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.”
Stephen and Ann Gitter stand on the main staircase just inside the front door. They demolished the solid-walled version that had been installed in the 1970s and replaced it with an airier, streamlined design. The spindles are slightly turned for added visual interest.
The Art of the Find
The foyer is the most formal room in the house, and is reminiscent of the couple’s former residence (and more traditional aesthetic) in the Barclay. A durable Pennsylvania bluestone floor is a nod to history, and to the couple’s no-fuss way of living: “That’s what the sidewalks used to be made of in Philadelphia,” explains Ann. “Plus, you don’t have to wipe your feet or take your shoes off.” The sofa, now on its third reupholstering, belonged to her great-grandfather, an eye doctor who had a practice just outside the city; he used it in his waiting room. A large oil painting by Friedrich Georg Papperitz is center stage among antique needlepoint that Ann culled at Pine Street’s M. Finkel & Daughter.
Old and New
The main living room, on the second floor, was once divided into a living room and bedroom. The clean-lined B&B Italia sofas from OLC are a modern counterpoint to family antiques, including a breakfront that belonged to Ann’s grandmother and now showcases antique teapots and biscuit jars. Ann grew up dining at the drop-leaf mahogany table, now topped with trays bearing her collection of antique Scottish tartanware. She bought the leather ottomans at George Smith in London. The living room floors are original, as are the ceiling beams, which were uncovered during the renovation. The antique rugs are mostly from Freeman’s auction house on Chestnut Street and S. Nucho Oriental Rugs on South 20th Street. “I like the really beat-up, threadbare ones,” Ann says. “They can’t be worn enough for me.”
An open hallway acts as the second floor’s central artery, running the length of the 30-by-80-foot rectangular house and leading to the master bedroom. A glass floor panel offers a look at the gallery-like room below, and marks the spot where bales of hay were once dropped down to waiting horses. Hand-plastered walls, red pine floors, original brick and a cathedral skylight add dimension.
Antique plank chairs sit beside a half-moon table with castors. Above hangs a pair of folk art drawings by a young Amish girl. “The perspective’s all wrong and they’re immature, but there’s something about them,” says Ann. “They just make me happy, and they take the formality out of everything.”
Form and Function
With built-in bookshelves, Oriental rugs, a custom vanity, a glass-walled shower
so sleek it’s nearly invisible, and not even a hint of tile, the master bathroom looks like another living space.
The first floor is an open gallery for financial analyst Stephen’s artwork; he enjoys painting Philadelphia scenery and Rittenhouse Square. The flooring is recycled maple from a Harley-Davidson factory in Wisconsin.
The Gitters’ kitchen, the most modern room in the house, is outfitted in brushed stainless steel Bulthaup appliances and vertical cabinets. In true European fashion, everything in the kitchen is freestanding: “In Europe, if you move, you take your kitchen with you,” Ann says. “It’s like furniture. We didn’t want the room to scream ‘kitchen.’” Four “simple country chairs” surround a Saarinen table, and Flos Glo-Ball lights from OLC hang overhead.