According to Ann Gitter, there are two archetypal styles of home decor: the London way—grittier, more urban, just a bit off—and the Milan way, polished to sleek perfection. And she’d know: As the owner of beloved Walnut Street boutique Knit Wit and its sister store Plage Tahiti, she’s been traveling to Europe on buying trips for decades. Her Rittenhouse carriage house? “Oh, it’s definitely London,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not Milan high modern at all.” But if you were to press the style-maker to define her inspiration, you’d be surprised to find that what really tickles her fancy isn’t downtown or uptown; it’s far off in the rolling New York hill country of the 18th-century Shakers. “I like simple, square lines, but I also like a lot of wood, unlike a modernist who would use more metals,” she explains. “I’m a Shakerist.”
Ann’s wide-ranging design influences are apparent throughout her circa-1860 carriage house, which she and husband Stephen bought—and promptly gutted—10 years ago. Shaker pegboards line the three-car garage, a marble-topped Saarinen table anchors the kitchen, and a heavy sprinkling of antiques collections, from Scottish tartanware to clock balls, ties it all together.
But in the beginning, the house had nothing save a heap of potential. “It was brown and dark,” Ann says. Part of the first floor, where the stables had been, was dirt. Walls interrupted the home’s layout and made the space feel unnecessarily subdivided. After a year of renovations by the late architect Jeff Clark and Philly-based Vittorio Ginzburg, the home was transformed into a space that is modern in its loft-like layout, yet still respectful of the building’s history. “It’s stately without being overly formal, and it’s not perfect,” Ann says.
There’s a price to finding the ideal balance of perfect imperfection, though. For the Gitters, who love construction and the sometimes messy process of turning a house into a home, it’s the bittersweet realization that in all likelihood, they won’t ever want to leave this Philadelphia carriage house. “We love it so much, we can’t move,” Ann says. “My saddest thing is that we’re so happy here.”