Design Vault Ep. 24 Sansom5 with Gabe Deck


Design Vault Ep. 24 Sansom5 with Gabe Deck





Gabe Deck grew up in Central Pennsylvania before doing his BArch at Temple University (class of 2007) in Philadelphia. He is a big-time Philadelphia guy, and stayed in Philly after college and have lived and worked in most areas of central Philly. He recently relocated to the suburbs with his wife Alex and 2 young boys, ages 3 and 5. Gabe began his early career working for Wallace Roberts and Todd working on a variety of project types all over the country. After the 2008 recession, he got his real estate license where he made a number of contacts in residential development. Over the next few years, these relationships lead to a number of small residential design projects moonlighting on the side of his full time job. Once he got his arch license in 2013, he quit his job and started his own residential design firm out of a spare bedroom in his house. Gabe’s focus of work was mostly urban, small scale residential additions which quickly grew into new construction townhouse developments and then larger adaptive reuse residential projects. The scale of work grew over the first few years, as did the business. Gabe hired and then partnered with Derek Spencer and together they rebranded to Gnome Architects in late 2018.


The Philadelphia based Gnome Architects team is currently nine people and is operated out of an amazing repurposed public high school called BOK in south Philadelphia. The firm focuses on residential design with context driven solutions, with 400+ projects to date, mostly in Philly but also in other parts of the country as far reaching as Colorado and Maine. The current focus of Gnome Architects is 2 pronged:

1. Developer driven residential multifamily work - lots of urban, Philadelphia projects and starting to branch out into other markets outside of Philadelphia, while scale continues to grow.

2. Bespoke custom single-family homeowner projects with interior design - also within and outside of Philadelphia doing work in New Jersey and Delaware.







 The Client wanted a collaboration between a team of well versed Philadelphia and New York developers. The site is a 5,000 SF rectangular parcel with 3 street frontages that previously contained a 1 and 2 story nondescript office building. Site is located in center city Philadelphia, very close to the Rittenhouse and Fitler squares, and within 2 blocks of the Schuylkill river. The neighboring context is a mixture of commercial and residential use buildings. Much of the nearby residential vernacular spans in scale from modest 3 story trinities to 4 and 5 story brownstone mansions. Some challenges of the site included a 5' grade change across the main frontage and also being within a flood zone adjacent to the Schuylkill river. The developer team challenged Gnome to design 5 high end townhouses which would maximize the square footage potential while avoiding any zoning variance process and also meeting flood zone regulations. By-right parking was a challenge - the zoning district only allowed for underground parking so we were able to lean on the zoning definition for underground which included space below the floodplane base flood elevation (BFE). The homes themselves are very luxurious - each home contains 4BRs, 6 bathrooms, elevator, 2 car parking, 3 outdoor spaces in and 5000+ GSF across 5 stories and a pilot house level. Although the building massings are 5 stories + a pilot house level (reads as 6 stories), the brick is held to the top of the 4th floor with a projecting cornice in an effort to reduce the visual feel to the massing in comparison to the neighbors. Most neighbor buildings are primarily brick masonry which was the biggest driver for the materiality of the Sansom5. 

Nearby brick and facade colors are a bit all over the place so Gnome chose a beige/brown tone which would fit in with the nearby colors while also could move the aesthetic towards the contemporary feel that the developers wanted to achieve. Much of the design inspiration came from the neighboring context of traditional row-home brick facades with strong cornice lines. Brick selection is Stonington Gray Velour. Other facade materials include large format nutmeg cast stone panels to complement the earth tone brick, gray flatlock metal panel, warm wood accent cladding, and a mix of black and brown clad slim profile windows. The windows within the masonry are brown to complement the earth tones while the windows in the other cladding areas are black. Plan driven windows made for challenges to organize the facade elements between the ground and upper floors - we landed on a language of brick pattern changes and cast stone accent pieces that would extend horizontally flanking the upper floor windows to create alignments with the lower floor window language. The field brick is a traditional running bond where the brick accent elements are a mixture of recessed and projected stacked bond detailing.

A lot of design interest was created at the home entry doors where we had to mitigate 5-6' of grade change from the sidewalk to the front door sill due to the flood level coordination. Gnome accentuated the entry by partially recessing the facade around the front door to make a 2 story tall "portal" framed in cast stone. Within the portal, a cast stone feature wall behind a built in brick planter wall as well as a wall flanking the exterior entry stairs with a dimple brick pattern creates multiple layers of masonry texture as you proceed to the front door. Grade change stepping and control joints were minimized on the front elevation by way of recessed metal channels between the homes. This also helped the front facades of the homes read independently.



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