While rental living has its upside, finding a design plan for a place you don’t own can be challenging, often resulting in a space devoid of personality or character.
But in the hands of artists Shannon Retseck, 30, and Alex Boatman, 34, you can expect a place with an avant-garde fiber all its own.
Two years ago, Retseck, owner of Cuttalossa, a textile and home-goods store in Old City, moved into this first-floor apartment in the Spruce Hill section of West Philadelphia. She immediately fell in love with its vintage details. A few months later, Boatman moved in.
Their apartment is like many in the neighborhood — spaces that have been carved out of three-story Victorians. Yet the lofty ceilings, thick, ornate moldings, and white walls pleaded for an enticing interior. So the couple made the 950-square-foot space stand out, but without overdosing on opulence.
“We like it simple,” the Bucks County-raised Retseck says of the eclectic, minimalist styling that includes their own artistry, secondhand finds, collectibles, family heirlooms, and fillers from Ikea.
A large vestibule guides guests from the big front porch — where cats Boots and Scarlet like to lounge — into the living area, where objects and furnishings tell the couple’s story. Because Retseck is the proprietor of a company specializing in global textiles, in evidence are such pieces as a yellow-and-white throw, a neutral alpaca rug, and a pillow covered in blue-and-white Turkish cotton.
Different shades of blue tiles the couple have collected from Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown fill the fireplace’s hearth, offering a lighthearted vibe. A cylindrical basket from Ghana contrasts nicely with the redbrick surround.
A rectangular table, two wooden chairs, and a church pew, all purchased on Craigslist, fit perfectly into a nook beneath an arched front window with its original stained glass.
Grounding the space is the low-seat Jonathan Adler sofa that Retseck purchased when she worked there; it goes well with a midcentury swivel chair from At Home Modern in Fishtown. Two floral paintings “on loan” from Retseck’s mother add pops of color. An antique wooden highboy that used to reside in Retseck’s childhood home adds some needed scale against the high ceilings.
Other eclectic pieces include a gold-trimmed mirror, a brass end table, and a large, bulbous wooden vase.
Because the place is a rental, the kitchen came as is. Although the couple aren’t fans of the older cabinetry and Formica countertops, the kitchen boasts an open profile and a peninsula that works great when they entertain.
More tiles from Moravian Pottery act as a backsplash behind the stove. Ikea black-wire shelving units display their cookbooks, wineglasses, pots, a juicer, a coffee press, a cheese grater, a crate filled with canned goods, and a large jug steeping limoncello.
Retseck’s father illustrated the five prints of different herbs that hang in the kitchen. He also airbrushed an explosion onto a print of a 1940s warplane.
Ten years ago, Boatman, longing for an urban setting, moved to Philadelphia from his hometown of Laporte in upstate Pennsylvania. “Where I grew up, it would take an hour to go to the movies.”
By day, he works for the nonprofit Fresh Artists, which raises funds for art supplies for Philadelphia schools.
On his off hours, he makes table and pendant light fixtures in the couple’s second bedroom. Two of his wooden creations hang above the kitchen countertop.
Dominating the couple's bedroom are a wooden chandelier made by Boatman and a striking woodland mural, hanging on panels, created by local artist Julia Blaukopf. More pillow coverings from Cuttalossa decorate the bed.
Another Jonathan Adler chair, in blue-gray fabric and nail-head trimming, is adorned by a quilt in muted colors that once belonged to Retseck's grandmother. “I spent a lot of time with her when I was little. I think I picked up my love of art from her,” she says.
Because the apartment is short on closets, the couple neatly positioned white free-standing clothing racks from Ikea on either side of the room. Baskets beneath their bed and a wall shelf for outerwear provide additional storage.
Both Retseck and Boatman love their Spruce Hill neighborhood for its corner cafes, the Mariposa Food Co-op, and their easy commutes to work. "It’s also a lot greener in Spruce Hill than other urban areas,” Boatman says.
They might not own their apartment, but it feels every bit theirs.
“Our place has evolved little by little,” says Retseck. “We love it here. It’s home.”