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.

3 - Inside the Homes of 3 Local Tastemakers
2 - Inside the Homes of 3 Local Tastemakers
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.
1 - Inside the Homes of 3 Local Tastemakers
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.

A Main Line Home Mixes Two Tastes

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on January 23, 2013.

When Ani and Mark Semerjian look back on the two years it took to design and build their Main Line dream home, it reminds them a bit of a prize fight—one between two creative types with different opinions. Sometimes she’d win a round; sometimes he would. In the end, the couple—Ani, an interior designer with a flourishing business, and Mark, a high-end custom builder and renovator—created a luxe, spacious Tudor with nods to the modern (for her) and European (for him). The mashup is a manse with an old-world charm that makes the home look like it’s been in Devon for hundreds of years.

When the Semerjians sketched out their 9,000-square-foot home with the help of Mark’s father, George—a builder and architect who helped train Mark and the owner of Semerjian Builders in Wayne—they each had to plead their cases room by room. “Mark is into heavy, detailed moldings,” says Ani, a native of San Francisco who has a master’s degree in interior design from Drexel. “My roots are modern. I like more streamlined design. The whole house is a compromise of tastes.”

When she wanted dark floors and he wanted light, she won. When he wanted thick moldings, they ended up in all the living spaces. Mark started with the exterior, a Norman-style stone Tudor with a flare roof that looks European. They then fused the outside of the house with the inside. Their opposing styles now coexist: They used traditional materials like Italian marble and Jerusalem limestone in an updated way.

Mark’s mission in this house was to have lots of wows wherever one went. “People should say, ‘Oh my God, look at that.’ That’s what makes a great house. We spent a lot of time creating those wow factors,” he says, noting elements like lighting and architectural details. They chose each room’s ceilings, an oft-forgotten area, to create some of these moments. “I think it is important to have something for your eye to look at in a room when it comes to a ceiling,” says Ani, owner of the design business Semerjian Interiors, now 10 years running, who appears regularly on NBC as a design expert.

Mark designed a central gallery running through the first floor with a bow ceiling, flanked on either side by intersecting arches. The two-story, 25-foot foyer was modeled after a cathedral in France. “When you enter the house and look up, you see arches and intersections,” says Mark, who has traveled to Europe extensively for inspiration and incorporates truly old-world building techniques into all of his homes. The foyer also features a dramatic wrought-iron staircase and limestone floors. The living room’s ceiling got special treatment. Made of real plaster with a diamond pattern, it is almost Gothic-looking. In the breakfast area, one looks up to find antique oak beams and corbels.

Mark readily compliments Ani’s ability to soften the Tudor home, which could have come off as too masculine. In the nearby kitchen, the designer chose one object, as she did with all the rooms, to become the piece that the room is designed around. In the kitchen, it was oversize lanterns. Gas lanterns, that is—the same kind as the ones the couple used outdoors. Ani called the township and got permission, and they had them installed. “They bring the outdoors in,” says Ani.

In the dining room, the focal piece was the Persian rug her grandparents gave the couple. The colors of the rug set the tone for the wall color—a deep, grayish navy that gives the space an English tone. For the master bath, the room was built around a tub that the couple designed, which was cut from an eight-ton chunk of stone and hand-shaped by stone carvers in Italy.

Ani, a California native, has embraced the beauty of this collaboration with her husband. And the last symbol of their negotiations is also a nod to her adopted hometown. “Because we live in Devon and the Devon Horse Show is in our area, I decided to add a local ‘touch’ to our family room, which is where we spend most of our time.” She saw a painting of a horse’s head at a local shop and brought it home. “Mark thought I was nuts because it is rather large [over four-feet wide], and he almost refused to hang it up. Now he loves it. It has become a focal point and a conversation piece.”

Designer Infuses Rusticity Into His Abode

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on September 17, 2012.

Designer Bruce Norman Long has always maintained that the things that touch our lives most are the clothes we wear and the rooms we live in. The self-proclaimed clotheshorse prefers classics in his closet (a navy Gucci suit, Ferragamo shoes, and London-made French-cuff shirts, khakis, and jeans), as well as in his home.

For his most ambitious renovation, he converted an old schoolhouse in Carversville, in Bucks County, with partner Mark Todaro, a commercial designer in Philadelphia, decorating it with leather Barcelona chairs, bold upholstered antiques from different eras, and a trove of art amassed over the years.

“My decorating evolves like my closet,” says the designer, who has just moved offices from Princeton, New Jersey, to Bryn Mawr. “I don’t invest too much in trends. It’s the ‘classic sofa, club chairs, and coffee table’ [method] of dressing—interesting pillows and lamps are the necktie and cuff links. Paint color is like choosing which shirt to wear.”

Deciding on the house was a leap of faith. The eventual winner was derelict and had not been touched since 1949; it was two years before they could move in. “Sometimes it was like peeling back layers of an onion. When we found plaster, we took that off and found stone, which we sandblasted. Architecturally, it is textured with personality. The house holds its own even when it is empty—the wood beams, the stone, the 14-foot-high windows.”

