Some design refreshments go a long way in ex-congresswoman's kitchen

Allyson Schwartz poses in her kitchen in her home in Rydal, Pa.

About a dozen years ago, Allyson Schwartz and her husband, cardiologist David Schwartz, chose to live in Rydal.

At the time, she was a member of the U.S. House, representing the 13th Congressional District, which encompasses much of eastern Montgomery County and a portion of Philadelphia.

"I didn't have to live in my congressional area by law. I just thought it was the right thing to do," she says of the move beyond Philadelphia's borders. "Also, my husband and I had never lived out of the city, and I thought it would be interesting."

As a state senator, she had been required to live in her Northwest Philadelphia district.

"I also loved it when we lived in Mount Airy for 25 years, where our children attended public school," says Schwartz, who these days travels to Washington four days a week in her role as president and CEO of the nonprofit Better Medicare Alliance.

"We found this house in Rydal that was designed in just the style that we like: clean, mid-century modern, with a frame exterior and a nice yard and terrace."

The Schwartz home was designed by Philadelphia architect Irving Maitin, a student of Bauhaus School founder Walter Gropius, and built in 1958. It is about 4,000 square feet and located in a leafy area of Rydal where each house was built to the homeowner's preference.

Schwartz says she enjoys the outdoors in their suburban yard, where it looks as if a cow is grazing.

Yes, a cow. A large, white-spotted brown cow, albeit a realistic plaster model.

Schwartz laughs when she is asked about it and explains that it was part of her father's estate.

"We don't have any dogs or cats, so it is sort of a pet. At first, neighbors asked about it, but now I think everyone likes it," she says.

Her sense of humor is shown in other decorative touches, including a colorful painting of barnyard chickens on the living room wall.

The house, designed with post-and-beam styling, has a peaked, white wood ceiling over the kitchen island. Two skylight openings admit abundant natural light.

A previous owner who lived in the house about 25 years had installed shag rugs and other postmodern touches to the modern dwelling. These were replaced bit by bit by the Schwartzes.

Then they decided to renovate the kitchen, 900 square feet that was dominated by a huge desk attached to the island in the center of the room.

"Our little granddaughter couldn't even see over the desk," Schwartz says.

The couple hired Anthony Miksitz, an architect who had done work for her sons in Philadelphia.

Miksitz said he walked into the kitchen, looked at the island with the desk, and said, "This has to go."

His design refreshed the room, creating a space her family now "lives in the most," Schwartz says.

A longer island topped with green quartzite replaced the desk island. It includes a sink and a food-preparation area with stools on the side.

"I like to have people to talk to when I cook and make food," she says.

In a corner of the kitchen, a huge bathroom with a shower, which the Schwartzes decided didn't belong there, was cut down to a quarter of its size. In the remaining space, a small mudroom was created.

Where the previous owner had a table and chairs near the large kitchen window (facing the "cow"), the Schwartzes have placed a small child-size table and chairs for Arielle, their granddaughter, to use when she visits.

As part of the kitchen renovation, Miksitz crafted a nook for a sofa, table, and TV on one side of the room facing the new island.

His design also removed a door leading to a hall where a laundry room and the basement stairs are located. He placed a small office in the laundry room, which still includes a compact washer and dryer.

"What I wanted was a clean, modern house that shows warmth to our family and friends," Schwartz says. "Now, the house is great for us; . . . it is a house where someone could be alone or with other people and still feel comfortable."

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