It’s in the Details (series)

At first glance, row houses may seem rather uniform. However, there are often small details that separate homes if you take a closer look. In an older row house neighborhood like Queen Village, Philadelphia, or the West Village, New York City, the homes are often quite a bit different than their adjacent neighbor.

These small elements of personality are some of the best things about row houses; the little signatures that owners put on their homes. Below is a collection of close-up photos of some of the nicer personal touches we’ve seen on row houses during our travels. As we discover more charming details, we’ll update the page.

Under the stucco might very well be a Greek Revival row house. What’s particularly interesting about this home, is that the white borders around the window are carried the full height of the home. The light teal door is just the right pop against an otherwise neutral palette. Altogether a very nice presentation for a row house. But, our favorite part is the iron bouquet of flowers just above the door; sophisticated, yet playful. Definitely in tune with the artistic nature of many local Philadelphia residents.

Stucco row house with iron bouquet.

Stucco row house with iron bouquet.

This charming row of tiles is from a Federal/Greek Revival brick row house, likely built in the mid-19th Century. In Philadelphia, this style of home is predominantly brick. The particular home features a multiple-step stoop and the first floor is a parlor floor that is a few feet above the sidewalk. It’s a very common row house aspect when your basement is actually functioning space, such as for a kitchen and dining room, to allow for the basement to have windows. The lower area on this facade has been covered in stucco and the upper area was left brick. They decided to do something a little creative in the joining area. The tiles go the full width of the house but, as you can see by the brick, they aren’t very large. Just a lovely little punctuation, a comma if you will, between the floors!

Row house details.

A Gorgeous Greek Revival Row House in Fairmount, Philadelphia

You just never know what’s going to happen during your long training run for the Philadelphia half marathon!

Philadelphia is one of the great row house cities in the United States, and maybe the world (we like to imagine it so, lol!). Certainly, there is a great diversity of row homes here, representing centuries of architectural styles. So, it’s easy to find great row homes while you’re out and about.

Still, it’s always a nice surprise when you not only find a superb example but also have the owners invite you in, even though you’re sweaty and they have a party to prepare for.

Meet Joe and Steve’s very elegant Greek Revival row house! Here, Joe is tending to his garden; just before inviting me in!

Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

What caught my eye in particular are the lush window boxes and the iron work around the parlor floor and entrance. A house from this period doesn’t have to have small-pane windows but it’s just a lovely touch, referencing the city’s rich Federal architectural past. I walked closer to get a better look and saw the door which is just beautiful! The iron work on the door is very cohesive with the railings around the window box.

Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Joe said that the house used to be gray, pretty much inside and out. They decided to paint the 1896 Greek Revival row house a crisp white. Against the white, the green shutters contrast and punctuate the facade nicely. Most of the garden in the front is also green, giving a very coordinated face to the street.

It’s a typical feature of Greek Revival row homes to have a small foyer leading into the hall. Like many houses in this style, the hall and stairs go along the side of the home. These entryways always have wonderful tile or wallpaper and this is no exception. Look at that molding! The window above the door would have opened, allowing for heat to escape. It’s always hard to capture the scale of a space but those are quite high ceilings.

Entrance - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Here is the first look into the house. The owners have maintained the original layout of the home. Joe told me that when they bought the home in 1987, the owner had requested they keep the home a single dwelling and it remains as such to this day. He also mentioned that throughout the home, the molding is largely original.

Stairs - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Turning around before moving on, you can see the foyer and doors from the inside looking out. One thing to notice is that the interior light is very muted. Although the house does have electrical lights (naturally!) and can be perfectly bright, the owners have plenty of indirect lighting options which creates a very period feel to the lighting in the home.

Entryway and hall - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

After walking into the hall, to the right is the doorway into the parlor. Although having the door and the stairs on the left of the house leaves the house asymmetrical, once you enter the formal rooms, the elements, such as these windows, are symmetrically placed. Unfortunately, my iPhone doesn’t take the best photos when the room is dark and the windows are bright and sunny, so some of the details are lost.

One thing to note is that when you have a parlor floor, or when the first floor of a home starts a few feet above street level, you can have lovely full-height windows without losing too much privacy to sidewalk traffic, except for curious runners.
Parlor - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
The back half of the parlor contains a grand piano which illustrates the scale of the room. Despite having plenty of space, you can see that this room multitasks as a formal parlor, library, and music room in true row house style.

I’ve got better light in this photo so you can see the molding and plaster work on the ceiling. The red wallpaper fits appropriately with the original period of the home. Victorians were very keen on wallpaper, which was the fashion on both sides of the pond. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask if the wallpaper was based on an original design.
Parlor - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Through the door is a small passage Joe that calls the gallery. The art displayed through the home is really an incredible collection and every small area holds a treasure. The home practically frames the art.