The kitchen, living, and dining areas were kept open with floating walls and partitions for displaying art. But because of the volume of the main room, with its 20-foot ceilings, normal furniture was swallowed up. “Scale played into the design. Bigger pieces were better,” says Long. “The sofa is 10 feet long, the lamps are huge, the coffee table is big, and so is the artwork. To match the size of the room, we had to have an 11-foot kitchen island.” The living room furniture includes a theatrical, neoclassical lemon-yellow cut-velvet récamier, a long, claret-red sofa paired with carnation-pink pillows, his nod to designer David Hicks, and a pair of black leather Barcelona chairs. “This is me at my truest voice,” explains Long. “A mix is where my heart is.” In the dining room, he used blue upholstered chairs around the table. Bought at Ann-Morris Antiques, the chairs were credited to Billy Baldwin. “There is nothing like having your own upholstered chair.”

The brightly colored pieces play off the art. “Every painting is based on primary colors—yellow, red, and blue—and my fabrics are those colors.” For simplicity’s sake, the walls are all white, “otherwise it would be too much going on. Besides, stone has a strong personality.” On the walls, Long hung an impressive collection of regional art, from Impressionists to Modernists.

Long’s love of design and art began well before he settled on a career. He was raised in Pittsburgh, where his family collected art and antiques. “Antiques were part of our education as kids,” he says. “My mother made it clear we were the most important people in our home, not guests. So the house of three boys was ‘lived in.’ My best friend lived in a house that was done by a big decorator in Pittsburgh. There were rooms he wasn’t allowed in. It was odd to me then, and it is odd to me now.”

After studying architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, Long worked for designer Mark Hampton on everything from a private office in the White House for the elder President Bush to the biggest and most expensive house in Palm Beach. After five years at the firm, he went looking for a new challenge; following a brief stint in home furnishings retail, he opened his own design firm in 1993, focusing on homes in New York and Princeton. His client list now spans from London to Loveladies, from the Main Line to Switzerland.

For himself and Todaro, Long will begin decorating a new home near his Bryn Mawr office. “Every home I have has a distinctive voice,” he says. “Each is different from the other, each a creative exploration and testing ground.”

Strathmere Beach House Radiates Fun

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on July 10, 2012.

When Maureen Doron asked interior designer Mona Ross Berman to be a little irreverent with her beach house, Berman knew exactly what to do. After all, the pair had worked together on the design of Doron’s Philadelphia home; her hip Bryn Mawr clothing boutique, Skirt, in 2000; and its Stone Harbor sequel in 2010. The seaside store was the perfect reason for Doron to spend more time in Strathmere, a quiet slip of a town just south of Ocean City, New Jersey. It was here she vacationed as a child and met her husband, Nate, and where she and her parents had bought a double lot with a cottage on it.

From the start, Doron and Berman were simpatico about making this house fun and totally different. Channeling The Endless Summer and other surf classics, Berman contacted Asher Architects (115 West Ave., Ste 202, Jenkintown, 215-576-1413), who designed a simple, three-story, saltbox-style home with one big deck to enjoy the ocean views. It was inside where the classic house was given a hip shakeup.

“We streamlined the interior design a bit to make it more modern, more fun,” says the Philadelphia-based Berman. Known for her use of bold colors and patterns, and an affinity for Mid-Century furnishings, Berman worked with Doron on a plan to create a classic surfer-chic ambience perfect for a family of five that includes three boys under the age of six. Doron already had some ideas in mind for incorporating her love of fashion; a colorful, chevron-patterned Parsons-style dining table, with a Missoni feel, was the jumping-off point. “The table was the genesis of the whole house,” says Berman. “I saw a version of it in Miami years ago and thought Maureen was just the girl who would like it.” She had it reproduced by Tom McGinnis of Phoenix Design Works in Phoenixville, who did all the custom pieces in the Philadelphia house and in her stores. The colors in the stripes run throughout the living spaces—yellow, turquoise, and orange.

The backdrops of the living and dining spaces are white with pops of color, all anchored with ebonized floors. There are yellow leather John Derian poufs, curvy vintage occasional chairs upholstered in an op-art-print fabric by Trina Turk, and a plethora of vibrant pillows. Berman added architectural intrigue to the fireplace surround and all of the doors around the house. “With trim and millwork, you can create a sense of age in a house that is new,” explains Berman.

In the kitchen, a yellow fabric cornice over the sink has a chinoiserie feel; it perfectly complements the seaglass-tile backsplash and the all-white cabinetry. Classic Carrera marble counters are a wonderful counterpoint to the mod Mid-Century stools that line the breakfast bar. Berman did not hold back in the powder room, which she wallpapered in a punchy graphic turquoise print from Studio Printworks, a New York–based company that creates hand-printed wallcoverings. “A powder room is a license to be silly. It should be an experience,” says the designer.

The master bedroom was a place that is still lighthearted, and with nods to fashion. The orange and pink room features YSL framed prints from the 1980s and ’90s, and a bright-orange lacquered steamer trunk Berman found at auction. Says Berman: “It’s finds like these that can make a room.” Even Nate was on board with the doses of color. “He got really into it,” says Doron. “He went online to bid on vintage surfboards and found old surfing posters. In the boys’ room, there are two sets of bunks and a crib. They found real porthole covers, and Nate found brass marine brackets to use as drawer pulls.”

