Federal Row House

Row Houses at Work – The Row House Storefront

Every now and then, a row house has to be more than a house. From the beginning of urban development, people have worked and live in the same buildings. Larger row houses are perfect for this intimate commerce. Below are a few of our favorite examples and we’ll be adding more as we come across them.

Zinc Bistro & Wine Bar

Zinc Bistro & Wine Bar
Zinc is a local French bistro restaurant and occupies the first floor of a Greek Revival tenement-style row house.
246 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA
215.351.9901
http://www.zincbarphilly.com/

Blendo boutique gift shop in a row house.

Blendo Boutique
Blendo Boutique sells vintage and unique gifts and occupies the first floor of a Federal Revival row house. Pine Street is known as antique’s row and most of the shops occupy row houses.
1002 Pine Street, Philadelphia, PA
215.351.9260
http://www.shopblendo.com/

 

It Can Be Yours! 130 Queen Street, Philadelphia, PA

The neighborhood of Queen Village in Philadelphia, PA, is fast becoming the most-desirable place to live in Philadelphia. Recently, Philadelphia Magazine praised the positive growth and development of the greater Center City area and for local residents, myself included, the neighborhood just gets better every year. Learn more about Queen Village.

Most residential properties in Queen Village are brick row houses from the 19th Century. 130 Queen Street is a very typical representation of this style and dates to the earlier part of the Century. Houses like 130 Queen were typically a single room in length, note the half roof, with one room per floor. It is likely that once the plumbing was added, an expansion was built to accommodate the interior bathrooms and kitchen. Although 130 Queen is a row house, it’s a corner property and has windows on three sides, which lets in lots of natural light.

Once inside, the renovated home retains several charming historic features. Each floor has a working fireplace with original hand-carved mantle and two of these have charming built-in cabinets.

On the stairs, overlooking the living room.

A closer look at the hand-carved mantle.

One of the charming built-ins along the fireplaces.

Through the living room is a first floor kitchen that has been tastefully updated in a style sensitive to the age of the house.  The placement of the appliances, all normal-sized, offers ample work space and, thanks to the high ceilings on the first floor, there is plenty of cabinet storage as well.

A well-designed kitchen, in which two people can work comfortably.

Beyond is a patio, realtor Carolyn Perlow at Space & Company describes as “private, with plenty of room for a barbecue, furniture, and a city garden – a lovely place to entertain or just sit and enjoy a cup of coffee.”

There is a bedroom and bathroom on each upper floor, with a few wonderful surprises. Both bathrooms feature marble tile but the second floor bathroom has French doors, opening to a Juliette balcony.

The second floor bedroom is a good size and can accommodate a twin bed without preventing the occupant from accessing the closet. It’s important to note that older homes were not designed to have closets and sometimes adding them in later creates some floor space challenges. So, it’s always nice to report a historic home that has the modern conveniences we’ve come to appreciate. Speaking of modern conveniences, back in the kitchen there is a dishwasher.

I imagine that originally, 130 Queen was a three-and-a-half story row home with a dormer. It will be a nice mystery for the new owner to solve because today the third floor bedroom ceiling extends to the roof. Overlooking the bedroom is a balcony, accessible via spiral staircase, that has French doors opening to the roof.

The master bedroom balcony and ceiling fan.

The ceiling fan, normally not possible in the short ceilings of historic homes, simply sends any hot air right out – fantastic – reducing the need for the central a/c to be running all the time! A roof deck is feasible and would be a nice addition.

A summary of the details includes:

  • 1,300+ square feet
  • Located within the Meredith School encatchment (locals know why this is awesome and this is a great house for a family of three, or cozy for four)
  • Close to snazzy South Street/Head House shopping and restaurants
  • Historic brick row house around 200 years old
  • Gas heat, water heater, and range
  • Lovely, new wood floors throughout that are a period appropriate width
  • Washer/dryer in the third floor bathroom
  • Wired for a security system

For more information, please contact Carolyn Perlow at Space & Company, 215.625.3650. I first met Carolyn, who provided background information and the photos for 130 Queen, at one of the Queen Village Annual Open House tours.

Row House of the Week: A Small Street in Philadelphia

In Philadelphia, there are plenty of things that could do with improving; crime, violence, public schools, public transportation, etc. However, it could be these things that keep Philadelphia from becoming too crowded.

Beautiful blue row house on a small street in Philadelphia.

