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An irresistible new house drew them to East Kensington

The exterior of the new house is modest, corrugated metal, one of its architects said. The emphasis is on the interior, "where the building inhabitants will experience it most.”

The back patio at the home of Alfredo Favíla and Donald Thompson in Philadelphia's East Kensington neighborhood.
The back patio at the home of Alfredo Favíla and Donald Thompson in Philadelphia's East Kensington neighborhood.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Alfredo Favila didn’t think about living in East Kensington until he saw photographs on a real estate website of a new house designed by Brian Phillips, founding principal of ISA-Interface Studio Architects.

At that time, Favila and his spouse, Donald Thompson, were temporarily housed in the Rittenhouse Square area as part of a moving package offered by Thompson’s employer.

“We asked around and were told Fishtown was great,” Favila said. “Then we saw the house in nearby Kensington and liked it, and, though we were apprehensive about the neighborhood, decided to take a chance and look.”

The couple visited the 2,000-square-foot house in November 2017, bought it, and moved in after closing two weeks later.

Favila, an unlicensed architect originally from Mexico, works in Toll Bros.' photography department creating 3-D images of houses. Thompson is a furniture designer for Urban Outfitters.

The couple were not the only ones struck by the sudden change in the East Kensington area.

Alexandra Gauzza, the ISA architect in charge of the design of the home, said that when work began in 2015, East Kensington was “pretty deserted."

“When we started the project, the area was filled with vacant parcels," she said, "and by the time it was completed in 2017, the area had changed dramatically. A lot of new construction had occurred on the surrounding blocks and a lot of new people had moved into the neighborhood. It felt like a different place.”

“Now,” she said, “there are 49 houses in the area."

The modern metallic house on a 951-square-foot site fits in with its neighbors even though its exterior is very different. Phillips is known for designing buildings for sites considered unusable by other architects and developers.

The exterior of the house is modest, corrugated metal, Gauzza said. The emphasis is on the interior, "where the building inhabitants will experience it most.”

Heating and cooling equipment is enclosed in birch walls in a core in the center of the building. “The only time I saw this before was in photos of the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe,” Favila said.

“This gives us a golden hue inside," he continued, “and there is a space between the core and the stairway so at night the light from downstairs goes all the way up.”

The stairs of the three-floor house are also birch and, rather than rising straight up from the first floor, go up one floor at a time in sort of a circle.

Thompson said he likes the light that pours inside and attributes it to the placement of large windows in the front and back of the house.

The kitchen is in the center of the first floor next to the core. The couple preferred white appliances to the “institutional metal” popular today, they said. Stretching across the front of the kitchen area is a white island, suitable for informal meals.

Because the house has a large back patio, the couple reversed the original plan so the living room is in the rear and the larger dining room opens in the front.

“We like to entertain and need the larger space for dinner parties, and it is nice to take a stroll in the patio after dinner where there are trees and plants,” Favila said.

On the third floor, Thompson is particularly proud of what he calls his “Brazilian rain forest” in the bathroom, where a large skylight produces light and warmth. The room reaches a temperature and humidity advantageous to the tropical plants Thompson cultivates.

“Now we both love the house,” Favila said, as well as the “wonderful community” of neighbors, most of them also new to East Kensington.

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