Sometimes, when Randee Spelkoman Ryan looks around her condominium at the Ayer, nine floors above Washington Square, she thinks, "I'm living in the clouds."
And no wonder.
In the living room alone, views from six large windows - 7 feet by 4 feet - sweep across not just the historic park, but also the Delaware River, the Ben Franklin Bridge, Independence Mall, and the city's sparkling skyline.
The living space is all on one floor, with 11-foot ceilings and rooms that glide from one to the next, often without doors or walls to block light or sight.
Five shades of gray cover the walls, creating an effect that arcs from warm to cool and back again. The living room furniture is brown, the dining tabletop is white, the floors a radiant walnut.
On a recent rainy day, the colors inside the Ryan home seem to mirror the palette outside. Gray echoes the drizzle and clouds beyond the living room. White absorbs the fog. Brown evokes the earth below.
All very ethereal.
Pardon us, but where's all your stuff? Your kitchen counter is sleek, the ottoman's free of magazines, and the desks and bedside tables are clear.
Ryan says that she and her husband, Mike, don't own much stuff, truly, and that what they have is hidden away in more drawers, cabinets, walk-in closets, and floor-to-ceiling shelves than you can imagine.
The Ryans' offices in Old City and Loveladies, N.J. - he's an architect, she's an interior designer - "overflow with tons and tons of materials and samples," Randee says. But their home is elegantly spare.
"You don't want to feel chaotic when you come home," says Mike Ryan, who's worked with his wife on projects ranging from glassy oceanfront houses in Longport, to hand-crafted log homes in Bucks County, and even to the deluxe penthouses at the Ayer at 210 W. Washington Square, which Mike designed.
The Ryans reconfigured their own 2,286-square-foot condo from three bedrooms and den to master bedroom, study, media room, and what will eventually become a guest room.
The couple also moved the kitchen a few feet to create a breakfast nook overlooking the square and added 60 additional recesses to the lighting scheme, which contains not a single lamp.
Mike explains: "We wanted a more circular design so we could see the light coming in, and more open space so we could see from the bedroom to the living room. And we like to be able to control the light at night."
Adds Randee: "We wanted the space to suit us, and to suit us into old age."
Light, space and heavenly views are the hallmarks now of this limestone-sheathed art deco building, which was constructed in 1929 for N.W. Ayer & Sons, widely regarded as the nation's first advertising agency.
Founded in 1869, the agency moved to New York in 1973 and is gone now. But it lives on in some memorable slogans: "I'd walk a mile for a Camel"; "A diamond is forever"; "When it rains, it pours"; "Be all you can be."
The historically certified building housed offices till 2005, when the Goldenberg Group and Brown Hill Development began the $75 million conversion to condos. It's now 12 stories plus the penthouses.
Although the Ryans' style is often described as contemporary or modern, Mike hates those words. "They're bad umbrella terms," he says.
But it's hard to cram a worldview, a way of living or designing, into a single word or sound bite. "Inevitable" is the closest Mike comes.
Home, he says, should be natural and inevitable, a place that allows us to be our authentic selves. It should be simple, inviting, calming.
"A lot of times, people are strangers in their own home. They're overrun with objects," Mike says. "Our goal is to make a home like a pillow."
That doesn't mean you need to draw the solar shades and sleep your life away. No way!
The Ryans love art, and find it everywhere. Masks from Myanmar, Venetian glass, and Philly scenes from Old City's Gallery Joe add color and fun. So do the couple's three cats, Smidgie, Buddy and Biddy.
Formerly feral, they were captured at Barnegat Light, N.J., where the Ryans have a beach house. Here in the city, the felines rule, lounging on the 11-foot-by-3-foot island in the kitchen, slurping water from a trickling faucet.
During the Jewish holidays, the Ryans hosted dinner for 12. With so much space, it was a snap. But this place is just as easily - perhaps better - enjoyed alone or in silence.
Looking up, you see sky and skyline. Looking down, treetops and park. Come winter, despite your grown-up bona fides, you'll delight to see the snow.
Nine floors above the city, snow is a beautiful thing.
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