Notable Philadelphia art collector Hank McNeil is leaving behind treasured artworks for the next family to enjoy at his expansive Rittenhouse Square home.
When Hank McNeil leaves the sophisticated gentility of Delancey Place for the verdant splendors of Chestnut Hill, he will take the artists Donald Judd, Richard Tuttle, Jeff Koons, Dan Flavin, and Ellsworth Kelly with him. Sol LeWitt, the American conceptualist who pioneered hypergeometric minimalism, will stay behind.
That’s because more than a dozen works designed by the master minimalist have been drawn directly onto the walls of McNeil’s 8,800-square-foot, five-story, five-bedroom home. “There’s more LeWitt here than anywhere else, private or public,” McNeil says. As a relatively new collector, he first encountered the artist’s installation of blue and white geometrics on the ceiling of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and “it made quite an impression,” he recalls. “I started acquiring his work, and as I got to know him better, he’d recommend certain pieces over others. I was still learning, and this major artist was curating for me! Our friendship really grew when we collaborated on a few projects, including a student installation of seven wall drawings at Chestnut Hill Academy, my alma mater.”
McNeil will retain ownership of the works while the next resident enjoys them simply as decorations. In truth, they make very nice wallpaper—isosceles triangles rendered in graphite, straight lines raining down in blues, yellows, and reds, dense masses of gray, marble-like veins. Most are intricately patterned pencil works, but a few bear LeWitt’s signature color blocks. There’s one, for instance, we might call “Blankie.” “[LeWitt] was a loving, thoughtful, generous man,” recalls McNeil. “When he asked my daughter, who was 6 or so at the time, what colors she would prefer, she said, ‘I like the colors on Blankie.’” The result is a pyramid of pink, eggplant, and rust on a fuchsia background that’s a dead-on match for the quilt that still lies at the foot of the now-17-year-old’s bed.
When McNeil moved two blocks east to the house 10 years ago, he did so “because the kids were getting bigger—and so was the art.” His chief criterion was light, and this corner home, built around 1870, boasted the rare quality of being exposed on all four sides. Spanning two lots at 42 feet wide, the property had been chopped into offices housing several law firms. Little remained of the interior except for an elegant winding staircase, so McNeil undertook a two-year renovation project to open up the space.
Today the home is a series of expansive, gallery-like rooms, and conceptual art fills every corner: two white porcelain West Highland terriers by Jeff Koons stand whimsical sentry on either side of the home’s columned entrance, a copper checkerboard by Carl Andre lingers off to the side in the dining room, and a rectangle of orange string by Fred Sandback lurks on a landing. But then, McNeil has been collecting for nearly 30 years. “I went for inexpensive artists of my own age,” he says. “I was steered by an intellectually sound girlfriend who was working with Judd and LeWitt and encouraged me to get to know them.”
Of course, the house offers much more than its stellar array of contemporary art. Take the four bathrooms (there’s also three powder rooms), for instance. Below ground in the guest quarters, one rests inside the basement’s brick arches and features a walk-in shower and deep soaking tub in a setting that calls to mind the decadent baths of Rome. Upstairs, the kids’ bathroom is clad entirely in Carrara marble, while the highlight of the master bath on the third floor is a commodious limestone shower with 10 heads and a Jacuzzi bath.
There’s not just a grand Bulthaup-equipped kitchen but several other wet bars as well as a catering kitchen. Glazed doors from Italy allow light to flow through, honey oak flooring warms everything further, and an elevator and state-of-the-art security system make sure the living is easy.
McNeil has outfitted his home sparingly but carefully, having selected furniture and furnishings from the best contemporary artisans and industrial designers. In the dining room, sensuous silver pitchers designed by Henning Koppel for Georg Jensen keep company with a masterwork of a 10-foot-long rosewood table by George Nakashima. Elsewhere, a pair of Ron Arad chairs—one black, one polished stainless steel—flank a Marcel Wanders plastic crochet table.
They, too, will find their way to the new Chestnut Hill digs that McNeil will soon call home. But the LeWitts, the light, and the 12-foot ceilings—they’re not going anywhere. Best of all, as McNeil says, “you can never build [anything like] this house,” referring to its unique characteristics in the Philadelphia market. In more ways than one, it stands alone. For more information, contact Mary Genovese Colvin, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, 210 W. Rittenhouse Sq., 215-806-1500