It's easy to see why Lisa and Mark Hastings have stayed in their West Germantown twin for 29 years. Built about 1879 of Wissahickon schist, it's an inviting-looking house, one of about a dozen compact stone structures on a quiet, narrow street.
The couple moved to the 2,200-square-foot dwelling in 1987 and remained after their two children were born.
Mark, an art university graduate, is a product designer who says he liked the fine woodwork and paneling in the house.
Lisa, a homemaker who collects works in ceramics and sculpture, says she appreciated their home's Victorian bones.
All the nooks and crannies of that era seemed to suit them just fine until the children left for school and work. Then, last year, Lisa says, she looked around and found she could no longer tolerate the layout and design at the rear of the home, inherited from its former owners.
"The people before us in the house lived here from 1945 to 1985," she says. "The kitchen was avocado green, the style in the '70s, I guess, and there was a little kitchen and a tiny dining room.
"It was like two houses: the elegant one in the front, and the one with tiny rooms in the back."
Says Mark: "The only way to get into the kitchen was to go through the library to one side of the kitchen; there was no way to go directly into the kitchen from the front. The route meant circling to the back of the house to find the one entrance to the kitchen."
For a fix, the couple contacted architect Lawrence McEwen, whose children had gone to school with the Hastings kids.
Opening up the floor plans of old houses in Northwest Philadelphia has become a specialty for McEwen, who explains that some of the large houses there were built in the late 19th century for families with servants.
"Homeowners rarely entered the back parts of their houses in those days," he says.
Initially, removing a wall between the tiny dining room and the kitchen was the focus of conversations between McEwen and the couple. "This would produce a longer but narrow space that combined the two functions," McEwen says.
Because it was a supporting wall, its integral function would be replaced with steel beams, he says.
The scope of the planned renovation grew when the Hastingses discovered that their blended space still posed a problem.
The couple "realized that they would have a very narrow space to entertain guests in the kitchen, so we added to the project by including a porch and a closet shed in the back," McEwen says.
That meant an expanded kitchen that would be 11 feet wide and 24 feet long.
Since the changes, Mark Hastings calls the back of the house "the new house."
There are sliding glass doors now, with large casement windows.
The glass seems to extend around the back corner wraparound-style. The result is a light-filled, modern-looking kitchen that is quite distinct from the rest of the house.
The sink has been relocated to a prep island in the middle of the space, where guests can gather on stools and watch the cooks at work.
Two perpendicular runs of cable lighting allow light to be directed to the sleek teak table in front of a window and the Andy Warhol drawing that hangs nearby - a purchase Mark's parents made at an art show.
On a shelf is a wooden cow, one of Lisa Hastings' most recent flea-market purchases.
Painted an eye-catching deep purple are walls connecting to the older part of the house, as well as a rear stairway that leads to the upper floors.
One of the features that Mark particularly appreciates is the view.
"Before, we couldn't see the garden and bird feeders in the yard behind the house," he says. "Now, there is a nice deck that we can sit on and see the birds and our garden."
Renovation mission: accomplished.
"I was irritated because I saw the problems before, and now everything seems right," Lisa says.
"Before this, we weren't socializing as much in the kitchen, but now we love to have guests in the new space."