Old and new combine in a cozy suburban retreat

This panorama photograph illustrates the open-house concept Monica L'Tainen has achieved on the first floor of her 1930s cottage in Erdenheim.
This panorama photograph illustrates the open-house concept Monica L'Tainen has achieved on the first floor of her 1930s cottage in Erdenheim. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 23, 2014

When a dog came into Monica L'Tainen's life, the two of them agreed: It was time to move. She had been pining for her own patch of green, and after rescuing her pup, Bodhi, Center City loft living just wasn't providing enough country-style respite for either of them.

One night, as she was sitting with friends in Chestnut Hill, having drinks around a fire pit, L'Tainen said, she had an epiphany and observed, " 'Everyone is happy here.' Someone in the group replied, 'Yes, because we all live out here!' "

A fan of sustainable and environmentally sound design, she initially looked for a piece of land where she could build, influenced by Sarah Susanka's book The Not So Big House. L'Tainen was inspired to simplify but didn't want to give up the openness of her loft space.

Peter Cooper, who founded Spring Creek Design in 2001 in Honey Brook, was a Malvern high school friend with whom she'd reconnected. He advised she'd be happier buying a house with "good bones," and real estate agent Bruce Kirkpatrick of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach located a 1930s cottage in Erdenheim.

The 1,400-square-foot dwelling was small enough, had a lush yard, and cost $275,000. At that price, she could afford to renovate.

"An invasive kitchen remodel can run anywhere from $70,000 to $120,000, meaning taking walls down and full kitchen replacement," said Cooper, but it can go even higher if the client decides on more icing than cake - very high-end appliances, flooring, and other extras.

He and his wife, Sandy, laid out ways L'Tainen could free the first floor from its walls and achieve an open-concept space that included the kitchen and living room. Her whole-house project included work in the mudroom, powder room and main bathroom, sunroom, and bedrooms. Construction, begun in January, is expected to finish late this month.

Spring Creek Design has kept L'Tainen up to date with a daily log of its work via a software platform called BuilderTrend.

"Each day, I can sign on and see from my phone what work orders they need, what approvals, the cost, and then I click on the link, either accept or deny the choices, and sign remotely. It made life so much easier when I was traveling."

L'Tainen's budget couldn't accommodate an exterior spruce-up, so she started inside. Honoring her father's Finnish heritage, she chose influences from her ancestral home: custom birch cabinets and a Scandinavian-style open bathroom and shower on the second floor.

She also contrasts old and new, with an Amish-made bar-height table crafted from a reclaimed red barn door offset by a wine bar and breakfast nook made from birch. She splurged on a Capital range with a traditional rotisserie.

Kitchen and bathroom counters are concrete, poured by an East Kensington craftsman. The architects repurposed a beam left over from the main room for use in the bathroom with a sink purchased at Ikea.

The living room's original wood-burning fireplace sucked air out. For better energy efficiency, L'Tainen foam-insulated the walls and chose a fireplace insert from Hearth & Stove on South Street.

"My main motivation was to have another natural element, and this fire insert could potentially heat the whole house," she said. Still, she's retaining the original steam-heat radiators as well.

L'Tainen, a fan of old-fashioned hardware, insisted on sliding doors or new versions of the classic "mortise" door, with pop-out handles, in nearly every room. For the master bedroom, another piece of reclaimed Amish barn wood serves as a closet door on cantilevers.

The backyard entry is a Dutch door with an electronic alarm - another mix of old and new. With her sister and two nephews living nearby, she said, "I want them to be able to come by and let themselves in whenever they want."


215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund

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