Haven: Their country home, but still in the city
Lynda O'Gwynn and Tom Purdy abandoned city life in 2001 in favor of more bucolic environs. Which they found by staying within the city limits (although just barely) in Upper Roxborough.
Lynda O'Gwynn and Tom Purdy abandoned city life in 2001 in favor of more bucolic environs.
Which they found by staying within the city limits (although just barely) in Upper Roxborough.
"I can't believe this is still Philadelphia," is the comment that first-time visitors to the couple's home typically make.
Their cottage perches on a hill in a northwest section of the Shawmont neighborhood.
"Before the leaves come out and the trees are still bare, you can see for miles," O'Gwynn says. "Our site is only a tenth of an acre, but we back up to the Schuylkill Nature Center and the land surrounding a church."
The vista that results appears to be endless woods.
It's a location Purdy and O'Gwynn say they searched for diligently over about seven years, while they were living in a large, six-bedroom house in Mount Airy. (The couple met at Penn State - he's from upstate Pennsylvania, she's from Maryland - and married when they were graduate architecture students at the University of Pennsylvania.)
The tiny house, complete with peaked turrets and towers, looks like an illustration from a child's book of fairy tales.
Also wavering between fact and fiction is the history of the house, said to have been built as a hunting lodge for a former Philadelphia mayor in 1896, as part of a backroom zoning deal.
"It's apocryphal, but we heard the story a number of times," Purdy says.
Another story, one that apparently is true, goes like this:
In 1929, a family named Fahey bought the house, which had been abandoned, for $1 and lived there for about 30 years. When O'Gwynn and Purdy bought the property, a daughter of the Fahey family brought her 93-year-old mother to visit.
"She just enjoyed seeing the house where she had lived for so many years," O'Gwynn says.
For all its fantasy-castle details, this is no dark Gothic fortress, but a light-color Queen Anne shingled structure. (Last summer, the shingles replaced white asbestos siding.)
Inside, the 1,365-square-foot house is filled with light, which streams in through vintage windows that each feature 36 small panes over four large ones.
O'Gwynn says she and her husband enjoyed meshing the home's 19th-century exterior with contemporary furnishings.
Inside, unusually shaped rooms draw the eye. In the living room, for example, an angled stone fireplace plays off a turret on the other side. The result is a shield-shaped space.
Through the doorway, the window-filled dining room is visible.
Soon after they moved in, the couple discovered that only dirt lay under the kitchen, with no footings to hold the floor.
"We weren't told about this when we moved in 2001," Purdy says. "It's unclear whether the owner before us knew or not."
They managed to find a way to keep the second-floor bathroom in place with supports while contractors installed a foundation and a cork floor for the kitchen.
Purdy and O'Gwynn also installed dark-stained oak cabinets in the kitchen to surround the stove, refrigerator and sink. The same dark oak serves on their dining-room table and chairs.
On the second floor, tiny closets and two bedrooms have been transformed into a large loft-style room. The couple installed pocket doors that can be pulled out when visitors come and a guest bedroom is needed.
At the end of the loft, Purdy and O'Gwynn installed a 6-foot-by-6-foot casement window that can be opened to a deck that offers a view of beech trees that may be 100 years old.
Are they finished?
"Oh, no, this is still a work in progress," Purdy says. "We continue to tinker with our gem in the woods."
So enamored are they with their in-city escape from the city that they're working temporarily from home while Purdy O'Gwynn Architects relocates from Center City to Manayunk.
Says Purdy: "We decided we don't need to drive on the Schuylkill each day to a Center City office."