WSJ: Philly Is Perfect Case Study for the Latest Twist in Home Design

Hank McNeil, who just sold Rittenhouse Square’s legendary McIlhenney Mansion to Bart Blatstein, is suddenly having a serious 15 minutes of fame. After a flurry of press about the mansion, McNeil gets highlighted in the Wall Street Journal for a piece about the mansion he actually lives in. The 13,000-square-foot residence at 19th and Delancey represents a new design trend: preserving a historic facade but transforming the interior into a contemporary design showcase. “Faced with strict codes and steep construction costs,” says the Journal, “more homeowners are installing modern interiors in old homes.”

McNeil’s home is “filled with one of the leading collections of minimalist modern art in the country,” says the Journal, but also has a basketball hoop on the fourth floor for his young son. Other homes in the slideshow were seen on the inaugural Philadelphia Modern Homes Tour, including Michael and Amy Cohen’s West Mt. Airy stone Colonial, made modern by Metcalfe Architecture & Design and McCoubrey/Overholser.

As for the trend, Philadelphia appears to be an ideal case study, for a few reasons:

In Philadelphia, it makes sense to buy an old house: The city’s housing stock is venerable, with a median year of construction of 1925. Besides, people love the way the old houses look….Philadelphia has also experienced an urban revitalization that is spurring greater interest in modern design….Philadelphia also has a strong contemporary-design community, with seven college-level design programs as well as a number of new design-company startups and stores, that has influenced the type of interiors people want.

Yet, writes Nancy Keates:

Philadelphia loathes showiness, reflecting its Quaker heritage. The contrast between the staid exteriors and the vibrant interiors of homes is a metaphor for the city, says Val Nehez, an interior designer who works both out of Philadelphia and New York. “Philadelphia doesn’t wear its style on its sleeve. It’s behind closed doors. You have to be in the fabric of society—to enter into peoples’ lives—to see it.”

Meanwhile, here’s a video.

The House With a Surprise Inside [Wall Street Journal]