House Tour: Fishtown’s ‘Lantern House’

View from the back of RIchard and Kimberly Miller's "Lantern House" in Fishtown.

A new feature that highlights unique homes in the Philadelphia region.

Richard and Kimberly Miller make a living designing residential and commercial properties, but had always wanted to build their own place.

The couple, both architects living in a Queen Village townhouse in 2009, were drawn to Fishtown for its "variety and funkiness," Richard said. "It kind of has this eclectic character, so I think it welcomes you to do something a little different."

After looking at a few places, they found a property on Marlborough Street that they thought was unique. All that existed was a brick façade with two windows, but they saw it had potential. The property, originally built as a stable, was later used as a warehouse and a garage.

At the same time, the couple had just started their firm, RKM Architects.

“It was a way for us to establish ourselves a little bit,” said Kimberly, the director of design for Drexel University.

The project would encompass a variety of features that you don’t typically find together: energy efficiency, original details from the early 1900s, and a modern design.

The first step in the construction process was taking down the wood beams that made up the original roof.

“[The process] started with the idea that we were recycling this building in its entirety,” Richard said.

They reclaimed the wood and used it in more ways than they thought they could: it’s used for the stairs, benches, dining table, and siding on the outside of the home.

“We weren’t sure that the wood was going to be as beautiful as it is because it was out there in the weather for 100 years,” Richard said. “When you cut away the dark surface on the outside, it’s really nice on the inside.”

The only feature retained in its original position are the exposed brick walls around the house, which extends around the back garden. The couple restored the brick in a way that Richard says was “sympathetic to the original character and texture.”

“We worked to save as much of the original brick work as we could,” Richard said. “In places where it was falling down, we restored it in the way that it matches.”

While sketching their design, the couple had two main priorities: to be connected with the outdoors and to have a large space for entertaining.

They created two outdoor spaces on the first floor: one centrally located, glass-enclosed garden with a koi pond, and a back garden.

The central garden – which visitors see as soon as they walk in – assists with both the lighting and cooling of the house.

“We can open it up at night, cool the whole house down, and then close the doors in the morning, and it will hold its temperature,” Richard said.

Among the other “green” features are the radiant-heated concrete floors on the first floor.

Their open floor plan on the ground floor provides the great entertaining space that they envisioned. Upon entering the house, a visitor passes the first garden and then enters the open kitchen and living room area, which is adjacent to the back sun garden. Both gardens are visible in the living space, which they say gives them the indoor/outdoor feeling they wanted.

The second floor features a bedroom with a back porch with Center City skyline views. Across the floor – which overlooks the central garden through the glass – is Richard’s office space, which he created for RKM Architects. The third floor is a guest apartment.

After about nine months of construction, the Millers’ “Lantern House” – which got its name from lantern look from the front façade paneling – was born.

Since it was completed, the 3,100-square-foot home has garnered a lot of attention.

The unique design earned the Millers a merit prize with the American Institute of Architects in 2012. It was the only “built” residential property recognized that year.

The property was also featured in the national publication Residential Architect Magazine, and the Millers were even on an episode of HGTV’s “You Live in What?”

“We were very pleased [with the result],” Richard said. “We were also pleased by the response it received – and the attention it has brought us. That was in some ways unanticipated.”

Not only that, but it gave them a booming start to their business as well.

Soon after “Lantern House,” they completed their second ground-up project, the “Olive Street Residence,” which was inspired by their first design.

They also have done much other residential work, and designed part of the outdoor seating area at the Standard Tap Room.

The Millers are happy with their decision to move to Fishtown, as this project has opened a new chapter for both their personal and professional lives.

“This area is very intriguing,” Kimberly said. “There’s such diversity here, and not only in the architecture, but in the people, too.”