Chase & Jen Utley’s 3-Level Penthouse Hits the Market

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on November 22, 2013.

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Citizens Bank Park can be seen from the home’s terrace.

Chase and Jen Utley may be one of the city’s most high-profile couples, but when it came time for the Phillies second baseman and his wife to decide where to move, they were lured to the suburbs for the same reason that so many other young parents are: They wanted a yard.

“For us, it’s getting harder and harder to have a toddler and a dog in the city. We’d love to have a yard for both of them—it would just be easier,” says Jen with a tinge of sadness as she talks about the 4,500-square-foot residence at the Ayer that the couple recently put on the market for $4.3 million. “It’s time.”

From the moment the Utleys moved to Philadelphia in 2005, they knew they wanted to live in Center City. While the Rittenhouse area may have been the expected choice, they preferred the privacy and slower pace of Washington Square. They rented there for a time, and one day, after a trip to the gym, they stepped into the Art Deco–style Ayer building. They were curious. The landmark circa-1929 property, previously home to the ad agency N.W. Ayer, was being converted to condos. It featured a spectacular lobby and impressive period details, like exterior carvings and a massive bronze front door. “It was our first real home,” says Jen, “and I think we knew when we walked in.” Chase says they both loved the character of the building, but having everything new and updated was “the icing on the cake.” The couple bought raw space in the property in June 2008 and, smitten with architect Michael Ryan’s sample unit (he is also a resident), signed him to convert their penthouse and the apartment below it into a three-story home with two terraces and a private elevator.

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Chase and Jen Utley.

“We were such newbies to the design process, and yet we knew what we liked,” Jen says. The toughest part for Ryan was stitching together those two apartments. One way he did so was by creating two sets of steel-framed wooden floating staircases with glass railings. The Utleys also asked him to add a bar to the lower level. “I’d like to think that area was part my doing—or at least Jen has told me that,” jokes Chase. In fact, Ryan says, Chase attended every design meeting. The architect even flew down to Phillies spring training to get plans approved by the couple. “Mike had great ideas,” says Chase. One was a stainless steel top for the dark-stained, textured-wood bar. Adds Jen, “We have had some great celebrations down here.” The lower floor also includes a media room (Chase’s favorite spot) and guest bedrooms. “Up and down, Mike made this space feel like a house,” Jen says. “You hire these professionals for a reason, and since we moved in, we have never changed a thing.”

When it came time to find and work with an interior designer who could give the modern space a fresh look, Jen took over. She asked friends at her yoga studio for recommendations and foundGreg Augustine. Like Ryan, he had no idea who the Utleys were, surprisingly, but he and Jen immediately hit it off. “She has impeccable taste and we like so many of the same things,” says the designer. Because their lives involve so much travel, the Utleys asked him for a home that was calm and soothing. “We wanted it to be modern but sophisticated,” says Augustine, “but still approachable and not showy.”

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The oversize kitchen is perfect for big family gatherings.

Jen and the designer both love grays and used the cool neutral tone throughout. “It’s very ethereal, soft, and subdued,” Augustine explains. The accents are in icy blue, deep blue, and eggplant. Luxury details include floors of stone or walnut and walls of glass or stone. One of Jen’s favorite walls—in a light-gray blue polished marble with just the right amount of shimmer—separates the stairway from the oversize Bulthaup kitchen, featuring gray riffed-oak cabinetry and walnut floors. While she doesn’t cook all that much (she confesses to preferring the convenience of Talula’s Garden, just downstairs), she has hosted family from California for Thanksgiving.

The living room, with its 11-foot ceilings, has tailored gray flannel sofas and a silk hand-knotted rug. “I love our living room at night,” says Jen. “The whole house is windows. There are two terraces, and from one you can see bits of the Delaware and from another you can see south all the way down to the park.”

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Chase and Jen Utley’s former home is the consummate clubhouse.

In the dining room, Augustine had stone floors and stairs installed and gave the room a bit of drama with a custom chandelier made of hundreds of delicate, smoky quartz stones and vintage silk-wrapped bulbs. Beneath it, the custom walnut table—with a lacquered top and modern chrome legs—seats 12. The walls are grass cloth in steely blue, and on one hangs an oversize sepia photo of wild horses by Robert Dutesco. The backdrop is the adjacent terrace and views of the city.

When Augustine was working on the house, the Utleys had just adopted two cats, Sugar and Sebastian. Jen, who volunteers tirelessly with the Pennsylvania SPCA and has helped raise more than $1.5 million for the organization through The Utley Foundation, asked the designer that no animal products be used in the house. After moving in, they added Jack, a pit bull. Says Jen, “My friends joke that Jack, who is gray and white, matches the house.”

