On the Market: A Modern Architect’s Home in Northern Liberties
Shimi Zakin has produced a series of highly original residential projects as the head of Atrium Design Group. It should come as no surprise, then, that his own residence is truly unique.
There can be no doubt — at least, I have no doubt — that Shimi Zakin is the most creative modern architect practicing in Philadelphia right now.
His structures mix form and void together in highly original ways to produce spaces as dramatic as they are functional. You can see the strong Bauhaus influence in the work of his Atrium Design Group, but it takes that pure modernism and twists, bends, stretches and even punches holes in it.
All of this is on display in the house he built for himself and his family in Northern Liberties.
This Northern Liberties architect’s house for sale was the first house Zakin designed in Philadelphia. He had worked for his brother Elan after both arrived here from Israel, doing alterations to houses and apartment buildings his brother owned. After about eight years of this, he struck out on his own in 2011.
This was his first project as the head of his own design studio. So you could say that this house is a proof-of-concept project.
Even though it sits amid rowhouses, this house is a freestanding structure that also gave Zakin his first total exposure to American building technology. Houses in Israel are built of masonry, with space between them for air to circulate. This, on the other hand, is a wood-frame house whose walls abut those of its neighbors. It’s freestanding, but it got inserted into a line of rowhouses along with one other freestanding neighbor next door north. (Zakin worked with the builder of that modernist house, which was built at the same time.)
“When I was introduced to building with wood, I remember that ‘2 x 4 at 16 OC’ — that means two-by-four [studs] at 16 inches [spacing] on center — I was under the impression that we were talking about a mathematical puzzle,” he says.
Zakin wanted to do something else with this house: Engage in a dialogue with the past by injecting the present into it. “When I saw those colonial houses, or the near-classic ones that don’t give enough respect to the classical style,” he says, “I had to bring something new and scream out, ‘What about [Piet] Mondrian? What about modernism? What about clean lines? What about color? What about composition? What about articulation of the facade?’
“Why must the facade have flat glass holes punched for the windows? Maybe the window is a membrane that is stretching between two forms.”
On the facade of this house, the forms project out from and around the windows, and its entrance invites you to be swallowed up in it. It’s also two entrances: The upper one, to the main house, and the lower one a flight of stairs down, which leads to an in-law suite disconnected from the rest of the house. (Like me, Zakin believes that accessory apartments have a place in residential neighborhoods.)
And like any good urbanist, Zakin wanted this house to embrace the street. Its neighbors are all set back from the sidewalk to provide extra parking space. He obtained a variance for his garage and projected the upper stories over the entrance out onto the sidewalk.
The main house is split into two distinct spheres. The main floor comprises the public sphere, where guests are welcomed, while the upper two stories are the private family space.
Its open main floor contains a powder room next to the entrance and a high-ceilinged space beyond it.
Technically, the ceiling is a tray ceiling, but — again — it departs from the standard form with its multiple levels and waterfall layer that frames the entertainment center in the living room.
A wood-burning fireplace sits across the living room from the entertainment center. Here, too, the standard forms are bent and angled, as is the railing of the staircase.
By this metric, the Eurostyle kitchen may be the most conventional of the main-floor spaces. But even it offers contrasts of color and surface that set it apart from other modern kitchens. It’s equipped with Bosch Thermador appliances.
Beyond the living room is a large rear patio. It includes a well for the in-law suite patio one level below.
The upper two floors center on a family room that rises their full height.
Three bedrooms bracket the family room: two in the back, one of which has an en-suite bath, and the primary suite in front, a few steps down from the main room. The primary bedroom has its own private balcony facing 3rd Street.
You enter it via a large walk-in closet next to the primary bathroom.
That bathroom has stone tile walls, a large single-basin double vanity, a soaking tub and toilet at one end and a stall shower at the other.
The family room balcony/third-floor hallway has a wet bar. Two bedrooms, one with its own balcony, and a hall bath lie on the street-facing side of the top floor.
A large patio with an open roof takes up the back part of the top floor.
Below all this is the in-law apartment, which is currently rented out to a tenant.
It has an open living area and kitchen, a separate bedroom, a bathroom and a patio open to the sky. The tenant will help you pay your mortgage.
This Northern Liberties architect’s house for sale is convenient to just about everything everyone likes about living in NoLibs. It’s just up the street from Liberty Lands Park and a short walk to N.3rd, the Standard Tap, and Liberties Walk. The last of these will take you to the Piazza and the neighborhood supermarket and shops at 2nd and Girard.
And if you’re looking for a modern home with loads of personality, you will find few that top this one. Just compare it to its “punched window” neighbor next door.
THE FINE PRINT
(figures include the separate in-law apartment)
BATHS: 5 full, 1 half
SQUARE FEET: 5,200
SALE PRICE: $2,150,000
1012 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia, PA 19123 [Matthew Milano | TCS Group | Keller Williams Philadelphia]
Updated May 24th, 12:08 p.m., to correct the spelling of Zakin’s last name.