Two units create a doubly delightful home at the Philadelphian

Maryanne Schiller and John Attanasio, on the balcony of their supersized home at the Philadelphian, overlooking the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The kitchen in Maryanne Schiller and John Attanasio’s home, which merged a two-bedroom unit with the one-bedroom house next door. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

For much of their adult lives, Maryanne Schiller and John Attanasio resided in conventional suburban homes, each with a spouse, each unaware of the other’s existence.

Maryanne, a social studies teacher, was in Merion Park. John, a lawyer, was in Radnor.

“Our suburban lives were very similar,” Maryanne says in the living room of the apartment the couple now share in the Philadelphian, across from the Art Museum. “A lawn, a minivan, two kids.”

All it took to bring about the change — after they were single again — was a dating service, a carpenter, and someone else’s dog.

There’s an intervening story, of course.

Let’s start in 2005, when John, recently divorced, moved to a classic 200-year-old rowhouse on Quince Street in Center City.

Since Schiller and Attanasio combined two units, they have two front doors. The nameplate on this one shows her name first. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

About five years later, Maryanne, now widowed, moved to the Philadelphian, buying a spacious 2,000-square-foot apartment with stunning views of Art Museum Circle. She had barely finished having the place torn apart and put back together — “It needed everything,” she recalled — when brought the two together.

Soon, the discussions turned to living together.

“It was a good while,” Maryanne says, jokingly. “A couple of weeks.” But the devil was in the details of where.

The Quince Street house, a showpiece that had once been featured in the real estate section of the New York Times, was big enough for a couple, but it had a deal breaker: verticality.

“It was on five levels, and we were already into our 60s,” Maryanne said.

Her apartment was unsuitable based on its size and John’s need for an office because he was still working as a consultant following a long legal career.

So he rented a studio office on the 14th floor and “commuted” the eight floors while also keeping his Quince Street house.

The other front door lists his name first. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

This is where the canine comes in. Maryanne’s neighbor, a single man decades younger than her, had also acquired a fiancée, but she had a dog who came as part of the package. And because the Philadelphian doesn’t allow dogs, they would have to settle elsewhere.

So John bought that apartment next door, which was 1,400 square feet and in excellent condition. And, after getting the building’s permission, the couple performed a quickie “marriage” to join her unit to his.

“The only thing we had to do was to hire a carpenter to cut an opening in the wall next to the kitchen counter and install the French doors that now connect the two units,” he says. “That’s all! … It was another move-in for me!”

The result, after some closet space and furniture swapping, fits the couple’s new lifestyle perfectly.

Maryanne, retired from the Upper Merion school system, volunteers regularly at the Art Museum’s education department. And John is deep into his new second career as a painter, another example of serendipity on the loose.

John Attanasio’s art supplies in his studio, which used to be the kitchen of the one-bedroom unit he and Maryanne Schiller combined with her two-bedroom unit. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

During a “what if” discussion with Maryanne shortly after they started dating, he told her that if he hadn’t been a lawyer, he would have wanted to be an artist.

So, for his birthday, before she left on a volunteering trip to Peru, she bought him what she thought was a “just for fun” birthday gift, an “ages 3 and up” watercolor paint set.

Within months, John had moved on to oils and was displaying — and selling — his work at group and solo shows at numerous local venues, including the Philadelphia Sketch Club, the Athenaeum, and the Twenty-Two Gallery.

In what had been Maryanne’s apartment, John’s paintings line the walls of the living room, where the couple performed their own wedding ceremony two years ago under a self-uniting “Quaker” marriage license.

In “his” apartment, the den/kitchen has been converted to a studio and office, where easels dominate part of the space and paints and frames are stored in the wall and floor cabinets. The kitchen appliances are in quiet semi-retirement.

“I make coffee there every morning,” John said. “That’s about it.”

The living/dining area at Maryanne Schiller and John Attanasio’s home at the Philadelphian. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

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