In 2011, son Benjamin joined the family, and he’s the main reason the Utleys are bidding the city a bittersweet adieu. “We’ve loved living in Philly all these years,” says Chase. “The city has grown so much since we first moved here, and we wanted to be a part of that, but we have a little guy now. We’ll miss so much about [living here] and this home, but we’re also excited to start a new chapter.”For more information, contact Melanie Stecura of Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty. 226 W. Rittenhouse Sq., Ste. 102, 215-735-2225

Art is Key in Rittenhouse Home

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on November 12, 2013.

In 33 years of marriage, one thing Lynda and Larry Gross always agree upon is art. To celebrate their anniversary each May, they almost always buy an oil or watercolor painting, a bronze statue, or even a cultural artifact. So when their nest was close to empty, and they looked to move from a sprawling suburban home to the city, they didn’t want to deny their beloved trove of artwork the square footage it so richly deserved. Their hunt began in earnest in 2006, and they had two caveats: they didn’t want to build, and they didn’t want to live on Rittenhouse Square.

A year later the couple offers a collective shrug when explaining that they live in a penthouse condominium in the Parc Rittenhouse, a place they built from a shell, thanks to a little nudging from developer Allan Domb. How did they get there? A few failed deals, including a floor-to-ceiling glass condo in a new building, led them to meeting Domb, who suggested constructing “what they really wanted,” and who assembled a team that even included his architect of choice, Spence Kass. The result is a spacious, airy space with many old-world details, and a perfect setting for their art.

In January 2011 Kass sketched out what he could do with the blank space after his wife, Laura, came to the Grosses’ sprawling colonial in Lower Gwynedd to measure and inventory the collection. Project architect Michelle Colville listened to what they loved about their current home—and more plans were made. The apartment, which took just seven months to build, features three bedroom suites, a supersize kitchen, a media room, a library and office, and a living room/dining room/music room, which holds their grand piano and other beloved instruments.

There is a sense of peace and space the minute you walk into the apartment. Kass and Colville created a backdrop that fosters enjoying rooms where art can also be enjoyed, gallery style. The entrance foyer features an ethereal portrait by Charles Dwyer, Contemplating Blue, one of their favorites and bought in Boston for their 25th anniversary. Also in the foyer is Autumn Rain, James Scoppettone’s original oil of a meandering forest path the pair acquired in Hawaii for their 20th anniversary. Antique chairs complement the setting.

In the living room and dining room, art and instruments enjoy equal billing. Near the entrance to the kitchen is The Blue Painter, an original lithograph by Marc Chagall (acquired from Israel for their 19th anniversary). Kass and Colville fashioned the long hallway leading from the living spaces to the bedrooms into something of a gallery. “Their art is interesting. It brings life to the home,” says Kass, who chose moldings with enough detail to highlight, rather than distract from, the collection. He also gave the space arched portals and coffered ceilings to give it warmth. Floors are also artful: Decorative marquetry, using six different types of wood species, was installed in the foyer and outside the master bedroom.

Woodworker Victor Rossi did all of the apartment’s millwork and built-ins, including the rich cabinetry in the library, which doubles as an office. “We really live in the office and in the kitchen,” says Larry. Because Lynda and one of her daughters like to cook, the kitchen is a focal point and is as big as the one they left in the suburbs.

The kitchen opens up to the media room on one side and the music room on the other. They employed an acoustic specialist to soundproof the music room and other parts of the home. “We built essentially two walls near the piano,” says Larry, who has played since he was six (Lynda does, too) and loves to have his daughters and wife accompany him on vocals. “All of us sing with varying degrees of proficiency and play a variety of other instruments,” he says. The couple toasted the move and their most recent anniversary by buying two period etchings—a map and a landscape of the city during the Revolutionary period. The Grosses’ transition to the city has been seamless. “We can’t believe how easy it has been,” says Lynda. “Our home feels like a retreat, and now we are part of this vibrant community.”

Wayne Home Recalls Main Line History

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on September 12, 2013.

Architect Frederick L. Bissinger thinks a style can’t simply be copied. “Style is a language,” he says. “If you can speak the language well, you can write new poetry with old words.” Bissinger has been designing traditional homes for the well-heeled here since 1970. One such project is on the site of the former Schmidt beer estate in Wayne. The property’s Victorian residence burned down, but in 1997 these coveted three acres were purchased by a couple who dreamed of building a family home where they could raise their children and entertain often.

