Haven: Restoring a Rittenhouse Square-area rowhouse

Meghan Cromer's collection of blue-and- white china is displayed on shelves near the front door and throughout the house.
Meghan Cromer's collection of blue-and- white china is displayed on shelves near the front door and throughout the house. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 17, 2014

In the spring, when millennials Roy and Meghan Cromer moved to Philadelphia, they knew they wanted to live at the city's pulse.

The young marrieds, who have become adept at pulling up stakes, were making their third move to a new metropolis in four years, having already lived in Boston and Washington.

Roy Cromer, 26, originally from Myrtle Beach, S.C., is a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard stationed at Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay on Washington Avenue. Meghan Cromer, 27, who grew up in Coral Gables, Fla., has a master's degree in public health. They met in New London, Conn., when she was at Connecticut College and he was at the Coast Guard Academy.

Not surprisingly, the couple fell in love with the Rittenhouse Square area and looked for a home nearby.

"I like walking in the park and enjoying the activities there," Meghan says.

Their Realtor took them to a 19th-century rowhouse of Greek Revival design, and, to their delight, it was a stone's throw from the elegantly landscaped park.

Though the house had good bones, it needed extensive work. Predictably, nearly every room in the 1,900-square-foot place required a redo.

But the chief obstacle, and probably the main reason the house languished on the market for more than three years, was a hulking spiral staircase that climbed from the basement to the third floor. Still, Roy sensed that the house had possibilities.

Meghan, too, could see the property was something special. She decided to call her mother, Margaret Groves - not just because they share a close bond, but because Meghan has the good fortune of having a mother who's an interior designer.

"We wanted to make sure that she was up to another big project," Roy says - Groves had refurbished the couple's property in Washington.

By June, the Cromers had acquired the house, and a $300,000 renovation immediately got underway, with Groves, 58, at the helm.

"I can make things move," the Florida designer says with a smile. But she is quick to credit Eagleville contractor Ken Lord, as well as other experts who worked diligently to remodel the dwelling into a mix of custom and vintage.

Because the house is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, its original 22 windows must remain on the premises. John Barr and the folks at ProWindow & Door in Claymont, Del., restored the windows with new panes and repaired and repainted the frames.

Myron Slabaugh of Quakertown and his team replaced the spiral staircase with a more traditional wooden design.

The couple, heeding Groves' suggestions, chose a calming, neutral backdrop for the house, interspersed with colorful objects and textiles. Antique finds blend seamlessly with modern furnishings. Wide, intricate moldings prevail everywhere.

The living room, which visually connects to the dining room, has Roy's grandmother's 1920s taupe settee, which shares space with two identical chairs and a matching sofa from Crate & Barrel. Glass-and-metal end and coffee tables lend sophistication and timelessness to the room. A rug from the invitation-only website Rue La La anchors the area. Meghan's cherished blue-and-white china abounds on shelves and flat surfaces.

The kitchen was the one room that the previous owner had renovated more than 25 years ago, installing SieMatic cabinets, Gaggenau ovens, a Sub-Zero refrigerator, granite countertops, and a mirrored backsplash. The Cromers replaced dated burgundy-colored booth cushions with a trendy shade of gray.

"Sometimes, when a renovation is done right the first time, you don't have to do much," Groves says.

On the second floor, a new and more accessible laundry room was constructed from a closet in one of two stylish guest bedrooms. A sybaritic bath rounds out the floor.

A shabby-chic cabinet picked up in Virginia adds interest to the hallway corner.

"It's one of my favorite pieces," says Meghan.

The sumptuous master bedroom and bath are on the third floor, which offers a modest view of Rittenhouse Square but one that is most appreciated.

The couple moved in before Thanksgiving, and they hosted the holiday dinner with family - one marked with deep gratitude as they await the arrival of their first child in the summer.

The Cromers expect to live in Center City for the next three years, when Roy will likely receive orders to report to another base.

But for now, the couple, along with their miniature schnauzer, Otis, and their Siamese cat, Eugene, have settled in.

"I'm planning on making the Coast Guard a career," Roy says. "But for now, we're enjoying Philadelphia a lot."

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