Builder Michael Donahue of Avalon (2123 Dune Dr., Ste. 9, 609-368-2227) created the built-ins and playful barn doors to conceal the washer and dryer. “Here was an opportunity to take something that may be an afterthought and make it fun,” says Berman, who chose a tangerine hue for the doors. “If you are doing something, why not make it interesting?”

Donahue blanched when Doron told him they would paint the brand-new hardwood floors in the master bedroom a pink and white zigzag print, another homage to Missoni. But “once he saw them finished, he liked them,” says Doron.

For the laid-back mom, the house is far away from the demands of retail life, and appropriately about fun and family. “We have a mini compound here, with grandparents next door and cousins nearby,” says Doron. “We have bumper stickers and T-shirts that say, “where the hell is strathmere”—and that is what we love about living here.”

Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on March 7, 2012.

5 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square

1706 Rittenhouse

4 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square
Dan Neducsin in his new home at 1706 Rittenhouse

Dan Neducsin had no intention of moving from the sprawling 19th-century threestory brownstone on Delancey Street that he shared with his wife, Luana, when he read about a new high-rise to be built in Center City. The project, however, hit the trifecta of developments: a contemporary-style building at 1706 Rittenhouse Square, one residence per floor; luxury amenities such as an automated parking garage that brings your car to you, a gym, and a pool—oh, and panoramic views of the city from each home.

Neducsin’s interest was piqued. You see, as the man who is responsible for bringing Manayunk from hilly, dormant neighborhood to bustling destination town, he is a guy who loves views. His house in Avalon has them, and he thought if he could replicate that feeling in the city, then he would most certainly move. “I read about 1706 Rittenhouse’s big outdoor spaces. A lot of what I loved about Avalon was here,” says Neducsin.

His wife was on board when she learned she could get the privacy she craved, atypical of many high-rises (there are 31 total owners, and a private elevator takes you to your home). He also knew the developers of the building, Tom Scannapieco and Joe Zuritsky, and trusted their work and promises for this one-of-a-kind plan. “I am a developer, and it is an issue you always worry about—what will the guy next to you build? There weren’t those issues here. I knew a building like this wouldn’t happen again.”

3 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square
Each residence has panoramic views of the city.
2 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square
A Peter Gallo relief sculpture commissioned by the Neducsins separates the living and dining rooms.
1 - Best Address: 1706 Rittenhouse Square
The dining room maintains the home’s light, modern tonality.

And so they made a deposit before a shovel even entered in the ground. Neducsin quickly called Gabrielle Canno of Canno Design to start working on a floor plan and design. She had worked on his other homes, both with a modern bent; the Neducsins’ house on Delancey was a mix of old (architecture) and new (furnishings). “Everything we did there was modern. He wanted even more modern here,” says Canno, who worked on the project in conjunction with David Amburn and Jerry Jarosinski of architecture and interior design firm Amburn/ Jarosinski.

Each resident bought a box and had it fit out, she explains. Building standards were high, so they kept many things. She laid out the two-bedroom, 4,300-square-foot space before the residence was built, making an open plan that would take advantage of the 360-degree views of the city and rivers. Almost every room has two entrances and not many doors; any ones they do have are hidden. “Because there are so few walls in the apartment, it really was a lesson in paring down,” says Canno.

Most of the furniture and art from the Delancey brownstone made the trip to the new home. To unify the open rooms, Canno used large, palebeige porcelain tiles on the floors throughout the house. “Light transfers from room to room in this space. It is pretty spectacular,” she says. Special draperies and solar shades were installed to keep the furniture and art from fading, but walls are white with golden colored accent walls to make the space feel crisp. Canno designed built-ins for the library, living room, and master bedroom, made by woodworking craftsman Michael Lutz.

The challenge in this large open space was not to have too many focal points in a room. “The view is already a focal point,” says the designer. That is not to say the home is without visual treats of its own, such as the fireplace, clad in steel and surrounded by millwork. “The steel and wood are a nice juxtaposition. You see it right when you walk in the door,” she says. Across from it is a relief sculpture commissioned from Peter Gallo. Canno created a floating wall for it that doubles as a partition between the living and dining rooms. Two steel columns on either end suspend the wall and frame the artwork. In the master bedroom, she designed a stained white-oak bed with a leather headboard that conforms with the light palette throughout the home. And Joanne Hudson worked with the couple on a custom kitchen. “We picked out everything from the appliances to the stainless-steel countertops,” says Neducsin.

Outdoor spaces include two decks, one of which spans 45 feet, and these areas are enjoyed as much as possible by the couple. Now in their home a year, Neducsin says they use every inch of the house. “Our old house was three stories, and we didn’t use all of the rooms. Here we use every one.” Especially those in which they can enjoy the views, facing west and south. “You can see the park and all the way to the stadiums. Everything I loved about Avalon is here, but in the city.” Sales center located at 1708 Rittenhouse Square St., 215-731-1706.