Splendiferous Interiors: Necessity Is the Mother of Fantastic in Old City (GALLERY)

Cynthia Kehl transformed her traditional home into a unique space with good bones. Literally.

old city transformed home

The home used to double as a hair salon. Unfortunately, the barbershop chairs are not for sale.

The house at 140 Vine Street may look like a typical Philadelphia rowhome, but inside it’s anything but. Cross the rubicon of a traditional front door, and walk into the magical kingdom hairstylist Cynthia Kehl has created. Her unique design aesthetic — a collection of broken antlers to mottled walls and cabinets — was minted by necessity.

“If I could throw everything out and buy new I would,” she says. Because she can’t, she trash picks, she dumpster dives, she goes to flea markets, she gets gifts from friends who understand her singular tastes. “I’m a big believer in using what you have. If I had a cardboard box on the corner, it would be the most fantastic cardboard box you ever saw.”

This house’s transformation was very much DIY. “I never knew one end of the hammer from another until I purchased this house.” It helped to have contractor friends, but Kehl’s artistic modifications are her own. Like the walls, which look professionally treated but came instead from Kehl’s intuition. “I usually have an image in my head of what I want a wall treatment to look like,” she says. “I use whatever I have lying around. I learn to go with my mistakes, and I end up liking my mistakes even better.” It’s a good lesson for anyone embarking on a home project. And the end result looks professional. Kehl likes to say, “Caulk and paint make it what it ain’t.”

In this case, though, the house — which is more than 200 years old — was already pretty special when Kehl bought it. A fan of older homes — “their character shows” — Kehl was especially attracted to the original floors, which had, and have a beautiful patina and remain in excellent condition. The prior owners also opened up every floor, so while the exterior makes the house look narrow, inside it feels very spacious. The house also has every perk one could want but can’t often expect from a city residence: parking, a garden, a deck, and a view from the windows that’s all green and trees.

For many reasons, Kehl is downsizing at this time in her life, but it’s hard for her to leave her beloved home. “The next person who lives in this house will love it as much as I did,” she says with determination, as if to make it so. For a possible love match, go to the open house this weekend, Jan. 19, at noon.

Beds: 3
Baths: 2
Square feet: 1,584
Price: $699,000
Open house: Jan. 19th, noon

• Listing: 140 Vine Street, Philadelphia