Haven: Downsizing with Gallic style

The Walkers' spacious new kitchen occupies what used to be a detached garage. The old kitchen became a laundry room.
The Walkers' spacious new kitchen occupies what used to be a detached garage. The old kitchen became a laundry room. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 23, 2014

Looking down from the wall of the dining room of Fred and Elizabeth Walker's home in Wyndmoor are Jean Baptiste and Francoise Verdenal, who came to the United States from France in 1830 and made their way to St. Louis before ultimately traveling in a covered wagon to California, where they settled in 1852.

"They were my ancestors, many generations back," Fred Walker says. "My mother gave me the portraits, which had been sitting in her attic for years, and we restored them and set them on our wall of our new house here."

The 19th-century couple, with their dark eyes and half-smiles, sound a calm but good-natured note in the room, which looks out on a rose-filled garden.

Like Fred's forebears, the Walkers moved to a foreign country as well: They lived in Japan for about 15 years for Fred's job with a pharmaceutical company.

When the Walkers returned to the United States after Fred was reassigned to New Jersey, they moved to a large stone house in Chestnut Hill along with their three children, then 15, 13, and 8, and lived there for 10 years.

Two years after the older children graduated from college and went to work, Liz and Fred were ready for a change from the stone Colonial.

"The house was too big, and we really didn't need the space, but we wanted to be near Chestnut Hill and our family and friends, and my work," says Liz, an office administrator for a local real estate firm.

"We also wanted to lower our taxes, and I wanted less lawn to mow," Fred adds.

With only their youngest child left at home, they found a stucco French Provincial cottage, about 1,500 square feet, on a small site in Wyndmoor, just across Stenton Avenue and the city line in Montgomery County.

"We loved the house," Liz says, and the community, which has a small-town feeling just steps from the big city.

But their new home had its drawbacks, such as a tiny, dark galley kitchen and a large garage that was detached from the house.

"I love to cook, and my kids and family are always gathered around the table," Liz says.

So before the couple moved in, they consulted with architect Jeff Krieger.

"Liz knew what she wanted, and we worked out the design together," Krieger says.

What the Walkers had not counted on was their old house selling so quickly. The family had to rent a place while the work was being done.

"I really give credit to the contractor, Dennis Meyer, who got the work completed in less than nine months," Liz says.

The plan included converting the 246-square-foot garage into a new kitchen and adding a small (120 square feet) breakfast room at the end of the garage area, facing north.

With that work done, the house has about 2,000 square feet. The bay that once opened to the garage became a bay window, adding light to the space.

"Since there was no opening from the house leading to the garage and people had to go outside to get to the garage, we had to cut two doorways," Fred says.

"The first leads from the new kitchen area to the dining room in the front of the house, and the second, in the rear, leads to the old kitchen, which is now a laundry room."

Also added at the back of the house were a stairway and a powder room that share the space of the once-dark kitchen.

Fred says Krieger fulfilled the family's main request, which was to make the addition seamless so it would blend into the original 89-year-old house.

These days, sunlight streams through new windows into a house that might well make Fred's Gallic ancestors proud.

Done in muted shades, the living room is traditional in style but restful in tone. The dining room walls are a refreshing pale green.

The kitchen is warm in white and wood finishes, with a feel that is both country and contemporary.

On a recent spring afternoon, the front yard was ablaze with tiny red tea roses and multihued wildflowers.

They announced to an arriving visitor a home with both the soul and spirit of a French cottage.

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