Ann Vuong Kull and her husband, Matt, had fairly common requirements for an upwardly mobile couple with a small child.
They were looking for a kid-friendly, walkable neighborhood in Philadelphia, a two-car garage, nice but not so pricey that they couldn't buy it and still have money left over to make it really theirs.
But there was one more must-have: It had to be near a Vietnamese neighborhood so Ann could stay in touch with her heritage.
She's an American-born, bilingual Rutgers accounting grad who grew up in Bucks County, but her roots mean a lot to her. Her father emigrated in 1975 as the Vietnam War was winding down, and her mother was a boat person, fleeing as American forces left.
The Kulls found their real estate solution in a three-story modern rowhouse near Seger Park in Washington Square West.
"We saw it had the right skeleton," said Matt, a co-owner of the RevZilla ecommerce motorcycle accessories business in the Navy Yard, "so we knew we could make it our own."
Structurally, the 11-year-old rowhouse was sound when the couple bought it in January 2015. But "there was no character to it," Ann said. "It wasn't a fit for our personality. Everything was yellow and pale and outdated."
"It was pretty ordinary, a vanilla space," recalled the Kulls' interior designer, Susan Gracki of Gardner/Fox Associates, based in Bryn Mawr.
"There was nothing of interest. I feel we did a really good job of modernizing the house for a younger family. The original floor plan of the kitchen and breakfast area was a small, dark, tight space and was lacking modern features. We successfully opened up the walls to make it a lighter, more open, uncluttered floor plan."
"Now it has an edgy feeling," Gracki said. "It looks like a young family home."
A TV set in a stone fireplace anchors the living room, which opens directly into the modernized kitchen now that a partition wall has been removed. "There was a tunnel effect I didn't like," Ann said.
The open feeling was enhanced by the good fortune of sight lines from the living room that look out over open space and trees rather than another house.
Replacing a large water tank with a tankless water heater added more space, and iron stair railings added a contemporary look.
The powder room was updated, and another bathroom added on the second floor.
They also added closet space and a washer/dryer on the second floor, Ann said, "because we didn't need a big master bedroom."
A guest bedroom doubles as Matt's office.
A major focus was creating the space for their 4-year-old son, Kieran. They engaged the design firm Widall & Boschetti to create a playroom in what had been a bare first-floor storage room.
"It was an outside-the-box playroom," said partner Barrett Widall. "They're such a fun, creative family. We wanted to create a space that was like the client.
"We put little K's on the wallpaper. There's a chalkboard wall on one side so he can let his imagination run wild. We created space for him to read books with his mom or dad."
Perhaps the tour de force of the renovation, though, was the redo of the third-floor deck with artificial grass and an irrigation system for the surrounding plants.