The Brady family's split-level TV home sure looked nice all those years ago. From the 1950s through the 1970s, many Americans enjoyed the features that made that house style so unique and of the moment: the small staircases, the staggered levels, the open floor plans.

Yet as fast as you can say "bell-bottoms," the split-level fell from favor.

So imagine a real estate agent and her husband, both with a penchant for American art and antiques, buying one in Ambler in the mid-'80s and giving it a Colonial feel. Quite a notion.

"If anyone would have said to me, 'You will live in a split someday,' I would have said they were crazy," Chris Winterer Ryan says, laughing.

Both she and husband Rod, who on a recent weekday morning is nattily dressed in a tweed sportcoat and tie, grew up in three-story Colonials in the area. They found each other later in life, and this was their first single-family home.

"In some Colonials, you feel very hemmed in, but with a split it is open, and because we entertain a lot, that works well," says Chris, a Prudential agent.

She fell in love with the house's open plan, and both Chris and Rod liked having family across the street - his sister and her husband are 100 yards away. But undoubtedly the biggest draw was the beautiful half-acre backyard.

Since moving in, they have been tweaking away at the house, adding classic architectural details and filling it with family heirlooms.

"We are lucky," says Chris, who favors head-to-toe black, Belgian loafers, and statement jewelry. "Both of our families had nice things that we now have."

Their first job was to get rid of the Ma and Pa Kettle '50s wallpaper in the kitchen. Then they added wainscoting and gracious molding to the living and dining rooms, and put in a French door so that light pours in and the view of the yard they love so much is unobstructed. Lush silk panels in a kiwi color frame the door.

Chris decorated the dining room with a circa-1790 linen press she bought years ago, when she was single.

On the opposite wall is a large lithograph, titled The Innkeeper's Daughter, that came from a great-aunt of Rod's. Under it, they installed a narrow marble shelf, which holds some of her Herend porcelain collection.

The dining room, with that view of the yard, is his favorite room, Rod says: "I have great memories of big family feasts, including a chips, hoagie, and Breyers Ice Cream beach party in the middle of January."

In the living room, the decor centers on inherited furniture that Chris reupholstered in crisp shades of green, yellow, and pink. The room's art came from family or through their travels.

One painting of St. Peter the Penitent was given to Rod's great-uncle, a physician in New Orleans, by a patient. It fell off the wall during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and sustained a puncture that was restored and repaired. Under St. Peter stands a table; atop it is a tole tray onto which Chris' mother's wedding invitation has been lacquered.

A painting of Bucks County by Pennsylvania impressionist Evelyn Faherty hangs over the fireplace.

Upstairs are three bedrooms: the master, featuring a four-poster bed and a bath; a second bedroom used as an office for Rod; and a room with antique twin beds for guests, served by a hall bath.

Chris had the pink-and-gray 1950s tile in both upstairs bathrooms reglazed white. Marble floors were added and new vanities installed.

Also installed were new windows, and standard-issue builder doors were replaced with paneled versions.

Eight years ago, the Ryans did a kitchen overhaul. Out came the knotty-pine cabinets, in went the glass-front replacements, along with granite countertops, a tongue-and-groove backsplash, and San Gimignano painted decorative tile behind the stove.

Chris, who comes from a family of five sisters, loves to cook - for one sister's 70th birthday, they all met in Texas and cooked for days. Thus, behind the kitchen table, is a shelf filled with her cookbooks. To give her more light, a skylight was installed.

To add light in the foyer, the old door was traded in for one with glass at the top. In the foyer and upstairs hall, Chris chose a silvery fleur-de-lis paper that ties the two floors together well.

To take advantage of the backyard they loved from the beginning, the Ryans built a 15-by-21-foot deck off the dining room. More outdoor entertaining space can be found a level below: a screened porch off the family room.

The changes the Ryans have made showcase their love of collecting, even though their split-level might once have seemed the unlikeliest of places for it.

"I have moved many times in my life, but I have loved living here for 25 years," says Rod.

Says Chris: "I have been selling real estate for 35 years. I can look at a wonderful house and still come home and not be envious because I love our house and what we have done to it."