Scaffolding surrounds the Walnut Street townhouse in Van Pelt Mews in September. | Photos: Sandy Smith
It seems that architect Cecil Baker has the golden touch these days. Not only is he the emergency surgeon of choice for ailing projects, having resuscitated at least two high-profile projects that were going south design-wise with their neighbors, he has produced equally high-profile designs of his own that have won him further acclaim for the way they interact with their sites, in particular a luxury condo tower behind Independence Hall that hides itself from the Liberty Bell.
His latest project may not fall into the high-profile category, but it once again shows why he has become our most praised residential architect.
Van Pelt Mews is a 12-unit luxury townhouse project on Rittenhouse Square’s western fringes that combines the historic restoration of a 19th-century townhouse and carriage house on Sansom Street with nine large new homes fronting on Van Pelt Street.
Because the new homes front on an intimate side street lined with other historic structures, Baker explained, they are designed so that the street plays the starring role. Though it’s difficult to pull off with homes the size of the typical luxury home today, the townhomes do not overwhelm their neighbors, nor do they push themselves onto the streetscape. Where projecting window bays have become the norm locally, the new homes in this development are distinguished by their recesses: spaces at the street level where planters will go, cutouts surrounding the living-room windows, top floors set well back from the front to preserve the cornice lines on the street itself.
On a hard hat tour last month, Baker showed us around one of the nearly finished units and pointed out other aspects of the development, which is close to completion.
Van Pelt Mews Construction Tour
The project includes new four-story townhouses, right, and three renovated residences, left - a townhouse and two units in a restored carriage house.
One of the pedestrian paths that serve the houses across Van Pelt Street. Baker sought to complement the intimate scale of these spaces by making the new homes recede into the background rather than take the foreground.
A view of the new townhouses in various stages of completion.
The house we went inside is nearly finished, left.
Other units in the new part of the development were in various stages of completion.
Each of the new units has a recess where a planter can be installed. The planters will add a green touch to this development.
The former carriage house. Its garage provides parking for unit 1.
A passageway through the carriage house leads to the drive lane that serves the garages for units 4 through 12. All the units save unit 3 have garage parking for at least one car.
Cecil Baker welcomes us into the nearly completed unit.
The first floor of the unit includes a hall closet, left, and a den, through the doorway at right.
All of the new townhouses in this development have elevators.
This unit will have a whole-house sound system; the wiring for a speaker hangs from the ceiling here.
The main living-dining room. This unit has a custom floor plan for the main floor that puts the kitchen all the way in the rear.
The kitchen and stairway.
The kitchen is sleek and modern, with chocolate wood cabinets, a Sub-Zero refrigerator...
...granite countertops, including a waterfall countertop on the bar end...
.,,,and a Wolf range, in this case a gas model.
The main stairwell has a custom glass railing.
The third-floor hall bathroom.
The bathroom's tile tub/shower.
The second-floor toilets are conventional low-flow tank toilets.
The third-floor rear bedroom.
The rear bedroom has an en suite bathroom with shower stall....
...full-width vanity and toilet.
The view from the third-floor front bedroom.
The view from the third-floor front bedroom window.
The front bedroom has dual closets and space for a media setup.
The fourth-floor master bedroom.
The view from the master bedroom window.
The bedroom, like the living room, has recessed accent lighting...
...as well as regular recessed lighting.
One of the closets and the door to the toilet enclosure.
The toilets in the upper-floor bathrooms have no tanks, but rather wall-mounted flush controls.
The master bathroom shower and tub.
A rain shower head is mounted in the ceiling of the shower.
The master bathroom's dual vanities.
The view to the west (front of the home) from the roof deck.
The view toward the west (front of the home) from the roof deck.
The view to the north from the roof deck.
The view to the northwest from the roof deck.
The dual-system climate control units are on the roof deck's east end.
The view to the south from the roof deck.
The view to the south from the roof deck.
The half bath on the roof deck.
The garages in all of the new townhouses save the one on the Walnut Street end are built to accommodate one car. The buyer of this unit turned it into a two-car garage by adding a car elevator.
The drive aisle, looking toward Walnut Street.
The drive aisle, looking toward Sansom Street.
The rear patio of Unit 1, the restored carriage house.
The rear patio of Unit 2.
The development in the context of its Van Pelt Street block. The facades and cornice lines are designed to complement rather than dominate the Spanish-style homes across from them.
Scaffolding surrounded the Walnut Street unit when we visited. Its front door is visible at right.
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