Haven: Embracing nature in Upper Dublin Township

Artist Sally Mitlas works on micrography in the art room on the lower level of her home. The bandleader has devoted the lower level to space for recreation and work.
Artist Sally Mitlas works on micrography in the art room on the lower level of her home. The bandleader has devoted the lower level to space for recreation and work. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 24, 2014

When Sally Mitlas was searching for a new home, the last place she expected to find one was around the corner, in a small community in Upper Dublin Township.

But there it was, a house that seemed to beckon.

"I've always really wanted a cabin in the woods," says Mitlas, owner of Mitlas Productions in Jenkintown. The bandleader, who spends many weekends providing the entertainment for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, was seeking a quiet retreat in her daily life.

In 2006, she saw a property for sale and "figured I'd have a look."

"The minute I stepped inside and saw the stone fireplace, the beautiful wooden floors, and most of all, the wooded views, I knew I was home."

Mitlas, the single mother of three daughters, has loved making this condo, with its ranch-style layout and a full lower level, her own.

Her mother, who died just a few months before she bought the house, had always reminded her daughter of what she had been told by her own parents: "A home is like a woman - you have to pretty it up."

Mitlas took that advice to heart.

Her space reflects her life, her work and, yes, her penchant for seizing on finds at yard sales, community flea markets, and the discount stores she scours for decorative items. They all help to create a place that's at once charming and memorable.

Mitlas, a Philadelphian from birth, also sees to it that her deep family roots surround her, as does her passion for Israel and Judaica.

"I'm definitely a sentimental person," she explains, as she points out the pieces of her family's past that live with her today.

Her entire dining room set, for example, comes to her through her late paternal grandmother, a woman who loved to entertain and even had parties for returning soldiers during the 1940s and 1950s around her oval fruitwood table.

The accompanying breakfront contains other treasures, from china to glassware. A special piece she stores there: a small porcelain replica of entwined hands, now with the patina of age, that came from her maternal grandparents' wedding cake.

"I just love looking at those hands every day. They remind me of where I came from," Mitlas says.

In recent years, she has expressed her creativity through video production, providing both the images and scripts. Her documentary range is wide, and her projects have taken her to Spain, Italy, Israel, France and Hawaii.

A special video honored the life of Michael Levin, a young Bucks County soldier killed in action fighting for Israel in the Second Lebanon War, in 2006.

"People and places, and how they connect, fascinate me," says this woman, who is often described as a force of nature.

In the living room of her condominium, much of Mitlas' personality shines through the art she has collected, the books she loves, and the "finds" that delight her.

A small, colorful quilt purchased at a local firehouse sale has a place of honor against one wall, and she proudly announces that its total cost was $5.

Anchored by a neutral sectional sofa, the living room's space is finished off with diverse accessories, her beloved guitars, "ancestor" photos, and the Refusenik pictures that remind Mitlas of her work in the former Soviet Union on behalf of Soviet Jews.

An artfully arranged assemblage of tulips from a craft store offers a spot of brilliant red color across the room.

Her bedroom, one of three on the main floor, has been softened by her creative touches. Blue flowers create a backdrop for a well-dressed bed, and tiny bee lights rim a mirror.

"I've picked up hints from the design people who decorate for the weddings and other functions I do. I watch, I listen, and I learn!"

Nature often provides the rest of the decor. On a recent afternoon, a young deer was ambling past a window, as if on cue.

"I look outside, and I'm at peace," she says.

The condominium's lower level is devoted to recreation space and work space for Mitlas' eclectic artistic endeavors. Along with her music and documentary film work, she is deeply into micrography, an art form derived from scribes that uses tiny script symbols to create decorative images. It's painstaking work, and she loves it.

But Mitlas recognizes her place in the universe. This owner of two adored but domineering cats has a sign on her bathroom door that says it all:

"You're nobody 'til you're being ignored by a cat."

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