Our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today, we look at the Logan Square home of architect Sven Schroeter, who customized a condo in a historic warehouse, transforming it into a warm and inviting home with big city views and a nod to Florence Knoll.
Most often, the first thing that visitors say when they walk into Schroeter and his wife’s home is, “Oh wow.” That’s how astonishing the view is from their living room, which features industrial wall-to-wall windows that look out to the ever-changing skyline of University City.
Indeed, the west-facing view is what convinced the New York City-based couple to buy the unit about eight years ago, despite having some qualms about the renovated condo. They also liked knowing that the condo was located in a historic building. Built in 1913, it once functioned as a Larkin Soap Company factory and showroom.
“We loved the fact that it’s a historic building and unique in this neighborhood because this used to be an industrial part of the city,” Schroeter said. “Most of that has gone away, but there are a remnants, and this is one of them. So we loved the fact that you could get tall windows, and big windows with big views.”
But there was work to do to turn the 1,100-square-foot condo into a home. The builders were already in the process of framing the unit into a two-bedroom, before Schroeter decided to scrap the plans entirely. What was supposed to be a two-bedroom turned into a one-bedroom, with one of the rooms replaced by the kitchen.
That left the architect and child psychologist with a much more open layout, similar to the one he and his wife had lived in for the past five years in New York City. “We had moved from a loft that was a big open room. One of the reasons we moved to Philly was because you could afford a bigger, better space for less money—hopefully—and we saw the opportunity with the building.”
Schroeter took on the task of designing their home down to every knob. But as with any couple, there were some compromises to be made. His wife, who is Scandinavian and grew up in Minnesota, wanted something warm and homey. But Schroeter, who moved to the U.S. from Germany at the age of 5, wanted to go the pure minimalist route, white walls and all.
“The compromise was Florence Knoll,” said Schroeter of the famous architect and interior designer. “The idea was, ‘What if Florence Knoll designed a Swedish farm house?’ So the home is meant to be an amalgam of midcentury modern, new Scandanavian warmth, and modern industrial style.”
The millwork and custom cabinetry bring much of the warmth that Schroeter’s wife desired, starting with the accent wall in the foyer. It’s clad in 4x1 unfinished Eastern white pine slats that aged in the sun.
Next to the foyer, separated by an original factory column, is another custom-designed bookshelf made of 3/4" birch veneer plywood. At the time, Schroeter and his wife owned plenty of architecture and psychology books. But after a going on a minimalist purge, they’ve since filled the shelves instead with photos, artifacts, and souvenirs from their travels.
Schroeter also used the bigger living room space to install a Murphy bed into the bookshelf, as a way to make up for getting rid of the second bedroom. “The compromise we made was giving up that extra room that could have been a home office or guest bedroom,” he said. “Instead, this bed ends up being guest bedroom when we have people over—and people love it because they get the great view.”
The same birch bookcases and cabinets are found across the room, which functions as a continuous kitchen-home office wall. The countertops in the kitchen are quartz, a stark contrast to the workspace’s, which are blackened steel.
A hallway lined with blackened steel picture rail leads to the home’s one bathroom and bedroom, which is separated by a custom-designed, frosted acrylic barn door on an exposed steel track.
The bedroom has undergone a number of reiterations, as the couple tries to figure out the best layout. For now, what’s been working is a minimalist bedroom with a wall of storage shrouded by a curtain. The plan, Schroeter said, is to install a library ladder in order to reach the tallest shelving units. And in keeping with the woodsy items in the living area, one wall is lined with wallpaper featuring birch trees.
But Schroeter will be the first to admit that this area of the home in particular is still a work in progress. In the workspace, for example, the wall is lined with locally sourced, wool-felt tack boards. “It adds to the warmth, but I’m not totally happy with it,” Schroeter said.
“I think it’s the nature of design that designing is never done,” he added. “You want to keep going forever if you could, if time wasn’t an object.”
And then there are some things that are out of the designer’s control. There’s that view—the one that first made the husband and wife fall in love with the place. The epic West Philly sunsets, the Schuylkill River, and the skyscrapers may all be lost as development ramps up in their neighborhood.
But, says Schroeter, it comes with the territory. And the change is what made them fall in love with the city. “I don’t want to say that I was a New York snob, but I was skeptical about Philly when we first moved here,” he said. “Since then, I’ve become a total Philly booster. I love it here, there’s so much opportunity, the people are nice, and it gets more interesting all the time.”