Haven: Dutch Colonial had needed space, and historical appeal

Erin Heilig and Tom Ross are opening their historic Overbrook home to the public as part of the Overbrook Farm Clubs house tour. ( MEAGHAN POGUE / Staff Photographer)

Erin Heilig and Tom Ross visited a Dutch Colonial in Overbrook Farms the first day it was on the market.

As soon as she opened the paneled front door with the lion's head knocker and walked inside, "I was sold," Heilig says. "I saw the Moorish columns and interior architecture and couldn't resist."

She and Ross moved in a year and a half ago.

The house features arts-and-crafts-style dark-stained oak ceiling beams and wainscoting. Floors are a paler oak. The dining room has an ornate built-in breakfront and corner cabinets.

Moorish peaked arches surround the leaded-glass windows. Columned arches separate the foyer, living room, and dining room.

The house, built in 1906, was designed by Charles Barton Keen, a prolific architect known for his eclectic mix of styles.

Heilig, 41, and Ross, 50, had been dating for several years and wanted to live together, but her Center City rowhouse was too cramped. They needed more space and parking - and the Dutch Colonial had a two-car garage.

Though Heilig was captivated by the first floor, Ross says, the house had other "wow factors" for him. Such as the second-floor library, which has a fireplace and a bank of leaded-glass windows.

And the addition built at the back of the house by previous owners several years ago. It adjoins an updated kitchen with dark-stained oak cabinets and has a balcony overlooking a seating area. Two enormous windows frame the outdoor patio. The wrought-iron railing surrounding the balcony and staircase is an abstract work of art.

The house was in move-in condition but needed brightening, Heilig says. She painted the walls on the first floor dove gray and furnished the living room with off-white chairs and sofas.

In the dining room, a glass table lightens the space. Silver and white porcelain serving pieces in the corner cupboards gleam against the dark wood. Silver, glass, and white coral lamps add more shimmer.

Heilig says she has tried to balance the historic features with her modern taste. She shops flea markets. "I don't have a big budget," she notes.

The master bedroom has a dramatic black-and-white decor. One second-floor bath has a walk-in shower; the other has an original claw-foot tub, as does a bathroom on the third floor.

With three bedrooms on the top level, Heilig and Ross were able to host out-of-town relatives at Christmas.

On the staircase, Ross points to two framed blueprints (four more are in storage) that have been handed down through six sets of owners of the house.

The dwelling was built by Robert Fleer, who with his brother Frank owned the chewing-gum company that developed bubble gum, among other types. A newspaper ad for Chiclets candy-coated gum, displayed on a table in a silver frame, was found on eBay by a friend, Heilig says.

Despite knowing much of the home's provenance, there are still some mysteries.

Embedded in the plaster above the living room fireplace is a multicolored Passover plate. The columns beneath the arches are carved with symbols including a Star of David. Were previous owners devout Jews?

And what is the explanation for the marble plaque with carved angels and a faint Latin inscription below the fireplace mantle?

"We think it is some kind of blessing," Ross says.

The couple have lived in the house only a short time, but when organizers of the annual Overbrook Farms House Tour asked whether they could include it, Heilig agreed.

"I wanted to give back to the community. Neighbors have been wonderful," she says, bringing cookies over to welcome them. Everyone helped shovel snow over the winter, too.

Cold weather continued through April, postponing the blossoming of the redbud tree out in front of their house. But the tree should be in full bloom in time for the house tour.


Haven: If You Go

The Overbrook Farms House Tour and Tea

When: 1-5 p.m. Sunday, May 3

Tickets: $35

Where: Tour starts at Overbrook Train Station, 2195 N. 63d St. (off City Avenue)

Contact: 215-477-9250 or info@overbrookfarmsclub.org