Philadelphia Home: The New Modern Family Home in Chestnut Hill

With the help of Philadelphia designer Mona Ross Berman, a young family takes a 1907 house from empty shell to utterly sophisticated (but kid-friendly!).

From the outside, the house looked lovely—a grand stone facade, a carriage house with ivy snaking up its walls, a spacious back terrace featuring a
wisteria-covered pergola and a pool. The inside, though, was a different ­story. The owner had fallen into financial trouble in the midst of a massive renovation, leaving most of the interior a mere shell and the house in foreclosure.

Many people would have seen the house and promptly turned on their heel. A Grey Gardens-esque display of faded splendor, the 6,500-square-foot home didn’t have any bathrooms, plumbing or even a single sink. But when a young real estate developer saw it in 2009, he pounced (and then called his pregnant wife to let her know he’d just bought a house). He knew what he was doing: He had a building background, his wife had a knowledge of design (she works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), and, most important, they had the phone number of Mona Ross Berman, a Philadelphia-based designer with a great eye and a strong stomach for even the most needy spaces.

The couple closed on the house in seven days, hired Berman immediately, and completed the renovation in six months. The result: a bright, uncluttered home that is equal parts sophisticated and family-friendly. (The couple has two boys, six and three, and more on the way.) Here, ornate dentil moldings easily hold court with shiny lacquered surfaces, iconic Mid-Century Modern pieces make perfect sense amongst more classic items, and a could-be-stuffy front parlor doubles as a racetrack for serious scooter derbies.

From the outside, the house looks even more lovely than it did before. And now the inside finally matches—which only proves that sometimes, when it comes to buying a house, all you really need is plenty of courage, blind ambition, a bit of spontaneity—and the phone number of a very, very good designer.