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Minimalist architecture meets contemporary design in Chestnut Hill

Diane Fiske, For the Inquirer

Updated: Saturday, September 30, 2017, 11:59 AM

Hannah Dee, with her dog, Lumi, in the multipurpose loft space inside her Chestnut Hill house.

Hannah Dee wanted the mid-century modern house in Chestnut Hill as soon as she saw it.

A custom tile back splash in the kitchen in the Chestnut Hill home of Hannah Dee. DAVID MAIALETTI
Hannah Dee repainted the exterior of the house black and white. DAVID MAIALETTI
The living room in the Chestnut Hill home of Hannah Dee in Philadelphia, PA on August 30, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer DAVID MAIALETTI
A view into the kitchen and dining room.
Photo Gallery: Minimalist architecture meets contemporary design in Chestnut Hill

The problem was that seven other bidders also were vying for the property, designed in 1999 by architect George Von Scheven as a home for himself.

So Dee made her case by writing to the architect’s daughter, who had put the house on the market in 2015 after her father moved to a retirement home.

The daughter, Anne Von Scheven, a lawyer, said she chose Dee’s bid because Dee’s sentiment connected with her emotionally.

“Hannah said she loved the house and appreciated the fact that it had so much light and space,” Anne Von Scheven said. “I knew she would take care of it.”

The boxy house is in a row of white, stucco-covered 19th-century houses.

The house was designed to be a large square, Von Scheven said. The kitchen and living room were set off by half-walls with cutouts, so you could see through to the whole area. The architect’s bedroom and study were on a balcony overlooking the first floor. Large red-rimmed industrial windows illuminated the entire house.

Von Scheven, who also lives in Chestnut Hill, remembers feeling as if she were in “a tree house and seeing a snowy white sky from the balcony and hearing the rain on the roof. Wherever you stood, you could look across to light.”

Her father was an industrial architect who worked for the Ewing Cole firm in Philadelphia and is known for designing additions for the Settlement Music School in Willow Grove while he served on its board. He took care to ensure that his two-story Chestnut Hill home fit with the scale of its neighbors. He matched the height and setback of the rowhouses on the street, his daughter said.

It turns out that George Von Scheven’s design was also flexible enough to appeal to a younger owner with very different tastes.

While the architect loved wood and warm colors and painted the outside a sand color, Dee chose a black-and-white exterior. But both color schemes work with Von Scheven’s red-trimmed windows.

Inside, she removed walls and created a great room on the first floor.

Like Von Scheven, she located her bedroom in the loft, but she reversed the stairs and installed an elaborate light system.

“George Von Scheven was an architect and a minimalist, but I am not a minimalist, and I am a designer,” she said. “I believe you can combine styles.”

And combine styles, Dee did. Where there was a half-wall around the kitchen, there is now an open space showing chiseled tile on the backsplash behind the stove. In a corner of the kitchen, Dee has placed a large teak table and chairs.

Antiques are nestled in many corners. Next to the window in the dining area is a rounded five-foot-high “grandmother” clock that Dee inherited.

Once a horseback rider, Dee has several wooden carved horse heads throughout the first floor. Large colorful paintings and a series of framed illustrations from the Saturday Evening Post decorate the downstairs walls.

“I believe in layering and not confining myself to one period,” she said. “I have things from the early 1800s to modern days.”

Her living room furniture is eclectic. A large mirror on the wall becomes a television set when it is turned on. Soft, green velour chairs in the living room seem right out of the 1950s.

Over the course of Dee’s six months in residence, the house has turned into an amalgam of the minimalist architect and the contemporary designer.

The new incarnation works for the neighbors, too, Dee said. Residents have told her they were fond of the house and are happy it is occupied again.

Diane Fiske, For the Inquirer

Read full story: Minimalist architecture meets contemporary design in Chestnut Hill

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