A revitalizing townhouse renovation in Society Hill

Mindy and Ben Speciale live with their Papillon, Owen, in a renovated split-level townhouse in Society Hill.

Before they found just the right one, Mindy Watts and Benjamin Speciale had looked at more than 100 houses in Philadelphia.

It was exhausting, Watts says. But the couple had established four criteria a property had to meet before they would buy it: abundant light; a fireplace; a location that would make it possible for both of them to walk or bike to work each morning; and assigned parking.

A townhouse in Society Hill fit the bill, though some tweaking would be needed. Watts, a planner with Interface Studio LLC, and Speciale, a lawyer with Spadea Lignana LLC,  bought the house in May 2015 but didn't move from a Center City loft until renovations were completed late last year.

The couple wanted the dwelling, designed in 1968 and built in 1970, to be light and bright, and wanted to do it as imaginatively as possible. (Both are from New York state, and they are adept at working together on projects: They met as counselors at a camp that Cornell University set up to entertain and occupy the children of alumni at reunions.)

So to make the new spaces more livable for them, they hired inHabit LLC. Watts had met Jackie Gusic, one of two principal architects at inHabit, on various projects that had included her own firm.

The townhouse, on Addison Court, had a lot of good features, Gusic says: It was wider than most, with a split-level first floor that offered a living room at the top of a small flight of steps at the front and, at the rear, a dining area and kitchen. Outside was a small bricked-in yard.

Among the features the couple found desirable were a master bedroom and a small guest room. The third floor had room for an office for Watts, and a half-roof deck provided more outdoor space.

Converting the spaces to more contemporary use was one goal of inHabit's design. Two portions of a brick wall between the dining area and the rear yard were removed. Replacing them were a 12-by-8-foot accordion glass door and screen, which extends the dining room area into the backyard.

The design also removed the wall between what had been the tiny kitchen and the dining area, to create one long room.

The small yard and patio are surrounded on three sides by a high brick wall. With the new folding door, the space offers privacy to the couple and a safe place to explore for their black-and-white papillon Owen, who also enjoys a cubby under the dining room bench designed for him by inHabit.

Touches the couple themselves brought to their three-story home make it distinctive. On the second floor, for example, a four-poster bed that belonged to Watts'  grandmother brings a depth of history to the contemporary design. A soft, restful color scheme predominates there.

In the kitchen, the walls are adorned with a gray-and-brown tile that lends an almost European quality.

The changes have made their house unique, Watts says, even though it's one of 33 on Addison Court.

Speciale also is pleased with them.

"I wanted a house that combined city living and the advantage of living in the loft with more space," he says. "The house is helping us take advantage of what we liked about the loft, and helping us leave what we didn't."

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