Adding some new to the old

The Kimmels, both architects, attached a modern section to their early 1900s home.

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Martin and Sherri Kimmel bought a 19th-century carriage house in Port Richmond and built an addition that includes a kitchen, family room and loft in 2003. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)

As their family grew to include a son, a daughter, two parakeets, a dog, and two cats, Martin and Sherri Kimmel didn't sell their little orange-and-green carriage house in Devon.

"When we bought the house," Martin says, "we saw the simple Shingle style had potential, and it was all we could afford.

"We ignored Realtors who showed us a collection of drywall ranch-style boxes," he says. "But this house was authentic. We loved the location and the fact that it was built around 1902 on a huge estate that was subdivided in the Sixties."

In 1994, the couple and their baby daughter, Bailey, moved into the 1,200-square-foot house. It was big enough: three bedrooms and a bath upstairs, a cozy living room with a wood-burning stove downstairs.

As beginning architects, though, the Kimmels had a vision for what they could do to expand the house - and as economically as possible.

Ten years later, the expansion finally began. They joined modern convenience with their historic carriage house to form a horn-shaped building, wider at the new end and narrower at the old, with a tube-shaped link.

"We didn't want to get locked into a solution," Sherri says. "We love living here and wanted to add on to the house in a way that fit our life . . . not find a style that is set in a textbook."

Of course, it was important to figure out what their interests were and how she, her husband, their daughter, and son, Webb, would function in the house.

Keeping to a budget was necessary, so the Kimmels decided to use precut wood panels for the ceiling - the panels are filled with foam for insulation and thus help save construction time and money. For kitchen counters, the couple chose concrete instead of granite or marble.

Instead of buying a new, more attractive fridge, they placed the one they had in a cupboard.

"New refrigerators are pretty expensive, and no matter how nice, they are still refrigerators. Ours was perfectly good, just not beautiful," Sherri says.

To augment their heating system, they went with wood-burning stoves rather than installing more picturesque, but less efficient, fireplaces.

The new part of the house is what Sherri calls "New York Loft" style - that means all the living, eating, socializing, cooking, and studying are done in the great room, where a set of floor-to-ceiling windows face southwest. A wood stove and two Marcel Breuer chairs form a welcoming space at the center. Pottery by a friend, Rick Farrow, fits in effortlessly in a nearby bookcase.

"Many people think modern means cold," Sherri says. "We wanted to avoid that."

So they decorated with their favorite things. A huge sundial beams above the stove. On one wall hangs a Kandinsky painting; on another, acrylic paintings by Suk Shuglie show silhouettes of birds and landscapes.

The kitchen leads directly from the sitting area. The north wall, which overlooks a neighbor's yard, has two ranges equipped with electric ovens and gas burners (the Kimmels love to cook). Stemware sparkles on bar racks hanging in front of the windows.

"We didn't need a formal dining room, and this suited us more," Martin says. Seating choices for guests include an island and a cove near a window.

"The loft over the great room is one of the biggest assets," Kimmel says. "When we have friends over, all the kids go there rather than to a basement. In the loft, we have computers for the kids' homework and our home-office use and places for the kids to play or use games or Xboxes. The kids are connected to the adults, but seem far away."

Sherri, whose family is from Lancaster County and Virginia, met her husband, who is from State College, Pa., when they were on internships. As a wedding present, they received a rare, colorful Mennonite quilt with a black background; it now hangs on a wall leading to the link between the house's old and new sections.

In the link area, a large cage with two parakeets stands near the door. Cats Boo and Oscar seem to respect the birds and leave them alone, Sherri says. An upright piano takes up one corner, and wicker furniture seems perfect in the sunny space, which includes a bed for Sepia, the English spaniel.

"This is the front door we use all the time," Martin says. "In too many houses, the front door is never used, and people come in and out of a kitchen door."

The original carriage-house portion is just right for relaxing, he says. A wood stove and a traditional sofa-and-chair arrangement fill the small living room space leading to the master bedroom.

On the second floor are three bedrooms and baths for the children and a guest.

"When we become empty nesters, we will still live here," Sherri says. "I can't imagine why I would ever want to move."


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