Grungy auto shop takes a polish well in S. Kensington

A view into the living area from the loft in the home of Matt Yaple in South Kensington in Philadelphia. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)

Just murmur the words industrial living to any urbanite, and his eyes light up.

So when Matt Yaple found out that a grungy automotive shop-turned-hip family home in gentrifying South Kensington was for sale, he jumped on it and moved there in July 2015.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the perfect place, ” says Yaple, 66, a longtime Philadelphia resident, who wanted a domestic landscape that would double as a “rehearsal hall” for the band he started after retiring as a production manager five years ago.

Matt Yaple, at his South Kensington home in Philadelphia. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)


The previous owners, who were artists, had transformed the cavernous garage into a modern home without eliminating many of the raw elements that make such urban projects so sought after to begin with. Wow features include brick walls; a wood-burning stove; radiant-heat cement floors; a wall of steel windows; a courtyard with concrete benches; and a series of upper spaces that overlook the mostly ground-floor rectangle.

After moving in, Yaple was determined to retain the vibe but also update the space. He marked the interior with his personal statement, much of it to suit the throng of guests who stop by monthly to attend his jazz nights, featuring local and national musicians.

One of the first add-ons was to have the ceiling wrapped with foam and sprayed with black K-13 cellulose material, for insulation and noise reduction. “It’s such a nasty material to work with. The temperature must have been 100 degrees when they did it,” he says.

The dining room in Matt Yaple’s home. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)


Rather than open up the vestibule, Yaple — inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s compression-to-expansion architectural technique — had his contractor, Jon Hoffman of Redmond General Contracting in Philadelphia, widen it but keep the low ceiling. The compact vestibule quickly gives way to soaring 19-foot ceilings.

In the main living space, massive steel supports rise from the concrete floors and are the physical and visual breaks within the 33-by-65-foot open space. “I used them [like partitions] to separate the space into three tableaus that I named `Fire, Wind, and Earth,’ ” he says.

At the street front, “Fire” is a conversation area, with five Saarinen-like chairs he found for $120, a Herman Miller-style coffee table, and the wood-burning stove. Translucent panels on the original garage door’s windows filter sunlight.

“Wind” is flanked by three CB2 gray linen convertible sofas, two wooden counters with stools, a drum set, and one of Yaple’s cherished possessions: his Steinway grand piano, a gift from his parents for his 50th birthday.

A silhouette of the piano is seen in front of a large garage door in Yaple’s house. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)

Another cherished item is an RCA Victrola that once belonged to his grandfather, who, according to family lore, had it transported by horse and wagon from the RCA Victor building in Camden to his farm in Illinois. Behind the piano, on the wall, are autographs from performers of the past, such as Chano Dominguez, Kenny Werner, and the Curtis Brothers Quartet.

Alongside the courtyard, “Earth” is dominated by a long dining table made of poplar that came with the house and that Yaple resanded, refinished with oil, and added steel rollers to for easy mobility. Dozens of black minimalist chairs are stacked for dining or to be scattered throughout during jam sessions.

Hanging on the wall just below the high ceiling are rows of aluminum bleacher seats, holding 18 potted plants, which he waters with the help of a mini hydraulic truck he parks in a corner.

The kitchen was banished to a wall in a recessed area off to the right. Russet-hued bottom cabinets and stainless-steel appliances contrast starkly with the concrete countertops. Open rolling restaurant carts hold glasses and dishes, complementing the utilitarian aesthetic.

Two ground-floor bathrooms — a women’s room, with porcelain tile and reclaimed wood, and a men’s room painted fire-engine red —accommodate guests.  Another door leads to a sound and mixing room.
Ceiling fans, a disco ball, and three large light fixtures, whose LIFX bulbs emit various colors, hang from the ceiling. The palette is simple and bright, with white walls, including the exposed brick, and a few accents for interest.

Upstairs are the master bedroom, bath, and library rooms, surrounded by an industrial metal railing. The flooring was recycled from a basketball court.


A view of the kitchen from the dining room. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)

Yaple says his next project might be adding a roof garden and another conversation area.

“The only thing I wish I had was a basement. I’d love a real wine cellar,” he says, adding that he loves sharing his home with others. “But I can’t imagine many places that are better. It’s pretty cool living here.

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