In a battle against clutter and darkness, Toni Seidl was in the advance guard last year, leading an army of architects, kitchen designers, contractors, and art dealers to rescue the 92-year-old Chestnut Hill kitchen she shares with husband Rick Berkman from the confines of Edwardian-period design.
Today, she has won the war and eagerly displays the new, modern kitchen, which contrasts with the rest of the couple's seven-bedroom stone Colonial Revival dwelling, built in 1921.
"I always hated the kitchen," Seidl says. "It was tiny, and there was a mudroom and a butler's pantry that each had their own doors and divided the space into three rooms. There was no place to work."
The kitchen reboot has yielded a place Seidl takes pride in. Light fills a room abundant in white surfaces and stainless steel. Through tall multipaned windows and a door in the corner, the garden is visible.
The focus of the 500-square-foot space is a six-burner Wolf stove with a griddle in the middle and red knobs on the front. It stands before an old stone fireplace now hidden behind white tile.
No kitchen cabinets attach to the walls. Dishes, utensils, and almost everything else are stored on open shelves or in drawers in base cabinets at the side of the stove and opposite it. But the espresso maker has its own special cabinet with a door that opens from the top - Seidl calls it her Lamborghini.
Around the corner is the former butler's pantry, where a wide black retaining beam holds up the three floors above and supports a bright red floor-to-ceiling column.
To add warmth, a woven-cotton multicolored rug fills the space in front of the door to the garden, contrasting with the gray ash wood floors. A large brown dog bed for Lefty and Cocoa, the family's dogs, is placed in a corner near the buffet table.
Seidl, a retired social worker with a specialty in serving victims of child abuse, and Berkman, a corporate lawyer, bought the house in 1998.
As the parents of five children, they had to be practical.
"The kitchen had been redone before we bought the house, and it would have been wasteful to redo it when we moved in," Berkman says.
While acknowledging that he rarely cooks, Berkman says he didn't like the old kitchen and was irritated by the fact that he couldn't see the garden from it because the mudroom was in the way.
Finally, last year, with their children grown and living away from home, the couple hired C2 Architecture of Germantown, which, in turn, hired kitchen designers and contractors to work on its team - one that eventually included Chestnut Hill Gallery.
Seidl and Berkman were presented a few plans and chose the one that removed the doors between the butler's pantry and the kitchen and eliminated the mudroom.
"Toni knew what she wanted, and it was important to her to have the butler's pantry open so guests could go from the dining room to the family room," says C2's Joseph DiCicco.
The pantry now holds a long black, enameled-wooden buffet cabinet to display serving dishes for their frequent buffet dinner parties.
Here, a Chinese painting found in her mother-in-law's attic is finally on exhibit. In her research for the kitchen renovation, she contacted Joseph Borrelli of Chestnut Hill Gallery, who designed a black scroll for the long painting no one could figure out how to frame.
Seidl says she is especially happy with the way guests flow through to the dining room. With its brilliant red walls and fine wood furniture, it is as traditional a room as the kitchen is contemporary.
When asked whether he hesitated to blend styles in the couple's house, Jim Cassidy, a principal architect of C2 Architecture, said that sort of combination is not uncommon.
"In a city like Philadelphia, you have buildings built at different times for different uses," Cassidy says. "And when you are renovating these old houses, it works for homes just like it works for cities."