With its downmarket prices and proximity to Center City, Brewerytown is attracting urban lovers such as Robin Riess and Kevin Steckel, who also happen to be the husband-and-wife developer team of Starcreek Construction.
In 2016, the pair bought a 1,150-square-foot property across from a park and decided to adapt it for their family, which includes a son and daughter.
The inside of Riess and Steckel’s home, built in 1925, used to be a typical porch-fronted rowhouse, with rooms carved into small separate spaces that were dark and lacked character.
But on the exterior wall, there was something special: The Abundant City, a sprawling mural painted by Eurhi Jones as part of the Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restorative Justice Project program. The garden rendering faces the community-run Brewerytown Garden.
“It was definitely a feature that attracted us to the house,” Riess says. “We knew from the beginning that we were not going to touch it.”
In fact, special attention was given to the mural during the renovation. Onto the exterior of the added third level, they placed vivid 9-by-12-inch stainless-steel tiles that complement the red beets, dandelions, and bumblebees highlighted in the mural.
The couple’s firm has built and restored homes in the city and suburbs, including Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, Bryn Mawr, Erdenheim, and Haverford. Travel has always been a passion for the couple, who married 20 years ago, and many of their ideas come from countries they’ve visited. Hammer and String Mews, their latest project, is seven houses designed around a courtyard on North 27th Street. It was inspired by village homes they saw while living in Great Britain.
With emphasis on texture, lighting, and flow, the couple, both 48, have retrofitted their Brewerytown home into an efficient and stylish setting that allows in natural light, provides adequate storage, and boasts just the right amount of color.
Just past the sleek indigo front door is the mudroom, which used to be the front porch. The area is fitted with open lockers, which have discreet charging stations hidden in the framing. Square windows that provide lots of natural light were installed at shoulder height for privacy from the street.
Through a widened archway, the living room is anchored by a neutral West Elm sectional and a mirrored coffee table from Restoration Hardware.
A built-in shelving system houses a flatscreen TV, along with board games, an old clock, and collections of bowls and books. A powder room and storage closet were tucked into the wall before the stairwell.
Everywhere, there’s a careful balancing of materials, such as the black metal table and wrought-iron railings, which contrast nicely with the bright white walls and white oak flooring.
“We’ve found it makes sense to use quality items whenever possible and take advantage of as much space as possible,” Steckel says.
A wall was kept between the dining room and kitchen and now has a pantry closet. Glossy white laminate-fronted cabinets expand across the sizable kitchen. Steckel says he uses only Kohler fixtures and installed a touchless pull-down faucet over the sink. The appliances and metal-and-glass range hood are General Electric. The countertops are Carrara marble.
Lots of interesting light fixtures are woven into the homescape: a black chain-link pendant over the dining table; a rectangular chandelier over the kitchen island; contemporary table lamps; and LED recessed lights.
Two paintings — a scene of Guadalajara by artist Evelyne Boren and a vase of sunflowers by Riess — add pops of color.
All bedrooms have walk-in closets with customized shelving.
On the second level, 10-year-old Heston’s bedroom has a circular white-metal light fixture, a red rug, and a rugged pine bureau. Found at a thrift store, a floral-painted dresser, with a terrazzo top, is in 8-year-old Annabelle’s bedroom.
The master en suite is on the third floor. The mid-sized bedroom has a four-poster bed, with a white coverlet. Named for the candy, Reese, the four-legged member of the family, shares sleep time with Riess and Steckel on his nearby bed.
Carrara marble adds elegance to the bathroom. A white porcelain countertop-and-sink combo from Kohler tops off the vanity. Steckel says they “went with a wall-hung toilet to free up space.”
Rounding out the third level is a lounge, with a dark-gray sectional, a work station, a wet bar, and a second dishwasher.
The roof deck has a grill, dining table, recliners, and great views of Center City’s skyline — which Riess says is one of her favorite things about her home.
“The night the Eagles won the Super Bowl, we watched the fireworks shooting off all over the city,” she says. “It made me like our house even more.”