See how Kass & Associates restored and updated a grand Victorian mansion in Philadelphia ca. 1874.
2016 PALLADIO AWARDS
Winner: Kass & Associates
KEY PRODUCTS, MATERIALS & SUPPLIERS
Audio / Visual: Artistic Video & Sound, Inc.
Kitchen Cabinets & Tile: Joanne Hudson Associates, LTD (Joanne Hudson Basics)
Marble Fabrication & Installation: Michael Addesso Marble and Granite World, Inc.
Exterior Windows & Doors: North American Window & Door, Inc., Kolbe & Kolbe
Lumber & Trim: Tague Lumber
of Media, Inc.
Plumbing: Ferguson Enterprises
By Kiley Jacques
A comprehensive three-year renovation of the George C. Thomas House—a historic double-wide townhouse in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia—has resulted in a house that will long be preserved as a historic resource. “This project restores and updates a grand Victorian mansion in Philadelphia built in 1874 by the Hewitt Brothers and Frank Furness,” explains principal architect Spence Kass.
The thrust of the project was to restore intact public rooms and reconfigure adjacent rooms for both everyday use and entertaining. The renovated rooms have extended the public sequence of the house, which previously comprised of private and service spaces. The first floor rear of the house, for example, was transformed into a conservatory and family room that opens into a new enlarged kitchen. “The existing public room sequence of the house has been extended into former servant spaces which have been transformed into larger rooms for family use,” says Kass. “These include a new kitchen and conservatory, each opening to a new tiered garden terrace. The decoration of these new rooms references the Victorian vocabulary of Frank Furness and includes custom marble, wood, and plaster moldings, along with a rich color palette.”
Damaged or missing details were carefully restored or re-created—for instance, the hand-carved oak newel post in the entry hall stair displays a refurbished operating gas lamp surmounting an original onyx globe. Likewise, new plaster mouldings and cornices were created to complement other rooms and evoke the originals. Detail and ornament were extended from existing public rooms into the redesigned portions of the house, as well.
New bathrooms were added to support numerous bedrooms located throughout the house, while the second-floor master bedroom suite was renovated to include a master bathroom, featuring solid water-jet cut-marble casings and a new dressing room.
The formerly unfinished basement was completely refurbished with a new entrance from the four-car garage, a game room, a playroom, an exercise room, and a laundry area, plus a five-stop elevator that was inserted into the service zone of the house reaching from the basement to the attic.
Throughout, the lighting fully respects the décor and character of each room; and wherever possible, natural light and views were enhanced, as evidenced by the rear window wall with added clerestory windows that face the garden and terrace.
Additionally, mechanical systems were upgraded and designed so as not to disrupt the integrity of the public rooms; state-of-the-art, energy-efficient equipment was introduced in such a way that it wouldn’t interfere with the home’s historic sensibility.
Identifying logical spaces in which to display the owner’s collection of nautical artifacts, antiques, and American folk art was a challenge. However, the scale of the rooms combined with new details provided an intelligent backdrop for the items. “The owner’s extensive collection of maritime antiques is displayed throughout the house,” notes Kass. In other words, the house, as a whole, proved to be a logical space.