Bissinger created Honeystone, an 12,800-square-foot residence in a style he calls Artisan Revival, with English Georgian influences. “This kind of home revives the fine craftsmanship, details, and high-quality materials used in the first third of the 20th century,” the architect says. “If you look at the great old houses on the Main Line, you will see they’re made of stone and cut limestone and they have nice doorways. All of these materials and features are back in style. They are expensive, but people are willing to pay for them.”

All of his clients, including Honeystone’s owners, want a custom design, so Bissinger made certain the six-bedroom, seven-and-a-half-bathroom house was filled with ornamental details that would not be seen anywhere else. One is the front door, with its copper repoussé fan light, created by a Massachusetts coppersmith and framed in limestone. For the roof Bissinger chose natural Vermont slate; the principal is all stone; and the windows and doors are trimmed with Indiana limestone cut in Canada and installed by local masons. Inside are carefully scaled rooms—some grander, for entertaining, and others intimate, like the library, the kitchen, and the family room, which overlook the private grounds.

Bissinger called on Edwin Mahoney, of Bryn E.B. Mahoney Builders, to execute his ideas for the interior. A third-generation suburban builder, Mahoney employed veteran crafts-people to do the millwork and stonework. “People who want an old house want the kind of detailing we put in this house—the chiseled stone, the custom ironwork gates and clay chimney caps,” he explains. “It’s off the wall, not off the shelf.” Bissinger, who knows quite a bit about woodworking himself, feels that his knowledge of this craft and other artisanal details makes his designs better: “If you’re educated about a craft, it helps you to choose the right materials and design for the maximum effect.”

One of Bissinger’s signatures is to uncover details meaningful to the client and incorporate them in the residence. “Sometimes I ask homeowners about carving something into a fireplace,” he says. “I make sure people feel their house is theirs.” For this project, the owners presented him with three antique stained-glass windows from an old church in Maine. Mahoney had the windows releaded and framed, and the architect made them a focal point of the entrance, creating a dramatic staircase and landing so visitors can enjoy them from up close and afar. Adds Bissinger, “They liked the idea of an important wooden-rail stairway with heavy millwork around the windows.”

Now the home is on the market. Agent Susan Ravenscroft, of Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty, says the house, priced at $5.75 million, looks grand even from the driveway. The Belgian block courtyard is set with an antique millstone provided by the client’s father. A series of terraces lines the exterior, some offering views of the home’s exquisite gardens and lawns or its heated swimming pool and spa area, complete with a fully outfitted pool house.

“The architect did such a wonderful job siting the house on this beautiful piece of property,” says Ravenscroft. “From so many rooms in the house, you can sit and look at the rolling lawns or see the snow fall from the octagonal eating area off the kitchen or from the family room. There really is attention to all the details and the fine craftsmanship of houses from another era.” For more information, contact Susan D. Ravenscroft, 610-213-3515, or David B. Harrington, 610-636-8266. Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty, 6038 Lower York Road, New Hope

Joi Denenberg Channels Marilyn for New Macy’s Collection

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on August 26, 2013.

Fashion designer Joi Denenberg has never had her name on one of her labels. In three decades in the business, she is as comfortable with her anonymity as some designers are with their fame. So modest is she about her place in the fashion food chain, when she was invited to Christian Dior’s Spring 1992 show in Paris (she had been working on licensed collections for the house) and saw her name on a front-row seat, she was so excited she cried. “That made me feel so important,” she says, “that I almost forgot that I wasn’t.”

Manufacturers and retailers beg to differ. Philadelphia native Sidney Kimmel—founder of The Jones Group (originally Jones Apparel), a leading global designer, marketer, and wholesaler—named Denenberg the designer of the clothing his company produced for the labels Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Ralph Ralph Lauren. “I have always loved Ralph Lauren’s clothes,” Denenberg says, “so this was so fun to work on. We would design whole collections based on imagery. They would say something like, ‘It’s 1922 on an ocean liner. You’re getting off the boat, and the wind is blowing your coat open.’ I knew what they were talking about.”

Opportunity knocked again last summer when a friend and former boss called about designing a juniors collection for Macy’s based on Marilyn Monroe. To design her boards, Denenberg watched Monroe’s movies, pored over books about and photos of the starlet, and studied vintage pieces in her own closet. The collection debuted in select Macy’s stores this past spring and was such a success, it will be shown to other stores next spring. The project’s pace is dizzying, even for a seasoned sartorial pro. There are new style groupings to create each month, trips to Asia every three months, and “testing” of new styles with her teen granddaughters.

