A century-old stone manor house anchors the retirement community of Waverly Heights in Gladwyne.
Inside, residents' lounges are furnished with quiet Main Line elegance: pastel Chippendale sofas and chairs; mahogany side tables; floral prints.
And then . . . Pow! Rita Apter, 88, opens the door to her apartment and its stunning kaleidoscope of colors and shapes:
Bright squares on a black rug; a painting of a molten red-orange sun between a pair of orange club chairs; a black modular chair and red ottoman set on a zebra throw rug; a pane of clear acrylic spackled with multihued triangles and a red stripe above a red enameled chest; a blue chair below a blue, green, and maroon, jagged-edged painting titled Earthquake.
Two Picasso-esque glass heads on a bookshelf complement figurative patterned black-and-white pillows on a charcoal couch. Orange pillows add more punch - orange is Rita's favorite color. She acquired the glass heads on a trip to Venice, Italy, with her husband, Ira.
For 50 years, the couple purchased contemporary art and ceramics from galleries, craft shows, and shops in the United States and on travels around the world.
Rita still displays the first art she and Ira bought, shortly after their marriage: an impressionist watercolor of a sailboat. They were vacationing on Cape Cod, and after making the purchase had barely enough money for lunch.
"We split a hot dog and a soda," she recalls.
A Brooklyn native, Rita studied art as an undergraduate at Hunter College and involved her husband in her interest. He was an engineer; she was an educator with a career as a teacher, principal and school administrator. Along the way, she earned two master's degrees and a doctorate in addition to her undergraduate degree.
"With each degree, I rewarded myself with a piece of art," she says. In choosing art, Rita wasn't looking for famous names or a particular style. "I bought what I liked," she says.
Eventually, Rita became superintendent of schools in Fairfax County, Va., where she and Ira raised a son and daughter. In the late 1980s, the Apters retired, and in the 1990s they moved to a large condo in Alexandria, Va. They spent winters in California and traveled abroad, collecting art.
Their idyllic life ended in 2007, when Ira died. Three years later, their beloved son, Mark, died. Rita began to have health issues, and her eyesight was failing. Daughter Susan Apter, who lives in Havertown, worried about her mother driving and found herself making frequent trips to Virginia.
Susan searched for a pleasant home for Rita in this area that would provide services she needed and recreational activities. Three years ago, Rita moved to Waverly Heights. She had visited there only once but liked what she saw.
The transition was difficult, though. Rita's Virginia condo sold right away. Mother and daughter had only a month and a half to move.
Her new apartment was spacious, with a living room, kitchen, bedroom, den, and sunroom, but it was half the size of the condo.
Susan took photos and measurements. She arranged for the installation of pale oak floors like the one's in her mother's former condo and custom-made bookshelves in the den and sunroom.
Asserts Rita, who often helped neighbors decorate in Virginia: "Getting rid of clutter is key." Still, it was hard to choose which "treasures" would furnish the new space.
She gave art away to friends and family (Rita has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren). Susan has her mother's collection of Judaica. Rita kept only a portrait of a rabbi crafted from handmade white paper.
In the new kitchen, a wall was painted black to set off two abstract expressionist paintings and a colorful Appalachian plate. A black wall at the end of a hall sets off a brightly hued painting. A whimsical animal-print valance from a bathroom shower in the condo fit over the shower in one of two new bathrooms here.
A round coffee table was given a new base and turned into a dining table. Since Rita eats most meals with friends in Waverly's dining room, the table is used mainly for bridge, one of her several activities.