2023 was a momentous year full of huge projects at Design Manifest, and our 'Wondrous Wharton' was no exception. This was a project with a big scope and an even bigger sense of personal purpose & transformation for our clients. The clients, a young family with two daughters, reached out to us about a new home they purchased in the Dickinson Narrows neighborhood of Philadelphia. They were making the move from Atlantic City, with the goal of enjoying walkable, community-oriented city living. Their 5 year old daughter was also nearly finished with a long & successful course of treatment for Leukemia.
This home represented a profound new chapter in the story of their family.
A view into the living room, looking towards the front of the home
The goal: to furnish and refresh all of the rooms in the home and to make thoughtful layout improvements to better suit the needs of their family.
Anticipating that building an addition was likely necessary, our clients were already in the early phases of schematic planning with an architect. During our initial consult, we assessed the architectural sketches through our interior design lens - with many questions and suggestions, of course! It became clear immediately that our vision and their needs were in alignment. At this point, we were entrusted with all aspects of the project - from space planning and addition design to decoration and project management.
The new dining room, one of the spaces added in our build
The Wharton house dates from 1915. From the start, this old home had an abundance of charm and original character that our clients wanted to preserve. The curved plaster walls and moldings in the living room, worn wood floors and exposed brick all gave the home soul and personality that our clients loved. Preserving character was key, as well as giving each individual room a unique purpose and function. At 14'6" wide, this home had the typical long & narrow Philly floor plan. Our clients wanted to embrace to coziness of this traditional Philadelphia row home while being very thoughtful about the unique purpose and feel of each space.
The home began as a 3 Bedroom/ 2 Bath. With no real dining room, no first floor powder and no coat closet, there were some real-life deficits for a family that loved entertaining. Additionally, the 3rd 'bedroom' had no closet or door. We began by researching building code in Philadelphia and determining the maximum amount we could build out per their residential zoning. After discovering we could only add 97.75 SF to the footprint, we knew we had to be really smart with our space planning. We made the most of the increased footprint by building up three floors, adding a total of 556SF.
1st Floor floorplan, "Before"
Our re-design transformed the home into a true 3-bedroom + den with a dining room, first floor powder and coat closet, plus thoughtful storage improvements in the living room and kitchen. We added one full guest bath as well, making the new home a true 3 bed 3.5 baths.
1st Floor floorplan, "After" - featuring new addition and furniture plan
Our clients style was, in their words, a 'cleaned up maximalism'. They wanted to create a vibrant, inviting home to welcome lots of guests, dinner parties, music, dancing and togetherness. They wanted to embrace the patina of their 1915 home with colors that were warm and weathered. They also wanted to be surrounded by the familiar books and objects that they loved. They didn’t want a renovation that felt too modern, with hard lines or a “too new” feel. They embraced imperfection, while also recognizing they needed practical and durable surfaces for two children and a dog.
Living Room "After"
Living Room "Before"
Our clients loved the idea of a home with "seasons", or distinct moods that characterized each floor. The moodiness of the first floor lent itself well to an autumnal vibe, which we're highlighting in this post - the brighter "seasons" of the upper floors will have their own features in the future.
Custom living room built-ins, with a special place of prominence for a beloved family instrument
We drenched the living room walls in color, painting the ceiling a tonally lighter blue. A wall of custom built-ins now surround the fireplace for storage and display, with our client's father's saxophone taking special place of pride. Rich leather on the custom-sized sectional sofa created a warm counterpoint to the moody blue millwork, and the warm tones are repeated in the marquetry inlay coffee table and colorful patterned wool rug. We snuck a small scale TV into this room (the dog 'art' is a Frame TV!) but the focus on this floor was togetherness, not TV watching. Movie night and kids playthings were to be housed in the den upstairs.
In a rowhome, it is essential to maximize every inch of space. The built-ins provided essential storage for this family, with charging docks hidden behind closed doors. We snuck in a bar into the corner of the living room to help create a little entertaining hub. (There always needs to be a reason to encourage guests to congregate in a living room instead of the kitchen!)
