Jerry and Cathy Strauss returned to their Wyndmoor house three years ago, after living in Richmond, Va., for 15 years, and found that they had to create a new home.
"We had changed, and we use space differently than we did," says Cathy, a recently retired insurance executive.
The couple have owned the 3,200-square-foot house, which Cathy describes as "development-style Colonial," for 28 years — they moved to Wyndmoor from Center City in 1989 with their two then-teenage children, now grown and living in the area.
When Jerry accepted a position as dean of the School of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, the couple moved south. Now that he has stepped down from that position and is a professor of gynecology and obstetrics, he can commute from Pennsylvania several days a week. Cathy says they held on to the Wyndmoor house because they knew they would be back — they loved its location and beautiful three-quarter-acre site.
Still, the house had problems, such as insufficient light in the first-floor rooms, especially the living room. A wall closed off views to their garden, and the upper level had a tiny, useless room and little light.
With the vision of someone who saw her old house with fresh eyes, Cathy says, "We needed to open the outside to the inside."
So the couple hired architect Lawrence McEwen of Chestnut Hill, who began attacking the problems and took the idea of opening up the house to more light as an assignment.
He designed a 20-foot-by-20-foot "exterior room" outside the living room that is outlined with white oak. Filled with neutral couches and chairs, the space borders a lush garden, and through the room's framework anyone can look into the trees overhead.
Inside, a wall of glass replaces the solid wall that once blocked the view. "We use the living room all the time now," Cathy says. "We just about never used it."
Before the renovation, the space between the kitchen, a den, and the living room was filled in with a wall, with only two small openings permitting entrance from one space to the next.
Since, as McEwen says, "bringing in more light was our main job," he designed two new openings in the wall: one from the kitchen to the den and another one, much larger than the original. Leading to the living room are two small faux openings that are actually mirrors, allowing the illusion of a window between the two rooms.
The kitchen was completely reorganized around an imported French stove, a La Cornue, with two ovens. McEwen added red tiles to complement the navy blue stove, with its copper handles, and also designed a red wine rack.
On the second level, the new design reorganized spaces, eliminated that small, rarely used room and revealed a window that had been behind a wall. An old stairway was removed, replaced by a curving white oak staircase.
Now situated at the top of the staircase is a comfortable-looking window seat. "Jerry loves that seat," Cathy says. "It is his favorite place to sit."
The Strausses collect artwork. Among the colorful pieces on display in their home is a black-and-red painting by the Japanese artist Aki Kuroda that hangs in the living room near their beige sofa.
"We think it is important to have neutral-colored furniture as much as possible to highlight the paintings," Cathy says.
In a telephone conversation from his office in Richmond, Jerry says, "We wanted to open up the house and take advantage of the garden, and now the living room is part of our exterior room.
"Now that the space is opened up, we can see more family at a time," he says. "We had a gathering with about 60 people recently. It was great."