The Bakers are a study in design-taste opposites.

Cecil Baker is an architect known for his clean, contemporary designs, most recently manifest at the Western Union, Lippincott, and York Square buildings in Philadelphia.

Fairley Baker is a psychologist who says she doesn't know a lot about architecture except to admire her husband's work.

"I don't have a heavy input," she says of the look of their Washington Square home. "I am responsible for all the flowers, antiques, and photographs."

Says Cecil: "She is responsible for all the warmth and color in our home."

Cecil and Fairley are both in their late 50s. He was born in Argentina of English parents and came to the United States first to study at Williams College, then went on to the University of Pennsylvania to study architecture under Louis Kahn. Fairley is Canadian. They met in a youth hostel in Barcelona in the 1960s.

She laughs when she recounts her big architectural accomplishment: asking her husband to design different closets for them.

"In our last house, his side was constantly neat and mine was messy," she says. "Having two closets may have saved our marriage."

Where they live now is a combination of who they are, a blend of their personalities.

The entrance to the house on 11th Street illustrates Cecil's understated philosophy. It's a simple, red-brick building, one of three he designed about 10 years ago - 16 feet across, with three steps leading to the front door.

"I believe in fitting in with the right contours for the surroundings, and this house is a Philadelphia rowhouse," says Cecil.

As you go inside, the house seems to expand - and appears bigger than 2,400 feet square feet. Cecil arranged the floors to suit the way he and Fairley live, with a reason for everything.

On entering the front hall, the first thing a visitor sees is a wall of 72 eight-inch-by-eight-inch pictures of the Bakers, their three children and six grandchildren, their friends and relatives. Each photo is encased in a clear plastic frame fastened to the wall with Velcro.

The first floor houses the garage and Fairley's office, equipped with a sofa and chairs for her counseling sessions. The room, appointed with more photos of family and friends, opens to a garden and outdoor sitting area.

Head up the stairs to the second floor, and flow seems to be the operative word: Doors are recessed, and a glassed opening from the formal dining room leads to the kitchen and then to the living room, so light from the front windows can be shared among rooms.

From these walls hang a few precious objects, such as the four-foot-tall mermaid-like wooden figure sculpted by family friend Evelyn Tayson, who called the piece Jeunesse ("Youth").

Bookshelves line the walls shared with neighboring houses. "I often use books as sound barriers between rooms," Cecil says.

The couple aren't "chained" by one design style, says Fairley.

"The dining-room table is an antique from Cecil's family, and there are other antiques from mine, such as the little sewing cabinet," she says.

In fact, Cecil says, he likes having antiques in the house - they provide a view of family history that complements his contemporary designs.

In the living room and dining room, he tricks the eye through the use of different levels of walls and varying shades of color.

"I try to emphasize certain areas through lower ceilings and de-emphasize others though higher ceilings," Cecil says.

It works in the living room with lower ceilings in front of the fireplace and higher ones in the corners. "This helps create a focus on the fireplace and takes it away from the corners," he says.

At first, the walls appear to be a cream color. But the longer you look at them, the more their hue seems to shift from cream to peach to pale yellow.

"Colors are not always the same," Cecil says. "In nature, they can be soft and cold but not always the same thing, because light changes and . . . the colors lighten and darken. Even a rock or a lemon seems to have different colors."

Reserved for guests, especially family, are the spaces on the third floor.

And to maximize quiet, Cecil placed his and Fairley's bedroom up on the fourth floor. It is carpeted in a soft green that extends across the entire space. Outside is a balcony, where they can sit on warmer evenings and enjoy a view of the Western Union building.

It seems like the perfect place to stay put - except for the fact that Cecil likes to design houses.

"Every few years, I design another home for us," he says. "I have no plans now, but I like to try out new things."

Is your house a Haven?

Tell us about your haven by e-mail (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.

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