday-night get-togethers during the summer months for pizza and drinks.”

The kids enjoy it as much as the adults. “We had something like this in my old neighborhood in the city,” she says. “But instead of sitting on the stoop, now we’re sitting on our porches.”

Architect: Mark Thompson, Mark B. Thompson Associates Architecture & Planning 502 S. 24th St., Philadelphia; (215) 985-1000,
Builder: Richard Morsbach, Richelou Builders 1199 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn; (610) 647-5195
Painting: Richard Wattles Company Wayne, (610) 687-2377


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