When Steve Poses, creator of legendary Philadelphia restaurants the Frog and the Commissary, moved from Rittenhouse Square to South Philadelphia with his wife, Christina Sterner, several friends asked, "Why?"
Sterner explained that she looked at more than 100 possible condominium buildings and various neighborhoods before settling on the 2,400-square-foot penthouse in a former Curtis Publishing Co. warehouse on Washington Avenue, far from fashionable Rittenhouse Square.
"I feel this area is more lively than Rittenhouse Square, and there are more ethnic restaurants and more diversity in the neighborhood," said Poses, who has spent 47 years in Philadelphia restaurant leadership. He now directs – and Sterner manages – the Frog Commissary in the Franklin Institute.
Their condo is one of eight two-story penthouses built above the former warehouse, which now houses 78 residential units.
"We like the fact that the building is only 10 stories tall, and you don't have the feeling you are living in a high-rise," Sterner said.
After they bought the unit, they brought in Philadelphia architect Anthony Miksitz to turn the kitchen into a laboratory for cooking innovation and the dining area into an auditorium.
It is no secret that Poses and Sterner "like to eat," Poses said. The kitchen had to be an asset in Poses' culinary creative process, Miksitz was told.
The architect was asked to make over the first floor, which was largely unchanged from when the warehouse was converted to a residential building 10 years ago.
"There was no defined entry," Miksitz said. "You saw the kitchen when you came in from the hall. The entry hall had a series of small rooms for utilities, a broom closet, another closet, and the stairway to the bedrooms upstairs took up space in the hall."
Miksitz's design gutted the first floor and removed and replaced several walls to create an entry foyer, important to the couple, who have a ritual of insisting that friends and family remove their shoes.
"Now you are not immediately dumped into the kitchen space," Miksitz said. "There is a sense of drama as you arrive. You enter into the foyer, which has a lower ceiling and gives a confined feeling, and you then proceed to the hall with the coat cabinet, which begins to open up with a higher ceiling and angled wall before you enter the living room, which is the climax with a broad view of South Philly."
Now the 500-square-foot kitchen, white with glowing cylinder lights above, can be entered from the foyer. A marble island, where the couple like to eat when they have no company, faces the cooking equipment, sinks, and various faucets for carbonated and tap water.
A restaurant-like pass-through between the cooking area and the island helps define the chef's space.
"I love his cooking," Sterner said. "I never cook, and he enjoys doing it all. The pass-through was designed to separate the diners from the cook and inhibit them from talking to him—he doesn't like to talk while he is cooking. He is very sociable before and after, but we don't talk to him while he cooks."
On the walls of the kitchen and dining room are shelves that Miksitz helped design. Some are lined with Sterner's collection of graceful champagne glasses.
In the dining area, against the wall of windows looking out toward Center City, an unvarnished maple table is surrounded with eight chairs and contrasts with Epi flooring underneath.
The living room, on the other side of the staircase, has a light-gray leather seating arrangement of two sofas with golden pillows accenting the rug and wood floor.
Outside the windows is a 2,500-foot terrace that surrounds the penthouse. Poses and Sterner have planted some Pennsylvania grasses and flowers in wooden boxes. A large wooden table and comfortable seating area can be heated so the couple can entertain outdoors until late December.
"We are very happy here," Poses said. "We are across from Vietnamese, Italian, and Indonesian restaurants, and we eat out several nights a week. … The passion for food is with us and this is a good place to be."