And, when your city isn’t over-developed, you get little streets with little blocks of little row homes such as this lovely example from the Fitler Square neighborhood. These represent your basic mid-19th Century type Philadelphia row house, unremarkable yet very charming, especially in blue with perky window boxes.

After living here for seven years, I can attest to a certain don’t fix what isn’t broken attitude that seems to be prevalent here. This attitude means that demolished row houses aren’t replaced with apartment buildings but rather with other row houses. And new row houses are made to blend in nicely with what’s already there. Little streets with little homes remain intact and we couldn’t be happier!

We Love Bricks!

Our summer has been a flurry of activity leaving little time for row houses. Still, it’s impossible to ignore them because they are everywhere. So, the other day I thought about how awesome bricks are because here in Philly, the vast majority of rowhouses are made of brick.

OK, so maybe not everyone feels the same, but we’re big fans here. Maybe that’s because every row house I’ve lived in, has been brick so I sort of associate the two.

Philadelphia is a very walkable city and everything we do in our daily life involves walking around. I was on the way home from work yesterday and I thought, why not share some wonderful brick patterns, then everyone can see how lovely bricks can be!

I was also going to include a nice photo of a lovely Federal row house/boutique but some dude was sitting in front of it and I didn’t want to deal with a release form so the bricks will have to do. These represent a wide variety of styles, from walls to sidewalks.

Bricks in Philadelphia    Bricks in Philadelphia   Bricks in Philadelphia   Bricks in Philadelphia   Bricks in Philadelphia   Bricks in Philadelphia   Bricks in Philadelphia   Bricks in Philadelphia   Bricks in Philadelphia

Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Overbrook_Farms_2.JPG

Is Historic Preservation a Good Thing?

Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Overbrook_Farms_2.JPG

An example of a lovely home in Overbrook Farms, Philadelphia. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/File: Overbrook_Farms _2.JPG

First, a big thumbs up to Grid Magazine. I acquired a complementary copy at my gym and was very surprised to find a variety of nice articles about preservation and sustainable living in Philadelphia, including one about historic masonry and how awesome bricks are. And, we all know how much I love bricks. Anyway, visit their website, or look for an issue to pick up. Totally worth the read.

Anytime I see an article about historic neighborhoods I’m going to read it. According to Grid, there is a battle over to designate or not to designate the Overbrook Farms neighborhood as historic. I did a little research and discovered that Overbrook Farms is full of beautiful, mansion-like, homes in various colonial-revival or tudor-revival styles, all built in the late 19th Century. Originally a very affluent area, many homes boast craftsmanship of the highest order. With so many beautiful homes, at least 100 years old, it would only seem natural that the neighborhood would want to protect it’s architectural integrity. However, not every resident is supportive.

The historic designation question is a hot topic. Both those for, and those against, have points worth considering.

Yes to Historic Designation

Homes in historic neighborhoods, especially those that are designated and protected, have higher property values than those in areas that are not designated. Historic homes tend to hold their value better than non-historic homes. Typically homeowners in historically protected areas have to adhere to a set of rules that keeps them from demolishing homes and making inappropriate improvements to their homes. This keeps the neighborhood’s character consistent and intact. A well-established historic neighborhood is very attractive to home buyers interested in the characteristics of a particular neighborhood.

For people who are appreciative of their neighborhood’s stock of architecturally interesting properties, it can be horrifying to watch a careless developer tear down 100+ years of history and put up a McMansion-esk confection iced in cantaloupe colored stucco. It’s especially horrifying if you live in a row of identical homes and that monstrosity is attached to your house (true story!).

The historic designation attracts the sort of homeowner that likely supports conversation and doesn’t mind being told what to do with their house, in the name of preservation. Chances are, they are researching on their own and looking forward to keeping things exactly how they looked when the house was built. This sort of homeowner is going to spend a little more money keeping their home in good condition because it’s not just a house; it’s a mission.

No to Historic Designation

Historic designation will raise the value of your house. Higher value  means higher property taxes. For long-time residents, especially those on fixed incomes, or people just having trouble making ends meet, a jump in the value of their home and the resulting tax increase can be devastating. For the people who may have worked very hard to change a dodgy neighborhood into a vibrant community and now find themselves priced out of their homes, this is a slap in the face.

