Haven: Religious conversion in Phila.

The dining room with its fireplace. The root-ball chandelier was an extra that was ordered for a local restaurant.
The dining room with its fireplace. The root-ball chandelier was an extra that was ordered for a local restaurant.

HAVEN | A former East Falls church and rectory provide ample space for family and for work.

Posted: October 14, 2013

When Val Nehez and Anthony Tyler visited Falls United Methodist Church in 2006, after learning that the former East Falls place of worship and its adjacent rectory were for sale, "there were still prayer books in the pews," she says.

The couple immediately made an offer, with plans to transform the church, which had closed a year earlier, into office space for rent and the rectory (half a twin) into their family home.

"I was hesitant," Tyler says, "but Val had the vision."

It wasn't a leap of faith. Nehez is a restaurateur-turned-interior designer. Tyler was a general contractor before becoming a program manager for a personal training and development firm.

The couple gutted the interior of the rectory, retaining the oak floors and circular staircase. To brighten the first floor, they installed a glass wall facing the rear garden and replaced the front windows. The longer windows are still appropriate to the home's late-1880s architecture, Nehez says.

A narrow powder room with mirrored and silver-foil-covered walls now beams light into the front hall. To accommodate the powder room, a kitchen cabinet on the other side of the wall had to be shallow.

"It's perfect for cans," Nehez says.

Tyler lacquered kitchen cabinets white and cherry red, built the black hood above the Thermador stove, and constructed the metal pot rack and open shelving over the marble-topped island. A dish rack hanging over the stainless-steel sink eliminates the need for a drain board cluttering the countertop.

They used pocket doors and other space savers, as well.

"Most homes have so much wasted space," Tyler says. He grew up with his parents and eight siblings in a compact house in Ireland and insists, "I never felt cramped."

He covered the refrigerator door with cork for a bulletin board and hid the side of the fridge and broom closet behind a mural of the Manhattan skyline.

Nehez dislikes trendy appliances and cabinetry and discourages clients from choosing them.

"They become outdated quickly," she says. "I prefer to mix styles and blur lines between new and old."

Her early designs were for restaurant kitchens in the Hudson Valley. She opened her first restaurant there at 19 and dropped out of Vassar College in her senior year, after the second one opened.

She switched careers when she realized she didn't like restaurant management.

"What I liked was decorating the dining room, designing the menu, and arranging the flowers," she says.

Nehez met Tyler when she returned to Philadelphia and renovated her parents' kitchen at her childhood home in Mount Airy. He was the contractor.

She still loves to cook and hosts monthly dinner parties. Guests sit around the kitchen island and at the wood, iron and glass table Tyler crafted. Nehez painted the Chippendale dining chairs silver.

Blue seat cushions complement the blue-and-white living-room color scheme, inspired by an abstract painting of a house on the water that hangs over the couch. The free-standing fireplace came from one of Nehez's New York restaurants, and a root-ball chandelier in the dining room was an extra ordered for a local restaurant.

Nehez owns the design firm EnnisNehez with architect Kelly Ennis. They have offices in the church's basement while permanent quarters are constructed upstairs.

With her busy work schedule, Nehez has put some projects in her home on hold, including tiling the kitchen backsplash and adding a fireplace and a sleep porch to the master suite on the third floor.

She has found time to style delightful bedrooms on the second floor for daughters Hazel, 16, and LillyBelle, 8. Hazel's room features pomegranate-printed wallpaper created by enlarging an illustration from a book of Vietnamese poetry.

A deep tub in the girls' bathroom permits luxurious soaks. In her professional work, Nehez says, "clients never want to climb into a tub."

The double porcelain sink is meant for a laundry room. "I like to repurpose things," she says.

Though she relishes new challenges and would move every couple years, "Anthony made me promise to stay put for awhile," she says.

Says Tyler: "I want to complete the work, then enjoy it."


Haven: MORE HAVENS

On Oct. 20, the East Falls House Tour will feature the Nehez-Tyler home and others. Details: 215-438-1929; programs@eastfallscommunity.org

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