As a real estate developer, Stephen Rodriguez knew the double-wide lot in Philadelphia’s Graduate Hospital neighborhood was special the moment he saw it.
When his wife, Morgan Rodriguez, a real estate agent, showed him the property, which had a dilapidated mansion on one side and an attached one-car garage on the other, Mr. Rodriguez an investment opportunity: his company would demolish it entirely. thing, commission a forward-thinking architect to design an elaborate new mansion and then sell it for a handsome profit.
That was the plan anyway.
But as the project progressed, the couple became more enamored with the neighborhood and the house Mr. Rodriguez was building. At the same time, they outgrew their condominium, which already felt cramped with their two children—Paul, now 12, and Corinne, 10. Then Mrs. Rodriguez’s third child, Louisa, now 3, just before construction began.
“With three kids, we needed more space, we needed a basement,” says Ms. Rodriguez, 37, who is also the founder of Kiki & Mo Home, a candle and bath products company.
Shortly before Mr. Rodriguez’s investment project was completed, the couple realized they already knew the buyers: themselves.
“Probably two-thirds of the way through construction, we’ve made the decision to keep it,” said Mr. Rodriguez, 44.
It wasn’t just that they wanted the 4,500 square feet of living space. Over the years obsessed with the design details, the building had turned from a simple business project to a labor of love. “After all we’ve put into it, it would have been heartbreaking to sell it,” he said.
It all started after Mr. Rodriguez bought the lot in October 2018 for $650,000. Hoping to build a mansion with a striking modern design that wouldn’t look out of place next to its vintage red brick neighbors, he approached the architects at Moto Designshop to collaborate on a design.
“I gave them what was probably a long-winded, pompous speech about how I wanted to build things that would be timeless, and that had a very heavy mass to them,” he said. “For this one, I told them we wanted something in brick, because it was a brick block; we wanted it to be modern, maybe with a bit of a midcentury modern vibe; and we wanted to have things with curves.”
Moto delivered in all respects a mansion with an extra deep facade consisting of four overlapping layers of brick, two with spaced arrangements of brick that act as masonry screens. Steel-framed arched openings cut through the brick to reveal the front door, garage and windows.
“We were free to envision things a little more playful and a little more ornate, but still rooted in the context of Philadelphia’s brick facade,” said Roman Torres, a partner at Moto. “These layers of brick create beautiful shadow patterns, but also invite you to enter.”
For the interior of the three-story home, the couple kept the material palette to a minimum, opting for white oak cabinets, doors, moldings and herringbone-pattern floors, trimmed with white and charcoal paint.
On the first floor, an open-plan kitchen with an oversized soapstone island serves as the focal point of the home, between a dining area and living room. Expansive windows at the back of the house — including awning windows that replaced a conventional back wall over the cooktop and sliding doors that open the living room to a backyard patio — help draw natural light into rooms that might otherwise be dark.
A curved steel staircase with open white-oak steps meanders to the second floor above a built-in planter sprouting from the greenery. “That staircase was a project in itself,” said Mr. Rodriguez, noting that due to the complexity of the design, it took about six months to complete, between the metal fabricated by Holzman Iron Studio and the custom wood steps.
It was the only element in the house that actually benefited from the pandemic, which struck after construction began in June 2019, Mr Rodriguez said, having previously been on the metalworker’s waiting list.
“They did a lot of big kicks for hotels, restaurants and office buildings, and then the pandemic hit and their business went from a one-year backlog to zero overnight,” said Mr. Rodriguez. “I convinced the owner to go in alone and demolish our stairs, which used to be way down on the priority list.”
The primary suite and another bedroom are on the second floor. On the top floor are two more bedrooms and a family room with a terrace overlooking the skyscrapers of Center City.
The family moved in last April, after spending about $1.1 million on construction, although they are still putting the finishing touches on the finishing touches, Mr. Rodriguez said: “There is still a lot of work to be done on the interior of this House. We have to put in fireplaces, millwork and a million other things.”
Still, they are happy with their decision to keep this particular home in the family. Mr. Rodriguez has built many homes, he said, but “we decided to keep the best ones for ourselves.”
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