Once a neighborhood is designated as historic you lose freedom over your house and what you can do with it. Since you paid for your home, you should be able to do whatever you want with it. If your coming into an already established area, you know what you’re getting into. But if not, it’s like having someone snatch your favorite toy away. It’s almost rude! All of a sudden, you need to check with some higher power about what windows or door you can have or what paint colors you can use. Often, maintaining a historic property to specification set by a historic commission is a lot more expensive. Constraints mean owners of inefficient relics can’t take advantage of more environmentally friendly home products and the homes people are trying to protect become drains on the owners wallets and resources.

If there isn’t room to change, then neighborhoods get stale. In urban neighborhoods where many row homes are run down or have been demolished, new row home development is often revitalizing. In our own neighborhood over the last five years we’ve seen quite a few empty lots replaced by new, energy-efficient row homes. The new homes are a vast improvement.

If you make a community too rigid  you will scare away interesting people that make a community exciting. New businesses may also be reluctant to conduct business in an area where they have to adhere to strict rules.

So, What’s Better?

The debate gets very heated. What’s certain is that unless an entire neighborhood is in support of historic designation, the approval and transition of a neighborhood from non-historic to historic won’t be successful.

From our perspective, and we’ve seen a lot of neighborhoods, just because a neighborhood lacks historic designation doesn’t mean that it’s complete chaos. Often, row house neighborhoods do just fine.

Another cafe/pub in Fell's Point.

The Perfect Row House Neighborhood

South Street in Philadelphia, PA.

South Street in Philadelphia, PA.

I’ve lived in three great row house cities: New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Say what you will about the quirks and negative things, all three cities have an abundance of row houses. But what makes a really great row house neighborhood? What if we started from scratch?

Creating the Ideal
Row House Neighborhood

We can start with William Penn’s original concept for Philadelphia. Arranged in a neat rectangle-shaped grid, the avenues were wide, and the spacious lots allowed for each home to have a garden. He wanted the city to be situated near commerce and tradespeople but the outlying areas to remain pastoral. William Penn was wise  to design public green spaces into the city. Even a small park is a wonderful asset. Along with quiet places, playgrounds are also requirements for a good quality of life for many types of residents. Larger parks are great for concerts and sports.

Penn wasn’t very keen on the idea of crowded, attached dwellings because in Europe many large cities had been plagued by huge fires that consumed much of the urban areas, so he made sure to allow for a lot of elbow room in his concept. If Philadelphia hadn’t gone through the population boom that it did, Philadelphia might have stayed as spacious as Penn intended. However, people wouldn’t have built homes between the blocks and we wouldn’t have the wonderful small streets that we have here. The small, in-between streets are often hidden from main roads and provide privacy and intimacy that you don’t get when your house faces a busy street. People who live in on such streets often form mini-communities. These small blocks are wonderful for children since cars aren’t always zipping by. A balance between the broader streets and avenues, and the small alleys and narrow blocks, provide a nice variety of options in the ideal row house neighborhood.

Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New York

Court Street, a main shopping thoroughfare in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New York.

The corner delicatessen is a staple in New York City. Often, the first act of independence for an urban child is the unaccompanied trip to the corner store. These small mom-and-pop establishments are usually run by local people and nearby residents frequent them daily. Often, you will run into your neighbors and get a quick update on the local news and gossip. A vital part of any urban neighborhood is its community and the corner deli, or coffee shop, or nail salon (lately they’re everywhere!) is the essential meeting place.

Of course, it’s nice to go shopping on a larger scale and other great stores to have within walking distance are a bakery, butcher, produce stand, someplace like The Spice Corner (Philly) or Sahadi’s (Brooklyn), a fish monger, shoe repair, dry cleaning, and a hardware store. Most urban row house neighborhoods have a few streets that are lined with stores. In Philadelphia:

  • Fabric row on 4th street
  • The Italian Market on 9th street
  • Passyunk Avenue in South Philly

In Queens New York:

  • Metropolitan Avenue
  • Bell Boulevard

In Brooklyn New York:

  • Court, Smith, and Joralemon Streets

These are just a sample. In well-established row house neighborhoods, there is almost always a main street with shopping. Typically, the stores are built within a row house structure and people live above the shops. Shopping in a row house neighborhood is more like visiting friends.

The ideal row house neighborhood will have readily available services such as a post office, police station, firehouses, banks, veterinarians, hospitals, public elementary schools, public gyms and swimming pools, daycare, places of worship, and public libraries all within walking distance.

