Before and After: We Can’t Believe This is the Same Philadelphia Row Home

This Philadelphia row home came with many enviable features when Matt and Anne Thomas bought it. Stunning architecture. Tons of space. All that natural light. The one thing they didn’t love was the home’s extremely red-toned cherry wood floors. But, the floors had just been re-done and were nice in every other regard. Replacing them would have been wasteful. Thankfully, Anne’s a designer, and they decided to “combat [the floor’s] redness with the wall colors we’ve chosen, the rugs we put over them, and by painting different elements white whenever we can.”

Every room in the large home featured the very-red cherry wood floors, so every room needed some paint distraction to help tone them down. Anne explains: “The stairs are a great example of this. We decided to paint the trim and all the toe kicks white. This really helped to break up all the red. In fact, we tackled ALL the trim and baseboards in this house and painted them ALL white. With all the many coats this took, I don’t even like to think about exactly how many hours of my life have been dedicated lying on the floor with a trim brush trying to have a steady hand…”

It wasn’t just the red floors that almost turned Anne and Matt off from this house, though. As Anne explained in their house tour: “When Matt came across the listing for this house, we couldn’t believe it hadn’t been snatched up yet for the price it was listed at, the square footage, and for neighborhood it is in. It had been on and off the market for a few years and from the minute we saw the listing we knew that we wanted to buy it, but we just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop—what is wrong with this house that no one else has bought it yet? When we finally toured the house for the first time, we began to realize why it hadn’t sold.”

Many of you wished you could see the before photos of this home when we featured their tour last month. So below, Anne graciously describes in more detail what they did in each room to improve it.

I can understand why this living room is tricky to imagine where to place furniture. I think sometimes people are afraid to (or don’t think to) “float” their furniture in a space—they think that everything MUST go up against a wall. False! This house originally would have had walls enclosing this living room, because when this house was built, the fireplace would have been the only source of heat and so open floor plans wouldn’t have made sense. The foyer wall would have extended almost all the way to the stairs as a hallway, which also would have curved around to where you enter the dining room. When placing the furniture in this room, its almost like we pretended that wall was still there.

This suddenly made the flow feel natural and the room feel bigger. We made the fireplace the focal element of the room, and worked around it. The walls on either side of the fireplace were enormous, and the 11-foot ceilings made the space feel overwhelming. I designed, built, and installed these floating shelves to not only give some visual weight to these walls, but to also be able to display our most favorite artwork, photographs, and objects. We added window treatments to accentuate the height of the ceilings, and added plants, plants, and more plants, to give the room a lot of texture and life.

(Image credit: Stuart Cohen)

The dining room is surprisingly enormous for a row home, which we knew we wanted to capitalize on! It can easily fit a table that seats eight people, which is why the previous owner’s dining table looked dwarfed in this space. There was also an eat-in counter area for which there had been two stools, but with ample space for sitting at the table, this didn’t seem necessary. Plus, the sink is in the way of realistically using that space, so we opted to add storage there instead. The kitchen really doesn’t have a ton of storage space for larger kitchen appliances, and since Matt loves to cook, we have a ton of those! By adding this storage space, we really were able to capitalize on what otherwise would have been wasted square footage.

The dining room also has a lot of strange bump-outs because of heating ducts, etc. that are a little bit of an eyesore and hard to really do anything about. I really aimed to utilize the alcoves they create to my advantage, especially in the back corner where I added glass shelves to display my collection of white ceramics. A lot of the pieces displayed are made by my mom who is an excellent ceramicist! In another alcove I have the bar cart— painted the abstract piece that hangs above it and purposefully tried to pull in some of the navy blue tones that are in the end chairs at the dining room table.

(Image credit: Stuart Cohen)

The kitchen was one of the biggest projects in our house to date. We bought all new appliances, my favorite being the slide-in front control range, which doesn’t block the backsplash nearly as much (I’m not much of a cook, so these kinds of aesthetic details are what I prioritize). I knew I definitely wanted to do a herringbone backsplash—of course the herringbone pattern proved to be a lot tougher to install then your average horizontal tile, but I think it was totally work the angst.

The cabinets were also a huge undertaking: We decided to paint our existing cabinets, which took a lot of cleaning, a lot of coats, and a lot of patience. We also switched out all the lighting, carrying the gold accents from the dining room into the kitchen. Lastly I installed all the cabinet pulls (for which I have a tutorial on my Instagram! Back when I worked at Anthropologie, I came up with a little “life hack” that helped me to figure out where to drill holes with precision without the nuisance of measuring!! I have used this little trick ever since—it is a HUGE time-saver) I have to admit that I based the entire color scheme of the kitchen—the rug, the wall color, etc—around our KitchenAid mixer… that’s normal, right?

Especially for a row house, the dining room and kitchen get amazing light. There are four big windows that look out onto our tiny side lot (okay, it’s an alley) that allow a ton of natural light. When we moved in, there were hideous iron burglar bars on every single one! We didn’t even realize how much light they were actually blocking until we took them off! Matt and I worked tirelessly to figure out how to remove burglar bars without having to hire a professional. Turns out, since the entire point of burglar bars is to prevent people from removing them and coming into your house, IT’S NOT EASY. The solution we came up with was to use a Dremel to create a new groove in each bolt. Once you’ve created a deep enough groove you can use a flat-head drill bit to reverse the bolt out. This was less than fun. There are eight windows for which we had to do this, which includes both the dining/kitchen and living room, each having about 10 bolts. Then we hired someone to install an alarm system.

(Image credit: Stuart Cohen)

The master bedroom gets a lot of great light and is way bigger than anyone needs a bedroom to be. This is mostly because the third floor of our house is like one huge room.

You come to the top of the stairs and you can turn right—to the walk-in closet, bathroom, and my beloved vanity nook, or you can turn left and go up three more stairs in which is the bedroom and sitting room. We knew we wanted to use the extra space as a second living area—a place to wind down, hang out, watch TV, fold laundry, have a nightcap—whatever. It is now one of my favorite rooms in the house. The one strange element of this room was the cut-out in the wall. This cut out looks down on to the landing of the stairs. It serves no purpose other than to let more noise into the room from the hallway, and wasn’t even well done (why does it go all the way up to the ceiling??) So, we closed it up. Now we have another space to display wall art!

(Image credit: Stuart Cohen)

(Image credit: Stuart Cohen)

Matt works from home, so we knew we needed [the office] to be both comfortable and functional. Together, we built the shelves out of lumber, pipe and flange from Home Depot, and then I built the back table and Matt put together his desk from different scrap pieces. This is the only room in the entire house that we did not repaint. We both really loved this navy blue color and thought it worked well with the other elements that we were putting into the room. All we did was paint the trim white and suddenly the room felt so much brighter!

The flag hanging in this room was gifted to Matt by his grandfather before he passed away. It only has 42 stars because it was produced in 1889 to celebrate Washington, the 42nd state, joining the union. 42-starred flags are rare because before the year was up, Idaho, the 43rd state, joined the union and never again were 42-started flags produced! There is also a tribute to my grandfather in this room—on the top shelf is a portrait of him! He was a Scottish man (check out his tartan pants!) who moved to America after meeting my grandmother who was from Philadelphia. He later became the principal of the school both my parents attended—the school in which they met—and the school commissioned this portrait of the headmaster.

You can see all of this beautiful home’s transformation in Anne and Matt’s house tour. And you can see more before photos of the home below:

Thank you Anne and Matt!



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