It was a case of despair at first sight. Back in 1968, when Nancy Bergman first saw the house on Locust Street near 22d, she was totally turned off.
While Bergman, her husband, and their three children had outgrown their apartment just a stone's throw away, they lived in a light-filled, interesting space.
Everything inside the Locust Street house her husband took her to see was painted dark green or carpeted in green. The exterior bricks were painted black.
"It was just totally uninviting," recalls Nancy.
Still, David Bergman recognized the property's pluses: It was an easy walk from the pharmacy that had been in his family for decades, and where he was the pharmacist. It had potential. And it was a good buy.
"So I told Nancy that we should buy it, either to live in or as an investment," says Bergman, a soft-spoken, gentle man who has spent 70 of his 81 years in the very neighborhood where he lives now.
The family moved into the house, and within it, they have created a light-filled, art-filled world that suited them when there were children at home and that continues to serve them now. There have been enormous changes over the years, although the footprint of this Center City home remains unchanged.
Best of all, the expansive space provides a perfect backdrop for Nancy Bergman's enormous creativity, showcasing her own art and fabric work with the art of others, making the interior come alive with color, texture, and flair.
The couple, who both grew up in Philadelphia, met as summer-camp counselors and married in 1952. They share a love of travel, which is reflected at every turn in the rooms of the vintage 1860 home.
The house had been occupied by a baker and then a wheelwright in its early years, and the Bergmans were delighted when a neighbor uncovered a deed to the property from 1864, conveying it from its second to its third owner for the then-princely sum of $2,600.
That deed is now framed and hanging on a wall in the house, along with the manifest of the ship that brought David's father from Russia to the United States in 1903. Both represent deeply meaningful history.
David Bergman, who interrupted his education at the University of Pennsylvania to serve in the U.S. Army, returned and earned a pharmacy degree at what was then the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. For several decades, the pharmacy that had been established by his father was at the center of his life. He would return to Penn at age 60 to earn a master's degree in organizational dynamics.
With Nancy's background as a graduate of Moore College of Art, a longtime art teacher in local public elementary schools, and a passionate volunteer now in the textiles department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it's not unexpected that art would star in the couple's tasteful home. Fabrics and textiles became Nancy's consuming passion after she returned to Moore for further study in the 1980s.
Every kind of art is at center stage in the expansive living room, with the showstopper a piece of her own creation above the fireplace. In that space, she set out to enhance a huge piece of Plexiglas with materials and colors that give the room its focal point. Creating that spectacular illuminated, stained-glass wall hanging in brilliant hues was one of her very first beautification projects for the home. Embedded in the piece, along with stained-glass chunks, are oyster shells, rocks, and agates.
"I just sat down on the floor near the fireplace and started working," Nancy said of the painstaking project that had her swimming in polyester resins and epoxies for months.
David Bergman always has encouraged his wife's artistic bursts.
"She's just very good at what she does," he says, referring to Nancy's design and artistic handiwork in nearly every room of the three-story house. "I guess I have veto power, but I don't use it very often."
On newly lightened living room walls, several clad in wheat-colored grass cloth, are the collections that reflect the couple's love of travel. Artifacts range from miniature intricate figures that they have collected from no fewer than 80 countries around the world to a colorful Navajo rug used as a wall hanging and delicate wooden flowers from Bali displayed on an Asian chest with inlaid mother-of-pearl.
An Inuit shaman stick hangs on a living room wall not far from a dramatic abstract metal sculpture created by Mitzi Weinstein of Wynnewood, Nancy's artistic sister. There's also a striking portrait of a woman, a student project of Nancy's from her Moore College of Art days.
An octagonal table at one end of the dining room opens to accommodate 12 and serves as the dining area of the home. Down a hallway is one of the Bergmans' many visual surprises: a small powder room with navy blue Naugahyde walls adorned with original cartoons by the late Boris Drucker, a well-known New Yorker artist and close friend of the couple's.
The kitchen/family room area is one of this urban home's most delightful spaces. Reconfigured from the original dining room and kitchen during the 1980s, the 12-by-25-foot area has a sweep of pale wood flooring that stretches throughout the downstairs, imparting a light look and feel. Cabinetry also is contemporary and light, and a curved kitchen island serves multiple functions.
A side window in the kitchen area has been reconfigured as a shadow box filled with plants, and one of the kitchen's loveliest surprises is a view of a small garden just beyond its walls. A proud maple is the garden's focal point in all seasons.
On a kitchen beam hangs a neon script sign with the single word "Prescriptions" across it. It is the sign that had been in the family pharmacy for decades, transplanted now into the couple's domestic world.
For years, Nancy Bergman, now 78, had been collecting antique purses and pocketbooks. Fashioned of fabrics, mesh, and tapestries, these little jewels have found a home in an illuminated display case left behind by the house's previous owners, serious shell collectors. The tiny alcove, just off the kitchen, is yet another of the home's unexpected charms.
From a handsome samovar carried lovingly from Russia by ancestors to quirky posters, a kinetic lithograph, and even a rattle created from the toenails of llamas, the unexpected is everywhere in this sophisticated urban residence. Yet nothing is in the "Don't Touch!" category.
"We truly live in almost every inch of this house," says Nancy, whose design imprint is indelible.