About three years ago, Karen and Tom Getzen moved into a 2,200-square-foot house almost surrounded by the beautiful Wissahickon woods in Chestnut Hill.
"We looked at the house in the dead of winter and fell in love with the woods and bought it," says Karen.
It was more than the bucolic charm of the location that drew them, she says: They wanted a place to live as they grew older, one with fewer steps and requiring less maintenance than their Mount Airy home did.
But as sometimes happens with quick infatuation, the Getzens soon fell out of love with their new home.
There was little light in the three tiny rooms at the back of the house — the kitchen, the laundry room, and a mudroom.
The door leading to a beautiful deck in back had no window, and it was difficult to open the sliding doors next to the deck.
A cabinet blocked the view of the dining area from the kitchen, which could be entered only from the front foyer. To get to the dining room, you had to walk around the first floor.
So when Tom, who taught health economics at Temple University, retired, the couple hired architect Elie-Antoine Atallah, principal at Studio of Metropolitan Design Architects in Center City, to make the house more livable.Two of his main tasks, Atallah says, were to add to the light at the rear of the house and consolidate all those tiny rooms.
"The house was designed in the '70s by a couple who had a vision but no architecture training," he says.
To show Tom and Karen what he had planned, Atallah made three-dimensional renderings. The walls between the kitchen, laundry room, and mudroom were removed, producing a single long room of 325 square feet.
Three windows were installed in the upper walls of the kitchen on the north side. On the south side, a doorway leading to the dining room from the kitchen ensured that people could enter the area directly.
A new door with a window was installed leading to the yard from the kitchen, and new sliding glass doors replaced the originals so the Getzens could get to their deck easily.
Food storage, electrical utilities and other features are now housed in floor-to-ceiling walnut cupboards that eliminated a cabinet jutting out into the kitchen. A long quartz-covered island with stools for casual meals occupies the center of the new space.
Because the couple frequently take care of their granddaughter, who plays on the floor, Karen, 65, says she loves the new oak there, as well as the enhanced lighting. (She now teaches writing part time at Chestnut Hill College, having retired from her full-time division-head post there.)
Until the changes were made, Karen says, she didn't realize just how wonderful the setting of their house was. It's now easy to open and close the sliding glass doors leading from the dining room to the deck and offering an expansive vista.
A new door in the modern kitchen makes it easy to enter the backyard. In fact, the woods almost seem to want to come inside.
"We eat our meals on the deck from April through October, and later if the weather remains warm," she says. "We love to watch for birds and look at the changing colors of the trees."
In the living room, too, the fireplace with white mantel stands under a painting by a family friend, Lois Stecker, that adds a sylvan touch of orange and yellow.
As opposed to walking around the house to get to the dining area from the old kitchen, says Tom, 69, "everything is in a straight line now."
Both say they appreciate the fact that everything — cooking, dining, storage, laundry — is within easy reach of the kitchen area.
"We spend most of our time here between the kitchen and the patio, and it is wonderful that it is so accessible, " Karen says.
"You know," she adds, "I just told Tom that we haven't had anything to complain about recently about the house since the work was done. Before this, it was a chief topic of conversation.
"I am happy now."