The story of how Abbe Getson and Doug Kohn, a 100-year-old Romanesque church, and a new modern home in Fishtown fit together sounds implausible until you see how family relationships made everything happen.
It all started in 2008, when Abbe, a teacher, and Doug, who helps run a family paper business, each signed up for an online dating service. They hit it off on their first date. A year later, another date took them to a holiday celebration, and Abbe met Doug's grandmother, Jeanette Kohn.
"Doug's grandmother was shocked when she heard my last name, and she realized she had married an uncle of mine many years ago," Abbe said.
"The uncle died after nine months of marriage, and they never had children," Doug said. "It just pointed out that our family lives had been parallel for years."
In 2011, Abbe and Doug married, and Abbe's uncle, Jerry Feinstein, who had turned a 19th-century stone church into his home, gave his niece a 20-by-100-foot site for a home on the south side of the church.
"Abbe had been saying for a long time how much she would love to live in Fishtown next to the church," Feinstein said.
Architects Richard and Kim Miller of RKM Architecture were hired to design the house. Because the Millers live on the street where the house was being built, they wanted to make sure the new house became an asset for the neighborhood, Richard said.
For the exterior, the Millers used Wissahickon schist and slate on one side as a reference to the church, and brick and cedar on the other to complement the houses on the other side.
"We are lucky because the tiny 20-by-100-foot lot allows us to have light and windows on three sides," Richard said.
Inside and out, the design of the house reflects both the Romanesque church and the modern simplicity of nearby houses. Wissahickon schist and brick also are incorporated into the home's entry way, living room, and stairwells.
"The house was designed to reflect its location, as a small break in a dense setting," Richard said.
The 3,400-square-foot house has an open-plan dining, kitchen, and living room, as well as a home office, work room, and a two-car garage. Upstairs are two bedrooms, sunroom, and roof deck.
Dramatic use of light is a specialty of the RKM firm, Richard said. The stairwell with open platform steps serves as a conduit for light from the first floor to the second.
"We make sure all the windows relate, and we use a lot of glass, but we do not sacrifice privacy," he said. "The glass door and the position of the stairs mean that someone standing on the first floor landing can see who is at the front door and, at the same time, the door is positioned so the person at the door can't see up the stairs."
Though the couple just moved in over the summer, they are settling in.
"The kitchen counter is made from one large piece of quartzite," Abbe said. They often eat simple meals there.
On the fourth floor, a study includes a bookcase where 35-millimeter cameras belonging to Doug's grandmother are displayed, along with a photograph of his late black Labrador retriever. The couple is looking for just the right spot to hang a blue-and-green watercolor painting by Doug's grandmother.
Abbe says she loves her new home. "I have lived in Northern Liberties, as well as other Philadelphia neighborhoods, and this is my favorite place," she said. "We never want to leave the neighborhood."