Pattern on pattern layers within in this room, all against a soothing blue backdrop. The balance of colors and careful scaling and layout of furniture make it feel cozy, not crowded. We curated a collection of original artworks for the front entry to create a beautiful, welcoming first impression when entering the house. The entry walls are covered in a vinyl wallpaper with the look of grasscloth, an absolute dream option for walls that look sophisticated and finished but can be easily wiped to remove little handprints.
The narrow stairway was transformed with a vibrant Turkish runner rug and deep teal trim paint. Adding a coat closet to the first floor was on the list of must haves, and you can see in the picture below how we transformed the hallway to close off the passage to the kitchen and create much needed storage.
Entry Hall "Before"
The entry vestibule also got a glow up with a handsome plaid mosaic tile floor, vintage-themed light fixture and a surprise wallpaper moment on the ceiling.
Moving from the living room towards the back of the house, we transformed what was previously a very narrow eat-in area into a charming breakfast bar, mudroom/walk-in storage closet and powder room. A floating countertop and four upholstered stools make the perfect place to perch for breakfast before making the school drop-off run. The gorgeous arts and crafts style wallpaper harmonizes with the age of the home beautifully, as well as pulling together the green and coral color story that defines the kitchen and dining room areas.
Though our clients love hosting, they are self-described fans of takeout rather than enjoying elaborate cooking. Their main wish for the kitchen was to have more closed storage where the original kitchen had open shelving and glass uppers. A good maxim for interior design clients is 'know thyself' - these clients knew that curating a row of neatly tended pantry items did not fit their lifestyle.
Before - the original dining area was a traffic flow issue that interfered with large gatherings.
Our intuition told us that our clients would love a bolder cabinet color, and we were right - the orange hue was an instant hit. We adorned the cabinetry with sparkling brass hardware and paired it with natural soapstone countertops which will pick up a charming patina over time.
We added a bank of upper cabinets to the kitchen with inset doors that can pocket in conveniently. These house tons of pantry storage as well as small appliances. The backsplash was kept airy and simple to let the color be the star. And, as is our custom, we topped off the kitchen with the perfect, softly worn-in vintage rug.
As pretty as it is practical, a tiled hood is durable and super easy to keep clean. We loved how it was both streamlined but also had a traditional feel. The glossy white subway tile both kept the kitchen visually uncluttered and had a classic vibe that sat well with this circa 1915 home.
A detail shot of the range
A view through the kitchen into the new dining addition.
The door to the right leads to a new storage & broom closet.
A key part of this project was the three story addition off the back of the house that we designed. Expanding off of the kitchen, we used the old sliding door opening to create a cased opening between the kitchen and new dining room.
The new addition during construction
The trim was painted green, and we wrapped the room in an airy fern frond pattern wallpaper and tall beadboard paneling. A custom banquette with an easy to clean vinyl seat and a dramatic statement floral print on the back cushion brings vibrance & joy to the room, and a custom table with traditional lines expands with a leaf to fit more during holidays and larger gatherings. Traditional, youthful, joyful and tailored vibes all mix beautifully in this room.
Dining Room "After"
We created a dedicated coffee bar in the corner of the dining room with a cute little custom cabinet and wooden pegs to hang colorful coffee mugs. The marble mosaic floor tile was designed with a sweet border pattern around the perimeter of the room, a traditional detail to make this floor feel like it has always been there.
Another key addition we made to the first floor of this home was a petite powder room. To make room, we carved out space in the former dining area. A colorful concrete wall mount sink sets off a gleaming brass faucet, while a playful modern mirror reflects the graphic, airy wallpaper.
The new 1st Floor Powder Room
During the course of work on this project, we fell in love - not only with the historic house full of potential but with the young family who was meant to call it their home. We grew very attached to the idea of giving our clients the perfect new beginning of this new chapter of their lives, one filled with vibrance, character, and space to welcome friends; a home with room for a crowded table.
We hope you have enjoyed this first look at our Wondrous Wharton project
and invite you to check back for an exploration of the remaining floors!
Photography by Rebecca McAlpin
Design and Project Management by Design Manifest
Build by Buono Construction Group
Photoshoot Prop Styling by Pia Panaligan