“It has been one of the most fun lines to do,” Denenberg says. “Our Fall line is adorable. Our inspiration was a photo of Marilyn in tartan plaid high-waisted skinny capri pants. Then we mixed printed houndstooth, some colorful conversational prints, bomber jackets, and sexy bustiers together with dresses and fabulous sweaters, and graphic T-shirts! Everything is cute, sweet, and sexy, but ‘mom-approved.’ Just like Marilyn Monroe would be today—a touch of vintage, and a lot of modern.”

While she works in New York, Denenberg’s love for Philly runs deep. She graduated from Northeast High School and attended Moore College of Art & Design to study fashion illustration and later fashion design. When she was a junior, designer Emil DeJohn, now a professor at The Art Institute of Philadelphia, presented her with a fashion critics’ award, and a friendship was born. “Joi’s work was so beyond everyone else’s,” says DeJohn. “It was extraordinary and she didn’t realize it.” Denenberg worked a summer job at Villager/Ladybug (where she first met Kimmel and local designer Rena Rowan) and decided to stay, leaving school early. But it was reconnecting with Rowan years later—through a chance phone call with a mutual friend—that changed her course. Rowan, then at Jones New York, offered Denenberg a job. For nearly 21 years she helped invigorate lines The Jones Group bought or secured a license for. As executive VP of design, she and her team created collections for Anne Klein, AKAK, Evan-Picone, Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren, and Jones New York. While there, she remained close to DeJohn, donating funds to the fashion department of each school he worked for. “She is like a fairy godmother to the students in Philadelphia,” he says.

Every morning, Monday to Thursday, Denenberg leaves her Society Hill home for 30th Street Station, where she boards the train for her 12-hour day in New York’s Fashion District. Although she has an apartment in Soho, she prefers coming home to her three cats and her partner of 20 years, Tom Murphy, whom she met on a flight from London. “He’s a scientist and I’m a designer, so we both travel a lot for business, but usually in opposite directions, and rarely together,” she says. “When home, we like to go to neighborhood restaurants for dinner with friends, or just hang out. I love spending a lot of time with my daughters, Corey and Meegan, and my five irresistible grandchildren.” She calls her hometown “a big neighborhood. I love it. We walk everywhere and we know people in the restaurants we go to in Society Hill.” Of her business, Denenberg adds, “I really have a lot of fun doing what I’m doing. I think to myself all the time, I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

Inside the Homes of 3 Local Tastemakers

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on August 21, 2013.

A trio of Philadelphia tastemakers offer a rare glimpse into their luxurious residences to share their flair for all that is sophisticated and exquisite.

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Interior designer Bennett Weinstock’s fascination with old-world architecture and English antiques is on full display inside his Rittenhouse Square home.
A Center City home’s black and white color scheme is anything but boring in the hands of stylist and retailer Brooke Dillon.
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Elyse Barroway’s sprawling Main Line residence blends antique finds and a few elements of surprise.

A Barn’s Second Life as a Luxe Pool House

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on July 10, 2013.

Alexander Greenwood and his business partner, Elric Endersby, of The New Jersey Barn Company(908-702-8896) are preservationists at heart. Their daily routine is turning one person’s debris into another’s storied abode. Acting on weekly calls from developers, farmers, and historical groups, they swoop in to save old barns from the wrecking ball, then disassemble and catalogue them, hoping to someday find each one a new owner and a second life as a guesthouse, a garage for antique cars, a party barn, or—in the case of one Bryn Mawr couple—a luxury antique pool house.

“We’re like an adoption agency,” says Greenwood. “We try and match a barn we have to an owner and their needs.” The pair have been rescuing structures in the area since the late ’70s and have placed them in sites like Bucks County, the Main Line, and eastern Long Island for clients as high brow as Steven Spielberg, Larry David, and Bill Murray.

For the Bryn Mawr project, a modest-size post-and-beam structure called the Atchely Wagon House, dating to 1847 and found on a farm outside Hopewell, New Jersey, was the perfect fit for the property. As with many of its projects, the company provided design services for the interior, working with architect Christopher Pickell of Flemington, New Jersey, a frequent collaborator, and general contractor Jim Littleton of Flourtown on a design focused on entertaining. The new wagon house’s frame is done in rich, authentic white oak, and the building features an open living and dining room, with a rustic stone fireplace as the centerpiece. The oversize doors to the dining area open onto a terrace of recycled pine and the pool beyond. Because space was limited in the kitchen, it was carefully planned for efficiency.

With rich wood countertops and painted wood cabinets, it feels as if it could be a boat’s galley. Upstairs, a second fireplace warms guests who are using the changing room or bathroom after a swim. From this perch, visitors can also get a closer look at the garden, thanks to large doors that the homeowners like to keep open for fresh air.

