Monica and John Church didn't want to move out of Center City Philadelphia, but in 2012, they bought a Cape Cod in Devon, mainly for the well-regarded school district for their son, James, then 2.
The couple had loved living in the city, where they sang as part of a Gilbert and Sullivan group. It offered relaxation for John from his job as a financial planner for nonprofit groups and for Monica as a nurse.
Though the new location on almost an acre in the Shand Tract in Chester County was desirable, the new house itself wasn't ideal. The couple turned to a fellow singer in the Gilbert and Sullivan group, architect Stephen Potts of Stanev Potts Architects in Philadelphia. He helped them develop a three-part plan to turn the 2,300-square-foot house into the home the family wanted within five years.
"Breaking a master plan into stages often helps a homeowner make a project more affordable and sets priorities about what is important," Potts said.
Working with Potts and his partner, Petra Stanev, the Churches decided to begin by improving the second floor, Monica Church said. The architects' design involved tearing off the pitched roof to make room for a master bedroom suite and to enlarge the two small second-floor bedrooms.
Removing the slanted roof and adding a conventional square roof in the rear added 500 square feet to the second floor.
"We didn't want to destroy the appearance of the Cape Cod-style house from the front, which we liked and which was a reason we were attracted to the house in the first place," Monica said.
The second part of the redesign began in 2014. It involved removing a warren of small connecting rooms on the first floor, resulting in a large, light-filled space from the kitchen to the dining room to the living room. A dark, narrow hallway that led to the original kitchen also was removed and added to the open space.
"We now walk into a large shared space with a big open kitchen and a view of our back yard and a large dining and living room area," Monica said, adding that the original kitchen was laid out in the 1950s and didn't provide a lot of light or enough space for the family to even turn around.
Potts said the former dining room and living room were reversed so the dining table could be set in front of the stone fireplace.
"We decided we like long dinners in front of the fireplace," Monica said.
A mudroom was added last year, in the redesign's third phase. It gives James, now 7, and Nora, now 3, another indoor play area. The design team installed insulation, put in flooring, and attached doors on both sides of the breezeway. The laundry area was moved upstairs near the bedrooms.
Monica said the space used to be so cold that she needed to put on a sweater to do the laundry.
"It now is nice and warm and creates a nice place for the kids to play in the wintertime and an opening in the back of the house," she said. "It gives the kids a place to stop rather than walking upstairs with all their gear when they first come home."
After more than five years in the house, the family is very happy, Monica said, and glad to have moved.
"We love the house and the neighborhood, where everyone is friendly, and we are glad we were engaged in our three-step process," Monica said, "Of course, there may be another step to the process. Stephen thought of installing flagstone and improving our patio."