Everything old is new again in this Gladwyne beauty.
The house almost had it all. Its location in the center of Gladwyne’s historic district couldn’t be more desirable. The house also had a prestigious past, having been built in Philadelphia in 1876 for the Centennial Celebration in Fairmount Park. After the year-long event, where the house was on display, it was auctioned off and rebuilt in its current location.
The Victorian home is also featured in the book The First 300: The Amazing and Rich History of Lower Merion from the Lower Merion Historical Society. It had everything—minus a proper layout for a modern family. “Everybody loved the house because of its character but it never functioned well,” says owner Karen Taghavi. And she and her husband, Amin, were just the owners to breathe much needed new life into it.
The couple first saw the house when they were dating back in 2002. They envisioned a future there beyond the unorganized layout and small rooms. “We both like old houses,” says Amin. “I never lived in new construction.”
Amin signed the papers, and four months later Karen moved in. Then it was full speed ahead. Amin had dabbled in smaller renovations at investment properties, but he’d never tackled a project of this complexity. The couple quickly learned that hiring the right people was half the battle. They were impressed with the experience architect Peter Zimmerman had with historic houses, bringing in general contractor William Thornton to execute Zimmerman’s design.
The main objective was to have a more open floor plan. The Taghavis frequently entertain, and they wanted to be able to interact with their guests while they were cooking. “The rooms were boxed off,” says Karen. “So we had to tag team going from one room to the other when we had guests over.”
Doing away with a back staircase and a bathroom allowed for the addition of what the couple refers to as their octagon room (a breakfast room rightly named since it’s the shape of an octagon). This space provides a connection from the kitchen to the sunroom, the latter which the couple uses as a family room. “The flow between rooms is so much better now,” says Karen.
The kitchen (pictured above) was also in need of a makeover. The original space was so small the refrigerator had to go into the adjacent laundry room. New ceilings were bumped up two feet, resulting in a lofty 10 feet; another four feet was added to the room’s length. “Four feet doesn’t sound like much, but it made such a difference,” says Amin.
Deep coffee-colored alder wood furniture-style cabinetry from William Draper Cabinetmakers was used throughout the kitchen. Lighter-hued, salvaged pine floors complement the dark cabinets. “We like the idea of having two tones in the room,” says Amin. “Opting for lighter-colored floors made the room feel larger.”
Instead of traditional granite countertops, the couple preferred blue-green soapstone, which turns dark gray when oil is applied, creating a completely different look. A stainless steel hood over the Wolf duel fuel range brings a modern touch to the otherwise traditional room. A love of cooking and frequent entertaining resulted in the couple going all out on stocking their kitchen with the essential appliances, including refrigerator drawers in the island, a wine cooler, warming drawer, microwave drawer, two dishwashers, a Miele coffee/espresso/latte maker, a steamer and a plate warmer. A large center island works as a perfect buffet for a dinner party. “We had the rehearsal dinner for our wedding here,” says Karen. “It’s now the perfect house for entertaining.”
In a Modern Way
The kitchen is not the only showstopper. There’s also the first-floor bathroom (pictured below). “You know when you’re in a restaurant and you’re pleasantly surprised with the very cool bathroom,” says Karen. “That’s what we were going for.”
The desire for a modern, Zen-like, spa-type bathroom was accomplished through a minimalist approach. Oversized block tiles in earthy blues, greens, reds and browns line the walls and the floors. The bathroom floor was pitched to allow for a curbless, open shower complete with rain head, handheld shower sprayer and pebbled floor.
But the real life of the Taghavis’ cocktail parties is, surprisingly enough, the toilet. The luxurious Toto Neorest model has a bidet feature, a warmed seat and an air freshener. The lid automatically opens when you approach and flushes and closes when you walk away. (Rest assured there’s never any arguing over putting the toilet lid down in this house.)
In addition to having fun with the design, there was a practical side to having a full bathroom on the first floor. “We were thinking, too, about our aging parents and the possible need for a curbless shower when they visit,” says Karen.
The Taghavis assume that the oversized hall next to the kitchen was originally designed as a dining room, but it’s too narrow to fit a full-size table. The area now serves well as overflow space from the kitchen during parties. The furniture is kept to a minimum, with only a china cabinet and two chairs occupying the space. A highly decorative Bradbury and Bradbury art wallpaper in the Anglo-Japanese design covers the ceiling and borders the top 12 inches on the walls. It’s like having a decorative rug on the ceiling.
“I had seen the look in magazines and I liked it,” says Karen. “Then I saw it on a holiday house tour in Doylestown and I knew I wanted to do it in this area.”
While it could be busy in a room with a lot of furniture and different materials, it was perfect for the space, which just needed some visual interest. The couple’s living room (pictured above) admittedly doesn’t get much use. A crystal chandelier hanging from an ornamental medallion lends an air of formality. Deep gold double-glaze faux paint with wax finish brightens the room and makes the space appear more casual. A small brick fireplace also got the faux treatment. Distressed cream paint give the bricks an aged look; and on the mantle, a light green with yellow distressing.
Last year, the home’s sellers asked to see the renovations. “At the end of the tour, they asked me, ‘So, how much are you going to sell it back to us for?” says Amin, laughing.
A flattering compliment indeed, but not a chance. “People always ask, now that the renovation is complete, ‘Would you do anything differently?” says Karen. “I can honestly say I don’t think we’d do anything different.”
The house, finally, is perfect just the way it is.
Architect: Peter Zimmerman Architects, 828 Old Lancaster Road, Berwyn; (610) 647-6970, pzarchitects.com.
Contractor: William Thornton General Contractors, (610) 449-9007.
Kitchen Consultant: Cathleen Burton Conti, PO Box 357, Holicong, (215) 297-8196.
Cabinetry: Draper DBS, 1803 N. Fifth St., Perkasie; (215) 453-7661, draperdbs.com.
Tile: Devon Tile, 111 E. Lancaster Ave., Devon; (610) 687-3368, devontile.com.
Countertops: Bucks County Soapstone, 1199 Blue School Road, Perkasie; (215) 249-8181, buckscountysoapstone.com.