Ideally, several row house neighborhoods would be situated around a central urban hub for larger business and municipal buildings, not to mention theaters, zoos, universities, and museums. It goes without saying that any ideal row house city must have a good public transportation system connecting the smaller row house neighborhoods to the city at large.

Aesthetically speaking, not every row house must or should look the same. It’s nice to have variety on different blocks. Materials and size shouldn’t vary too widely within a block but not all blocks need to look alike in order to create a visually pleasing neighborhood. It’s more important to have every house well-kept and every block clean.

Above all, any row house neighborhood needs to be safe. The local government and community must be committed to providing and contributing to this.

Of course, when you live in such an awesome place, you’re going to get guests. I am such a fan of the bed and breakfast. They’re local and work within the structure of a neighborhood, unlike a high rise hotel.

And there you have it. Most of this is readily available in most urban row house neighborhoods, even right here in Philadelphia, which is why I like them so much.

How to Organize a Successful Row House Block Party

One of the quintessential practices in urban row house living is to throw a block party. There are as many ways to throw a block party as there are blocks. This article touches on the basics and benefits.

In any urban area, a strong community is important and a strong community begins with great neighbors. A block party is probably the most fun way to get to know your neighbors. Often, the party is a perfect ice breaker and once you chat a little bit with your neighbors, over tasty treats and a beverage or two, you’ll find that it’s easier to be neighborly because you become more familiar with each other.

The idea of organizing a party for an entire city block might seem daunting but block parties are casual. Most of the time you can keep it very simple and certainly, if you are throwing the party for the first time, you may very well want to stick to the very basics which include neighbors, food, music, and beverages.

Getting Neighbors on Board

In order to make sure enough people on your block actually want a party, someone will have to knock on doors or make phone calls. Usually the person who is willing to talk to the neighbors, is probably best suited to be the party organizer. However, if the block is fairly big, a few people might be best to cover more area.

The process for choosing block party particulars should be democratic but it helps to have one person, or a small group, be the facilitator. Good communication is really key to a successful block party and it helps if residents can easily contact a point person.

Communicating With The Neighbors

Usually it’s hard to get all the neighbors to come out and chat together. Ways of communication with all the neighbors at once include collecting email addresses and using emails to send out memos about party updates, or doing things the old fashioned way and dropping notes into everyone’s mailbox, requesting for replies and sharing what information has been gathered previously. The nice thing about email and memos is that people can answer at their leisure, as opposed to using the phone.

A great way to keep things democratic is to utilize questionnaires. With a lot of neighbors’ opinions to coordinate, questionnaires can help keep issues organized. Responses can be tabulated which ensures decisions will suit the most people. Don’t be afraid to send out multiple questionnaires. Keeping them short makes it easy for people to respond in a timely manner. Definitely make sure that any time sensitive inquiries, like those relating to contractual items like hiring entertainment or a caterer, are clearly noted with a deadline for submitting responses. Finally, make sure people have enough time to respond.

Start the Ball Rolling

Typically it takes a few months to plan a block party. The more elaborate the party, the more time is needed for planning. A good rule of thumb is to start planning the party at least three months prior to the event. Some of the first things needed are to figure out a date by polling the residents and establishing the planners.

The street needs to be closed to traffic for the party. Most cities have a form available for download on their web sites. A majority of the residents have to sign the permit application. Even if neighbors aren’t going to attend the party, they can still sign the permit application. It’s best to collect the signatures well in advance of the deadline for submitting the application, starting even before a date has been picked. Most cities want the application submitted about a month in advance. Before the application is submitted, the date and any contractual decisions, like DJ or caterer, should be finalized. It’s much easier to postpone the date than to change contracts, especially with non-refundable deposits.

Food and Beverage

There is no party without food and beverage so these are two of the most important things to decide on, after the day of course. The good news is that almost any way of feeding people goes. Some blocks leave it to each family to set up camp in front of their own houses and feed themselves. Most of the time people make enough to share and there is random grazing from one house to the other that occurs. Another option is to organize a pot luck and have everyone sit together. For a more elaborate party, the block may coordinate finances and hire professional caterers. Most block parties are BYOB, however a more structured event might have communal beverage distribution, such as a keg.

Music and Entertainment

Having some music on in a nice touch for any block party. Depending on the size of the party, sometimes all that’s needed is someone’s stereo speakers turned outwards or a small boom box. Otherwise most DJs have packages for block parties. Double check with rules about noise levels to avoid complaints to the police.

If there are a lot of children on the block, chances are they’ll be ok with the novel idea of running around in the street without have to worry about being run over. Parents can chip in for budget-friendly art projects and volunteer for story time. Artistic neighbors might want to consider putting on a talent show or face painting. Otherwise any type of children’s entertainer suitable for birthday parties, will also be fun for a block party.

The Home Stretch

As the date approaches, the organizer should hold a block meeting to make sure all the residents are ok with the agenda and have a chance to voice any last minute concerns. If the party is more complex, the organizer might want to have additional meetings. By this time, residents should also be aware of what tasks they’ll be responsible for on the day of the party, such as clean up.

On the day of the party, close the block off as soon as possible. Sometimes the city will provide horses to block the street. However, using a row of garbage cans with a streamer between works well too. Depending on the street and city regulations, sometimes you can park a car in the street to block access. Once the street is blocked off, thoroughly sweep. After that it’s just a matter of setting up places for the entertainment and food and having a good time.

After the party, remember to clean the block. The organizer will have to be vigilant about forming a clean up committee or they might get stuck cleaning the entire block on their own. Usually, most of the neighbors readily help out and it’s not a problem.

Originally posted May 2008.

Beyond the Block Party: The Evolution of One Block’s Party

It isn’t hard to organize a block party (see our post about organizing block parties) and the benefits of neighbors getting to know each other is invaluable. So it’s not surprising when a block party instigates more community activities among neighbors. Craig LaBan, a food critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote an article on May 1, 2008, called “Rowhouse ritual: Block parties morphed into ‘family meals’ – three sets of busy neighbors taking turns making Monday-night dinner.” In the article, Craig, who lives in a 1860, three-storied row house in Philadelphia, explained how block parties have helped transitioned his block into a very close knit community.

During the ten years that Craig has lived on his block, he has seen a shift from older residents to more young families. As more families moved onto the block, the block parties have become more frequent with informal “parties” for most holidays as well as random celebrations prompted by neighbors who’ve made too much dinner, perhaps, and need to share with the others. Their community goes beyond the block and many even vacation at the shore together.

Specifically, Craig and two other households found that they were all too tired to make a decent dinner after their kids’ Monday night swim team practice. So they decided to cook for each other, in turn. Every Sunday someone makes enough food for all three families and passes the food to the others via casserole dishes and soup pots. When asked about the welfare of the dinnerware, some of which inevitability gets left behind, Craig said with neighbors living within feet of each other, it isn’t hard to track down M.I.A. items.

As for the menu, the choices are not complicated. Craig says “these are family dishes.” Aside from the main dishes, often the neighbors will make side dishes, desserts and salads as well. He says people put a little more effort than if they were just cooking for themselves and that the dinners have “brought out the best home cooks in us.” The pickiest eaters are often kids and Craig says the meals have expanded their horizons. Often having the food come from a neighbor will prompt them to try some to “be polite.” For the parents, it can be a friendly competition to see whose meatballs, for example, are better. But the best part is that it’s a nice way to have a home cooked meal on a busy night.

This will be the second year that LaBan and his neighbors participate in their ritual of Monday night meals, coinciding with the second season their kids are on the swim team. With this special exchange between only a few neighbors, do the other neighbors get jealous? Craig says that although there is a core of neighbors who do a lot together, all the neighbors on the block enjoy a cordial relationship with each other. “You always worry that someone feels excluded, but with everyone in the same swim class…[the dinners are meeting a] specific, practical [need].”

LaBan adds, “when you work with your neighbors, sharing food, there is a level of intimacy and involvement that goes beyond your normal neighbor relationship. I think it’s definitely part of the proximity of the row home neighborhood that makes this possible.”

Originally posted May 2008.

Red peppers at the famers' market.

Shopping at a Farmers’ Market

Indian Corn at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market.

Indian Corn at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market.

Originally published Fall 2009. Photos: John Sommo

For nearly as long as there have been cities, there have been open air markets. As people started to live in closer proximity, there wasn’t room to grow produce or raise livestock. Farmers, who lived in the outlying areas of development and could grow things, would bring their surplus to the city to sell. Shopping at the outdoor market was a part of the daily domestic routine, where you got everything from dinner to news.

The evolution of the supermarket made the open air market obsolete. However, recently, the popularity of the farmers’ market has increased and, for many urban dwellers, shopping at the local market is a weekly tradition. This renewed interest in open air shopping seems to be a result of people becoming more conscientious about where their food comes from and the resources it takes to get the food into the city. Many wish to support the local farm economy and feel better knowing there is a face behind their produce that they can actually speak with. In some cases, people just enjoy getting back to basics and tradition.

In 1745, an outdoor market was established in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. The market catered to the growing neighborhoods in south Philadelphia such as Queen Village. In 1804, a firehouse, the first in the U.S., was built at the head of the market area, giving the market its current name of Headhouse Square. Over the years, the original market area was demolished and replaced with a gallery of brick columns that support a gable roof and arched ceiling. The market floor, and surrounding streets, are cobblestone making this market very picturesque. Headhouse Square market has been in near continual use since its establishment, making it the oldest such market in the United States and was designated a National Historic Landmark in November 1966.

Veggies at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market.

Veggies at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market.

From May through December, every Sunday, Headhouse Market hosts a farmers’ market from 10 am to 2 pm. Shoppers can purchase anything from fresh bread, produce and meats to jewelry, flowers and handcrafted items. If an immediate delicacy is desired, there is a squeezed-while-you-wait lemonade stand, a scrumptious burrito tent as well as plenty of fresh baked goods to choose from. For a few weeks of the season, the local animal rescue offers pets for adoption as well.

Below is only a preliminary listing of farmers’ markets in cities which also have a lot row houses. Farmers markets are not limited to urban areas, however. To find a location near you, just Google your town and farmers market.

New York City

Greenmarket Farmers Markets
Daily at various locations around the five boroughs.
http://www.cenyc.org/greenmarket

Philadelphia

Headhouse Farmers’ Market
Open Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., May 3rd through December. At the Headhouse Shambles, 2nd Street between Pine and Lombard streets.
http://www.thefoodtrust.org/php/headhouse/

Red peppers at the farmers' market.

Red peppers at the farmers’ market.

Boston

Mass Farmers Markets
Daily at various locations around the city.
http://www.massfarmersmarkets.org/

San Francisco

Various Outdoor Markets
This is comprehensive listing of many outdoor marketing in the San Francisco area.
http://www.sfgate.com/eguide/food/farmersmarkets/

Baltimore

Baltimore Farmers Market
This outdoor market offers an assortment of items. Located at 212 Holliday St., Baltimore, MD 21202. Tel: 410.752.8632
http://www.insiderpages.com/b/9852945094

More Information:

About historic Headhouse Square

The history of Headhouse Square.

New Market at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

 

An assortment of fall squash and onions at the farmers' market.

An assortment of fall squash and onions at the farmers’ market.

 

Fresh squeezed lemonade at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market.

Fresh squeezed lemonade at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market.

 

 

South Street is the main shopping, restaurant, and nightlife area of the neighborhood.

Taking a Walking Tour of Queen Village

Although these are row houses in Queen Village, they are not the ones that were on tour. Homeowner privacy is important.

Although these are row houses in Queen Village, they are not the ones that were on tour. Homeowner privacy is important.

Originally posted June 2008.

If you live in a row house neighborhood, chances are you have to walk past other people’s homes on a regular basis. And, if people leave their curtains open, most find it impossible not to sneak a peak inside. It’s even better when a front door is left ajar. Drawn like a moth to a flame, I slow down and linger just a little longer to see how people design their row houses.

Fortunately, for the row house voyeur, many urban neighborhoods have annual open house events where obliging home owners let complete strangers walk through their homes for a moderate fee, which ensures that people with less than wholesome intentions don’t wander in.

This past May, I participated in the “Walking Tour of Queen Village,” as a house-sitter. When you’re not scheduled to house-sit, in this case there were two shifts, you can take the tour yourself. Afterward, sitters and homeowners have a wonderful party in our local Mario Lanza park.

Besides being a great experience, I got to market RowHouse Magazine and make some new friends. I was really surprised to meet someone who had heard of the web site and am really excited that word is getting around. It just so happens that she is the proprietor of Lovely Rentals here in Philadelphia and has been a great contact to add to our growing list of RowHouse friends.

A rare example of wooden row homes from the 18th Century.

A rare example of wooden row homes from the 18th Century.

Of the 16 stops on the self-guided tour, six were currently occupied row houses. They varied in size, style, and age. They were a great representation of the diversity of row homes in Philadelphia. I wish I could include photos with this review but “no photography” is a standard house tour rule. If you see the article, “Queen Village: The Pleasant Place,” you can see similar homes in this neighborhood.

House number one, no specifics for this review, was a modified Trinity-style house with one room on each floor and three, above-ground, floors altogether. I passed through a small, tastefully decorated living room to get to the backyard. This beautiful, outdoor space had lush greenery situated in stone borders and steeply, sloped stone stairs leading down to the kitchen/eating area. Having the kitchen in the basement is a typical arrangement for Trinities. Along the path, there were also little tiles mosaics. Above this peaceful space, I could see the angled extension to the second floor. The owner had left the blueprints for this extension on his office desk. A house-sitter told me that he had designed the alterations to to the house himself and over the years, the visitors on the tour had been witness to the many changes.

I passed through the kitchen and back up the spiral, pie-slice, staircase, also very typical of a Trinity. The owner had turned the space into a photo gallery. The most interesting feature of this unique home is the bathroom. The tub was placed in an unconventional middle spot between the bathroom and the bedroom. On either side, was glass so that one could sit in the bathtub and see both the front and the back of the house. The area was entirely mosaic tiled in shades of blue and small mirrors. I really wish I had a photo to share since my words don’t do it justice.

House number two was a more traditionally laid out row house with two rooms per floor. Again, this home had the dining room and kitchen in the basement so to liven up the space, the owners had a beautiful landscape mural painted on the wall. In Philadelphia, home owners are not afraid to bring bold art and color into their homes.

A rare example of wooden row homes from the 18th Century.

A rare example of wooden row homes from the 18th Century.

By the time I got to house number three, quite breathless from running around, I realized I should have been taking notes. Like house one and my own house, house three was a Trinity. However, house three was the most original with one room, about 12 feet square, on each of the three floors and probably not more than 600 square feet total area. The owners had restored it to like-new condition. Like all Trinity homes, this had a very narrow, winding staircase. I asked the owner how she got her normal sized, antique furniture into the rooms. She told me they had taken out the windows during the renovation and hoisted the furniture up. As part of the renovation they also outfitted the house with appliances specifically for small spaces and low environmental impact.

Another unique feature of number three was that it is one of seven that are situated in the middle of a block. In order to get to these homes, you must go through a gated passage, inbetween street-facing homes, to get to what is essentially someone else’s backyard. Except in this case, the backyards are filled with these little row homes and a small courtyard.

House number four was a great example of how adaptable the row house is. The owner bought the adjoining house and broke down the walls, creating a double-wide row house. Although the inside was redesigned to create modern and open spaces, the homeowner retained the historic facades. This was the only house with a young child in it.

Some of the oldest houses on the tour occupy Workman Place. These date from the mid- to late-1700s. Today they are rental properties managed by the Octavia Hill Association whose mission is to provide safe, clean houses for lower-income residents while still making a profit for the owner. It is a model retained from the work of Octavia Hill, the namesake, who developed responsible landlord best-practices in Victorian London. Unfortunately, none of the houses were open to visitors.

New row homes in Queen Village, Philadelphia.

New row homes in Queen Village, Philadelphia.

Number five was a luxurious modern town house with all the comforts one could ask for. This is the house I got to house-sit for, telling visitors about the den, library, guest room, and bathroom with matching wallpaper and shower curtain. It was the largest home on the tour at nearly 3,000 square feet. Unlike the older homes, this home had a garage. In Philadelphia, all new-construction rowhomes must provide off-street parking. Previous owners of this home include several local sports celebrities. The current owner was a very gracious host and walked most of the guests through personally.

The last home on the tour, number six, was the oldest we could walk through. The owner had expanded the original home, which he dates to the 1760s, by purchasing the Trinity behind it and building a bright airy connecting space between the two. He also bought the property next door, demolished the house, and created a parking space and outdoor area.

So many of these homes I would love to revisit. It was incredible to see what people have done with their homes, big and small. Some have worked within their limits and some have expanded creatively. In all the homes, the possibilities are only limited to the owners’ imaginations. It was also great to meet fabulous row house dwellers who are willing to share their homes with the public. I can’t imagine a better way to promote the row house life!

Additional Information

Queen Village Neighborhood Association

 

Old Swede's Church, Philadelphia.

Old Swede’s Church, Philadelphia.

 

Bear Park.

Bear Park.

 

Row homes in Queen Village.

Row homes in Queen Village.

 

Fabric Row, 4th Street, Philadelphia.

Fabric Row, 4th Street, Philadelphia.