Natalie Jesionka looked at dozens of houses before choosing the Fishtown rowhouse she shares with husband Ashvin Vijayakumar and son Asher Kumar, who will turn 1 in February.
“We kept coming back to this house because it had a lot of potential for being able to put our own flair on it,” said Jesionka, who recently transitioned from an educator in human trafficking into more creative pursuits, including home staging and writing a children’s book. “It was logical in its layout and had good bones. We love the neighborhood, being able to walk to Frankford Avenue.”
Their first task after moving into the 2,800-square-foot home in 2018 was painting the beige walls in the 8-year-old home. “We painted every room white with one colorful accent wall,” said Vijayakumar, medical director at Oak Street Health in Germantown.
Color is important to the couple, who have traveled together extensively throughout Thailand, India, Burma, and Poland, bringing colorful keepsakes home to both decorate and remember their excursions.
“I wanted to add a lot of vibrancy to our home,” Jesionka said. “Each room has a mood.”
The bedrooms include the master, Asher’s whimsically designed jungle theme, and two carefully crafted guestrooms to honor their travels. The first has a Thai flair with yellow walls and Thai textiles, including embroidered pillows from the Hmong community, and Burmese carvings. The second is an homage to their time in India with cool shades of blue, carved Indian furniture, textiles from Morocco, and artwork from Afghanistan.
The couple enjoy having guests and love to guess which room a visitor will choose. “The India-Thai room is very bold and loud, and the Moroccan-Indian room is soothing and calm,” Jesionka said. “Sometimes when guests come back, they’ll try the other room.”
Local muralist Candice Lee Smith painted koi fish on the gas utility sticks in front of the house and on the rain barrel in the courtyard. “She worked with us to design something that would honor Fishtown, adding color to the streetscape,” Jesionka said.
Jesionka and Vijayakumar collected pillowcases and cookbooks from the many countries they visited. Pillowcases, which are easy to pack, are each distinctly created by a weaver and embroiderer and tell a particular story. Dozens of brightly colored pillows fill the living room and bedrooms.
“Cookbooks are really important to me because any time we have someone over, even a new friend, I can connect with them over food,” Jesionka said. “So many times when we were traveling around the world, the most important thing was to be able to break bread, to sit down with someone and share a meal, even if language was a barrier, or there were significant cultural barriers.”
The home’s courtyard is where Jesionka grows plants that she uses to supplement her spice collection from around the world. The couple plan to overhaul the space in the spring, but in the meantime, a heat lamp allows them to relax outside, even in the winter.
Though her cooking has become less elaborate since Asher was born, Jesionka still enjoys making exotic meals from her international cookbook collection. They’re kept on a shelf designed and hand-made by Greg Fuguet of Fuugs, a Port Richmond-based sculptor and woodworker. The shelf is also a favorite hangout for the family cats, Rosie and Queenie.
“I enjoy bringing people together, so we had a big party for Diwali, and we always do something around the holidays to share food and break bread,” Jesionka said. Though the couple used to take monthly jaunts, since having the baby, “we mostly ask people to come over to visit us,” Vijayakumar added.
Community is very important to the pair — Jesionka is first-generation Polish American and Vijayakumar was born in Bombay, India, and lived in many places throughout the world while growing up. They appreciate Fishtown’s sense of community and vibrant restaurant scene.
“Our house is a story that keeps unfolding and a place where, when guests come through, they feel warm, comfortable, and relaxed,” she said. “I love that it brings a global feel that honors our travel and our commitment to our roots in Philadelphia, but also around the world.”
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