Designed by a rising star on the Philadelphia architectural scene in 1903, this informal colonial has it all and executes everything beautifully.
Those of you who are fans of the popular McMansion Hell website have no doubt memorized the basic principles that make good homes good and bad homes awful. (And for those of you who aren’t or haven’t, I recommend McMansions 101 on this site as a crash course.)
The elements of architectural style, as explained therein, include balance, proportion and rhythm. And just as these come in classical and jazz forms in music, they do the same in architecture.
The Colonial or Georgian house in its pure form represents the pinnacle of classic balance, proportion and rhythm. Its perfectly symmetrical arrangement of interior spaces and exterior decor gives it a dignity found in only a few other home styles.
But sometimes, colonial houses let themselves go and jazz up a bit. They mix the arrangement of interior elements, vary the exterior massing and syncopate the whole to create houses that are no less balanced or proportional but more visually interesting – and perhaps even more flexible inside.
And that brings us to today’s featured house. This informal Colonial Chestnut Hill home for sale is the work of an architect who cut his teeth at one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious architectural firms but somewhere along the way learned to channeling the spirit of one of the first modern masters.
This architect is Arthur H. Brockie (1875-1946), who designed this house for financier John Andrew Harris in 1903. Harris first called it “Highwinds”, but in 1911 it was renamed “Highlands” , the name that stick (except for a period when it was called “Dunwoodie” by a later owner).
Brockie, who went on to design a number of homes and other buildings in Chestnut Hill and beyond, began as a draftsman in the office of Cope & Stewardson, Philadelphia’s most prestigious architectural firm at the time. He took a leave of absence from the company to serve in the Spanish–American War in 1898, and on his return he won a scholarship that allowed him to study in Europe. In 1901, after returning from Europe, he started his own architectural firm, taking over T. Mitchell Hastings in 1904 to form a partnership that would last until 1919.
This house is Brockie’s first design from scratch. There is nothing Furnessian about this house in style, but in its arrangement of spaces, wings and projecting extensions, Brockie’s house displays the same exuberance and informality that made Frank Furness one of the country’s first modern architects a few decades before modernism became a thing. .
It should be clear just by looking at the front of the house. Notice that the entrance portico is not located exactly in the center of the house? How does the gabled section on its left sink into the house while the one on the right protrudes from it? How are the windows on the second floor not perfectly aligned with those on the floor below? And a window is missing at the end of the wing on the right.
A traditional Colonial would have none of these elements. But it’s not a traditional colonial. Instead, Brockie cheered him up while maintaining his dignity.
The same applies to the interior. The wide front door opens into a hall that runs the full depth of the house – which you will soon see is ideal for large-scale entertaining. Its Mercer tile fireplace and large French doors that open to the back patio make it an ideal place to host guests in a home designed to accommodate many with ease.
But where is the central staircase? Isn’t she a colonial?
Sure. But it’s off-center. The staircase is located in this recessed wing just to the left of the front door.
The next thing that is off center is the layout of the ground floor rooms. A traditional Colonial places the living room on one side of the entrance hall, possibly with a den or study behind it, and a dining room on the other, with the kitchen usually behind it. Instead, the ground floor rooms also span the house, one after the other. Or almost, because the library in the hall on the left is next to the main staircase. Otherwise, it follows the colonial tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries with its dark woodwork and built-in bookcases.
The large, multi-segmented windows at the back of the library also bring this colonial into the modern era. You’ll find them at both ends of the living room beyond the library. The one at the back illuminates an alcove large enough to hold a grand piano. Yet the paneled walls and fireplace firmly tie this room to the past.
The sunroom beyond the living room features single-light segmented windows that give it an even more modern sensibility along with its simpler trim.
On the other side of the foyer, the dining room can accommodate a large main dining table. Its alcove can accommodate a second table for overflow guests, children or games. The dark wood chair rail and accents on the crown molding also add a jazzy note to this classic space.
The newly remodeled kitchen diner has been upgraded to host a grand feast.
The food prep area features a Sub-Zero fridge-freezer and a commercial-grade six-burner range with two large ovens, griddle and grill under its removable cutting block in its center.
The large marble-clad island in front offers even more prep space with bar seating, and the sunny breakfast room beyond has terracotta flooring and an excellent view of the rear terrace and courtyard .
A more intimate family room is on the other side of the kitchen from the dining room. Next to it you will find the pantry, an office, a cloakroom and a complete bathroom.
The second floor contains the master bedroom, three other en-suite bedrooms and the laundry room. The master suite has an exceptionally spacious bedroom that includes a sitting area next to its fireplace.
It also has two dressing rooms, one of which has a dressing room, and two fully equipped bathrooms.
The RFPs Brockie placed for the initial design described the house as having “two and a half stories”, and the RFP he placed after returning to the drafting table described it as “two stories and a attic “. Despite its lower ceilings, this attic is now a fully finished third floor containing four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Three of these rooms, including the one above which looks more like a potential lair, are classified as bedrooms.
The fourth is a bonus room that now serves as a home gym.
Behind all this is a huge outdoor space that can also accommodate many guests, starting with its vast aft terrace.
Just steps from this terrace, a neatly manicured lawn extends to the tree-lined rear of this home’s lot. To one side is the swimming pool.
The property also includes a newly remodeled two-bedroom, two-bathroom carriage house where you can accommodate your relatives and friends who wish to stay for a while.
According to the history of this house and Chestnut Hill prepared for its former owners in 1995, the land on which this informal Colonial Chestnut Hill house for sale sits collides with what was once Thomas Mill Road in the back. One of several roads built in the 1700s to service the mills built along the banks of Wissahickon Creek, it became redundant after the city incorporated the Wissahickon Valley into Fairmount Park in 1870 and ordered the mills closed . However, its old path is now a hiking trail that leads to the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge, the only covered bridge still standing in the city of Philadelphia.
Henry Howard Houston used the Wissahickon as a selling point when he built a branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad on this side of Chestnut Hill in the 1870s and turned it into the most fashionable side of the neighborhood. It remains a beloved amenity for residents of homes like this. It’s also a pleasant walk from here to the top of the hill, near Chestnut Hill Library and Hospital, for which Bockie also designed buildings. The hospital is on the left as you come to Germantown Avenue; turn right to reach the Free Library branch, the Top of the Hill mall, and the bustling and sophisticated shops and restaurants of Chestnut Hill along Germantown Avenue.
This home has changed hands six times, being tweaked and updated along the way, since the Harrises moved in in 1905. And now this jazzy, off-center, not-quite-traditional colonial is ready for the next owner who wants it. appreciates balance, proportion and rhythm (syncopated).
THE SMALL CHARACTERISTICS
THERMES: 8 full, 1 half
SQUARE FEET: 9,780
SELLING PRICE: $3,425,000
437 W. Chestnut Hill Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19118 [Michael Sivel | The Sivel Group | BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors]