A bigger, better loft, a bargain price, and built to their taste

Kitchen and dining area with a photograph by Pier Nicola D'Amico (left) and a painting by his father (right). Large expanses of high white walls make good display spaces for artwork, says D'Amico, a photographer; wife Nicole Amoroso is an art historian.
Kitchen and dining area with a photograph by Pier Nicola D'Amico (left) and a painting by his father (right). Large expanses of high white walls make good display spaces for artwork, says D'Amico, a photographer; wife Nicole Amoroso is an art historian. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 30, 2013

Even something as ruinous as the recent recession can have a silver lining.

Back in 2010 when Pier Nicola D'Amico and his wife Nicole Amoroso started looking for a better version of the Bella Vista loft they rented, everything approaching decent was too expensive.

Both "Nic and Nic," as they often are called, are involved in the art world - D'Amico is a high-profile photographer whose productions for his company, Klip Collective, are used by Sundance Film Festival and MSNBC; Amoroso, an art historian specializing in 19th- and 20th-century art, directs Avery Gallery in Bryn Mawr - and the couple wanted to continue displaying their collections on large, high walls.

D'Amico, who was raised in Philadelphia, never had a garden and wanted one. And they hoped for a yard where their baby daughter could one day play.

Yet nothing fit the bill, especially near Northern Liberties, where D'Amico recently had opened a studio.

"The places we saw were like vertical cells," Amoroso said.

So the couple ended up buying a Northern Liberties double lot, 40 by 75 feet, that had been slated for four small townhouses before a developer's proposal fell through. The situation meant they got it for a good price, and it gave them room to have a large yard as well as an open plan.

Then they met Philadelphia architect Richard Miller after touring his Fishtown home, which had won an American Institute of Architects prize for its design.

After talking with him, they realized that the recession economy had its benefits: With hard work, building their own home, even with an architect, could be affordable. It was a plan that just fell together.

"Contractors, tradesmen, and others are happy to work and charge less than usual," Miller said. Plus, the couple found bargains where they could, like buying partial floorboards in bulk. Many of the kitchen cabinets and much of the other support furnishings came from that staple supplier Ikea.

Finally, in April, the three-year project was complete and the family moved into their home - 26 by 28 feet, with a 1,500-square-foot yard.

The outline of the house doesn't stand out when a visitor approaches the curved wooden horizontal panels that mark the front entrance. It was deliberate, says Miller, that the house's height falls in between its neighbor to the east, which is tall with a tower, and its neighbor to the west, which is shorter.

"I wanted the house to step down gradually to the next building," Miller said.

Windows facing the street to the north are slivers set high so light can enter the house from the front and the family's privacy remains intact.

Upon entering the house, the focus shifts to the glass wall spread across the rear of the first floor and leading to the enclosed yard. The living room is a full 26 feet wide, and bamboo panels, which add warmth, outline an alcove, a foyer, and a mudroom - necessities for Amoroso, "so people wouldn't walk straight into the living room, and . . . so there would be a place for everyone to place their coats, boots, everything before coming into the house."

In the great room, large expanses of clean white walls are supported by lumber beams.

"The high white walls are a good way to hang our artwork," D'Amico said.

He pointed to a 40-by-50-inch primary-colored abstract painting by his late father, Oskar, that dominates a wall in the dining area.

A walk up the oak staircase to the second floor shows off the family's bedrooms, ringing a large, open play area. On the third floor, D'Amico and Amoroso have offices.

Finally, there's the roof deck, a place to relax and take in the city skyline.

The house has many of the advantages of their old loft, and lots of new ones: the open plan, the light. And in spring, when their yard is landscaped, they can start gardening and their daughter will be able to play outside.

"I think Rick created a serene setting that makes us feel peaceful," Amoroso said.

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