Landscape architect Charles Hess, of Hess Landscape Architects (1570A Sumneytown Pike, Lansdale, 215-855-5530), also had a hand in this extensive project. He was charged with siting the barn in front of the pool and with views of the spa, garden rooms, and seating areas. Hess, who has worked on projects as varied as Horace Trumbauer properties on the Main Line and lush estates in the Bahamas, gave a nod to the turn-of-the-century Pennsylvania-style main house in his design for the new “antique” pool house.

It took him almost eight months to plan and another eight to complete the project. He pulled away overgrown gardens near the pool and created shaded living areas around the water. Hess and his team built a covered porch, an arbor, a seating area in front of the barn, walkways, and an elevated spa whose hot water overflows into a trough and then recirculates in the pool. To transition from the main house’s library to the outdoors, the elegant arbor is draped in wisteria. He fashioned garden rooms framed by boxwoods and filled with roses, hydrangeas, spring flowers, tree lilacs, and yellowwood trees.

In front of the pool house is a terrace that Hess built and a soft sequence of steps to a lower terrace and the water features. Patios are done in flagstone with antique brick perimeters. To differentiate the front yard from the back, he fashioned a custom hairpin fence, which blends in with the landscape. “The space is comfortable and has interesting features for guests and for the homeowners,” Hess says. “This was a great collaboration that has a richness throughout, melding the outside with the distinct architecture of the home and the pool house.”

Greenwood is pleased with how the wagon house—which was going to be demolished to make way for an office building—fits into the design. “It is very satisfying to rescue something that was soon to be debris and now has value and purpose,” he says. “It’s like a piece of art.”

An I.M. Pei-Designed Home Gets Updated

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on April 8, 2013.

Buying a home designed by a star architect with the thought of revamping it can be a daunting proposition, especially when the work is by the legendary Pritzker Architecture Prize–winning I.M. Pei, best known for designing the Louvre Pyramid, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, and the Miho Museum in Japan. Deciding to take one of his creations down to the studs and redesign it to fit a modern family of three requires another level of bravado.

This kind of daring was precipitated by the arrival of a baby and a daily trek of 52 stairs to the door of a third-floor condo owned by Kevin Yoder. Yoder, an architect who had worked in high-end hospitality design for BLT Architects and corporate interiors at EwingCole, and opened his own firm in 2010, was living on Third Street at Locust with his partner, Harvey Hurdle, when they were months into parenthood; they knew they needed a family-friendly home. They both loved all of the green spaces in their neighborhood, so the search was limited to Society Hill.

Across the street was a block of I.M. Pei townhomes, built in 1962 during the area’s redevelopment. “In the late ’50s, the area was rundown, with lots of commercial properties and abandoned homes,” says Yoder. The city’s plan was for it to once again become a model residential area.” Led by Edmund Bacon, the City Planning Commission’s director, the city bought 31 acres near Dock Street for a new apartment complex that would become Society Hill Towers and 37 brick-façade townhomes. Chosen for the design over four competitors was the New York firm Webb & Knapp and its noted architect I.M. Pei.

Yoder, whose hospitality work includes Revel resort in Atlantic City and Echelon Place in Las Vegas, bought one of the townhomes and took a year to modernize the 3,200-square-foot space. Originally the idea was to update the kitchen and baths, which had not been touched since the ’60s. Once he started, though, he wanted to do more, installing recessed lighting and new floors, keeping the bones of the house and the signature Pei features—such as the spiral staircase that acts like the home’s spine, starting from the lower level and extending to the third level—intact.

In his plans, he decided to reconfigure rooms, take down walls, and use the same palette of materials throughout the home to make it appear more spacious. The end result is an ultramodern house warmed by his use of medium-hued woods, as well as color and texture throughout.

In the kitchen he took down walls to create an open first-floor layout; a visitor can now see from the front entrance to the back courtyard garden. “When you are in the dining room, you feel like you are sitting in the garden.”

On the third floor, Yoder moved the master bedroom to the Third Street side and the other two bedrooms to the back of the house. In the master bath, he mounted vanities on the wall to make the space feel larger, and he added a skylight to save on energy and give the rooms a better light quality. “On a moonlit night in the city, there is a nice glow in the bathrooms.”

Yoder, who now works on redesign projects with other Pei homeowners, feels like he honored the prize-winning architect’s work with the final product. “Pei’s designs are pure geometry. Everything is curvilinear and pure forms. The rooms of this new design now reinforce those lines.” 241 S. 3rd St., 267-994-1103.