Tamara Harris’ colorful Fitler Square home greets visitors with unusual and interesting keepsakes that tell the story of her life.
After retiring from her job as a physician at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, Harris moved to Philadelphia in 2018 to be closer to family. Though the circa 1865 townhouse needed some work, she was attracted to its charm and potential.
“I could use the house in a multifunctional way,” recalled Harris, 70. “It had space where I could have my grandchildren over, pursue my hobbies, and have room for a study.”
She also appreciated the neighborhood. Though she is happy to have space behind her house to park her car, “if you only walked, you could still find everything you needed.”
Two of the five bedrooms in the 2,500-square-foot home are dedicated to her crafts: woodworking, sewing, and weaving. She recently returned from a trip to England, where she took classes in making automatons — mechanically motivated toys. She built a jack-in-the-box that resembled one of her 8-year-old granddaughter’s drawings and a carousel wheel demonstrating how time flies. Both sit among her eclectic art collection.
Her craft rooms are a work in progress. “As I headed toward retirement, I wanted to develop some hobbies, and I really like working in three-dimensional space,” she said. She’s been taking woodworking classes for about four years and is getting ready to set up a woodshop. Harris rediscovered sewing, something she enjoyed when she was younger, and has recently taken up weaving.
The living room, which sits in the front of the house, features a decorative fireplace with an interesting backstory. “I looked around for a long time for a faux marble fireplace and found one that was in probably seven or eight pieces,” she recalled. “You could see its potential.” She found a decorative star in a local antiques shop and had it all put together.
The dining room showcases a gorgeous stained-glass door built into the outside wall. “Because it’s on the alley in the space between the two houses, I don’t think it was ever used as a door,” said Harris, who appreciates its beauty but is curious about its history.
Amy Cuker of down2earth Interior Design helped Harris incorporate her belongings into the space. “She helped me integrate the colors — mostly reds, blues, and grays — choose fabrics, and make it look like a grownup house because most of the places I had lived looked half-finished,” Harris said with a laugh.
Alan Henderson of Daedalus Design Build made structural changes throughout the house, including creating a pass-through from the dining room into the kitchen, gutting the existing kitchen, reconfiguring one of the home’s 2½ bathrooms, and shoring up crumbling brick.
Harris enjoys relaxing with a cup of coffee in the upholstered breakfast nook in her cream kitchen, where bright light shines in, reflecting off the light-wood cabinets. A gray bookshelf holds some of Harris’ precious memories.
“My husband passed away in 2011 and things that were connected with him have a great deal of meaning for me,” she said. “In addition, things from trips I had taken and things that were indicators of good times in my life.” Those include two gray-and-blue bowls from Iceland and a whimsical fish and alligator from a summer vacation in Deep Creek, Md.
Renovations upstairs included creating a space for the washer and dryer, which were previously in the master bedroom, and reconfiguring the bathroom to add a shower. “In doing so we lost the closets, so we had to create new closets along a section of the wall,” Harris said. In Canada, she found colorful tapestries to cover the closet doors.
“The house lends itself to all the different facets of my life, from caring for grandchildren, woodworking, sewing, cooking, and all the memories,” she said. “It’s given me a nice place to integrate all the parts of my life.”
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