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Living Modern in Wallingford, Pennsylvania
Published by Liz Waytkus on
The eye-catching cover of the Atomic Ranch Summer 2013 Issue offers an inviting backyard view of a home custom-built in 1960 in a wooded area of Wallingford Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. Following this exciting feature, Docomomo US sat down with Bobbie Ann Tilkens-Fisher, current owner of the home and founding board member of the Docomomo US/Greater Philadelphia Chapter – two important adventures and contributions that she has shared with her husband, Matthew Fisher. Having purchased the home from the original owners in 2010, Bobbie shares with us insight about modern activity in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania winters, and their close interaction with architect Irwin Stein as they maintain and enjoy the property for years to come.
Image (left): The back of the home circa 1960 before balcony was enclosed and side patio dug out.
What is your favorite room or aspect of the house and why?
"This is a difficult question, because the house has so many wonderful features. If pressed, I would have to say the living room. This room is 24 feet tall, and so you can really see just how spectacular Irwin Stein’s roof design is (the diamond shapes are echoed in the ceiling). The floor to ceiling windows let in an amazing amount of light and the three sided fireplace seems to defy the laws of gravity."
Image(right): A view of the living room from the catwalk showcases a 24 foot tall glass wall, cove lighting and vintage furnishings selected by Bobbie
Image (below): A photo of the front exterior of the home today.
What do you think your next project will be?
"We bought the home from its original owners who lived here for 52 years and were fortunate to find that they had kept the house in original condition. It needs very little work, so most of our plans for the future involve “upgrades.” Winters in Pennsylvania are very cold, and our 90+ windows are single pane. It would be almost impossible to replace them without interfering with the aesthetics of the home, so Matthew is currently investigating removable interior storm windows. We’d also like a bigger bath tub and to make a few modifications to the kitchen. When the time comes, we will do these with sensitivity to the original design of the home. We haven’t approached Irwin about it yet, but it would be fun if he’d agree to help us with these projects when the time comes."
What was getting in touch with the original architect, Irwin Stein like?
"The previous owners of the home have me Irwin's contact information. He is a wonderful and vibrant man, full of stories and humor. Matthew and I feel very fortunate to have a relationship with him. As a steward of one of his creations, I’ve joyfully taken on the task of helping to build public knowledge of his work."
Image (right): This room served as the waiting room for patients of the dental office attached to the home.
Image (below): The former waiting room for the attached dental office now serves as a sitting room in the offices of At Home Modern. The yellow vinyl upholstery is original.
Where do you go or what sources do you use when a maintenance issue arises?
"This past year, we had a minor roof leak in the portion of the home that used to function as a dental office. We contacted Irwin and coincidentally, his son was able to repair it for us! Other than that, in the three years we have lived here, we haven’t had any major maintenance issues that would require any knowledge specific to mid-century homes."
Dining room with three sided fireplace and vintage Lane dining set.
Since there seems like a number of mid-century homes in the area, is there a modern homeowners group that you belong to? How did you get involved with Docomomo US/Greater Philadelphia?
"In our immediate neighborhood, there are about seven mid-century homes that come to mind. Delaware County, PA where our home is located is known to be a more traditional area. There aren’t any homeowner’s groups focusing on mid-century homes in the Philadelphia area that I am aware of. That’s part of the reason Matthew and I became involved with Docomomo. Shortly after we moved into our home, we heard that a local chapter was being formed by Janet Grace and we contacted her to offer assistance. We knew this was an important effort and got in at the ground level as board members.
Not only does the chapter advocate for modern structures and environments on a public scale, but it also functions as a support system for homeowners. Several of the board members own mid-century homes."
What role have you taken on in the organization?
"Matthew and I are both founding board members. I am responsible for social media and marketing and Matthew consults with technology."
What sort of challenges do you see in the Philadelphia area for modern architecture?
"Philadelphia has done an amazing job at preserving its long and rich history. The challenge now is to make people aware that this history didn’t end prior to the mid twentieth century. There are some significant modern structures in Philadelphia that should be more fully appreciated, and in some cases saved from the wrecking ball. That’s why the local Docomomo chapter is so important – it couldn’t have been formed at a more crucial time."
Bobbie was so inspired by her adventures in decorating her own mid century home that in 2011 she started her own vintage modern furnishings business, At Home Modern (www.athomemodern.com). She prides herself in locating unique art, design and furniture from the 1950's, 60's and 70's for her clients. When she isn't out hunting for vintage modern treasures, Bobbie teaches Art History and Museum Studies at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and enjoys traveling with Matthew and doting on her two cats Lucha and Lincoln.
Matthew is President and co-founder of the design studio Night Kitchen Interactive, where for over 15 years he has produced interpretative digital experiences for arts, cultural heritage and science organizations such as the Smithsonian, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. He recently completed a book chapter for Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, published by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and a paper entitled Rousing the Mobile Herd: Apps that Encourage Real Space Engagement. Beyond Night Kitchen, Matthew has collaborated with his 93-year-old great aunt on a children’s book and is writing a draft of his first novel.
To see more images of the interior of the home (graced with Bobbie’s decorative finds and curatorial eye) and to read the entire feature, life lessons, in which her and Matthew celebrate Irwin Stein’s vision and the experience of the original owners, Morton and Elsa Wachs, pick up a copy of Atomic Ranch Issue #38 Summer 2013 issue, on shelves now.