It Was Supposed to Be a Spec House. Then the Builder Got Emotionally Involved.

The Graduate Hospital neighborhood in Philadelphia was an ideal location for a house. The idea of building a house in Philadelphia’s Graduate Hospital neighborhood was a business opportunity. Their condo was becoming too small for their two children, Paul, 12, and Corinne (10). Image: Morgan Rodriguez and Stephen Rodriguez worked with Moto Designshop in building a modern Philadelphia townhouse. The kitchen was designed by Mr. Rodriguez’s stepmother, Barbara Burleigh, who works for Giorgi Kitchens & Designs.Credit…Halkin Mason for The New York Times”With three kids, we needed more space, we needed a basement,” said Ms. Rodriguez, 37, who is also a founder of Kiki & Mo Home, a candle-and-bath-products company.Shortly before Mr. Rodriguez’s investment project was complete, the couple realized that they already knew the buyers: themselves.”Probably two-thirds of the way through construction, we made the decision we were going to keep it,” said Mr. Rodriguez, 44.It wasn’t just that they wanted the 4,500 square feet of living space. The building was no longer a simple business venture. It had become a labor of love over the years that they spent obsessing about the design details. He said that after all the work they had put into the building, it was difficult to sell it. In October 2018, Mr. Rodriguez purchased the lot for $650,000. He wanted to build a modern townhouse that would blend in with its red-brick neighbors. He approached Moto Designshop to discuss a design. “For this one, I told them that we wanted to have something in brick, because it was a brick block; we wanted it to be modern, perhaps with a bit of a midcentury-modern vibe; and we wanted to have things with curves.”ImageA curved steel staircase with white-oak treads, which took about six months to build, connects the first and second floors.Credit…Halkin Mason for The New York TimesMoto delivered on all counts with a townhouse that had an extra-deep facade composed of four overlapping layers of brick, two with spaced-out arrangements of brick that function as masonry screens. Moto partner Roman Torres said that he was free to suggest things that were more playful, more ornate, and still rooted in the context of the Philadelphia brick facade. “These layers of brick create wonderful shade patterns, but also invite you in.”For the interior of the three-story home, the couple kept the material palette to a minimum, choosing white-oak cabinetry, doors, moldings and herringbone-patterned floors, set off by white and charcoal paint.On the first floor, an open kitchen with an oversized soapstone-topped island serves as the hub of the home, between a dining area and living room. The house has large windows at the back, including awning windows that replace the backsplash above the cooktop, and sliding doors that open up the living room to a patio. This allows natural light to flood in to dark rooms. A curved steel staircase winds up to the second level above a planter that sprouts green. “That staircase was an entire project,” Mr. Rodriguez stated. He also noted that the Eames lounge chair and ottoman are available for $6,495, and the Barcelona chair is $6,738, respectively. The painting above the bed is by Michael Leaver.Credit…Halkin Mason for The New York Times”They were doing a lot of big staircases for hotels, restaurants and office buildings, and then the pandemic hit and their business went from a one-year backlog to zero overnight,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I convinced the owner that he would go in alone and begin to work on our staircase, which was once way down on the priority lists.” The second floor contains the primary suite and one additional bedroom. The top floor houses two more bedrooms and a family area with a terrace overlooking the skyscrapers of Center City. We’ve got fireplaces to put in, millwork and a million other things.”Nevertheless, they are pleased with their decision to keep this particular house in the family. Rodriguez said that he has built many homes but that he and his family decided to keep this one. Subscribe here for weekly email updates about residential real estate news. Follow us on Twitter at @nytrealestate