Continuing on, the next room is the formal dining room. Again, the wallpaper is really on-target for the period. Joe said that when they purchased the home, all the walls were gray and all the trim was white. Although they agreed not to alter the layout, they did liven up the walls.

Another really nice touch is the black and white marble floor. This is a very classic look found in many grand historic homes.
Formal dining room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Often, in a row house that hasn’t been overly renovated, you will see fireplaces. Joe says that there are two remaining working fireplaces in the house. Originally, this row house would have had two on each of the main floors and one in the kitchen for cooking. Below is the mantle of the dining room fireplace. The white and blue pottery is very complimentary of the wallpaper.
Formal dining room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
There is nothing like built-in storage!Built-in china cabinet - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Past the dining room is the kitchen which is quite lovely. However, Joe and Steve were getting ready to entertain and were bustling about so no photos. There was a finish on the window that, when the light and colors from the garden shone through, looked like the watery stained glass of a Tiffany window.
Powder room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Just outside the back door is an oasis of a backyard garden. These personal green spaces never cease to amaze me. Often, although not on this block, the streets don’t have any trees on them and look quite bleak. What happens behind the row homes often more than compensate.
Garden - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Garden - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

After visiting the garden, it was back through the house to progress upstairs to view the remaining public rooms.
Entry hall - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
If I had a bathroom like this, I would never leave it. Thanks to all the reflective surfaces, this room practically glows – even without a light on. The windows are leaded stained glass and the light fixture, also glass, is just tremendous. Inadvertently, I’ve taken a selfie in my running gear.
Bathroom - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
More of the fantastic bathroom. I have to say, I spent a good deal of time in the house going “oooh” and “aaaah.” My hosts were very patient and entirely gracious. Here, with the light on, you can get an idea of the reflective surfaces of the mirrored tile and the glazed subway tile. Dazzling would be the best way to describe it.
Bathroom - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Past the office area was originally a walled off area that served as a closet. There was paneling on the walls. One day, Joe shared, he drank a lot of coffee and, with a friend, pulled all of the paneling, as well as the wall, down. When they were done, they were left with a small room, overlooking the roof over the kitchen. His friend built wooden stairs, visible in the lower right corner of the photo, that lead up to french doors and out onto a roof deck. Here is another example of how the house frames the art.
Enclave - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Here are the doors opened and leading out to the roof deck.
Roof deck - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Finally, I asked if this medallion was original to the house. Joe told me that it was salvaged from the home he grew up in, also an older home painted Quaker gray with white trim, that had been demolished due to fire. It is a touching tribute from one house to another.

Mantle and wall decor - Greek Revival Row House, PhiladelphiaWalking through the house was like taking a journey. Everything has a story, from the house itself to all the carefully curated things within. Considering the Victorians themselves were master collectors, it seems quite fitting that Joe and Steve carry on that tradition.

I can’t thank Joe and Steve enough for sharing their beautiful row home with us!

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Renovation & Restoration

Georgian row house in Philadelphia.Row houses come in every age. If you have an older row home and you wish to preserve the authenticity, the following resources may prove useful.

Please note that listing a product or company here is not an endorsement of the product and/or its quality. Listings here are meant to be useful and informative but not promotional. Companies listed here have not paid compensation to be listed.

 

Why We Like IKEA

There are people who love IKEA, people who hate it, and people who tolerate it because it serves a purpose. I happen to be in the first group because IKEA appeals to my northern Germanic sensibility about order and it stays right about where I need furniture to fit into my budget. Because you have to assemble IKEA yourself, it definitely fits into the DIY category.

Our row house stairs are not furniture friendly.

Our row house stairs are not furniture friendly.

IKEA is fairly ubiquitous these days but I discovered the store around 1997 when it wasn’t quite the phenomenon it is today. For a person whose hobby is the study of decorative arts, the idea of being barely out of college and able to afford new furniture was amazing. I started with a few pieces of IVAR and today nearly my entire house is furnished with IKEA. Since I am not a modern person, I’ve appreciated the more traditional IKEA collections. IKEA is sort of like the tofu of the design world. You can work it into any theme. But I never appreciated fully it until I moved into my Philadelphia trinity/Federal row house with it’s spiral stair case.

I am always jealous of people who have an eclectic collection of furniture that creates a cozy look. I also love antiques and solid wood furniture with dovetail joins. I always dreamed of filling my house with a livable combination of furniture that looked or was, in fact, old. However, when we found that we couldn’t get our furniture up the stairs, it was the flat-pack to the rescue. Just last night, I spied a fabulous little piece hanging out on the curb that I thought for sure would make it up the stairs. After an hour of shoving, back to the curb it returned. It would seem that I am destined to own furniture that can be built inside the room. That means either commissioning pieces or IKEA.

IKEA is a DIY dream. The instructions are fairly easy to follow. You can hire help just in case you get stuck. Many of the pieces are unfinished can be painted. Recently there has been a movement of IKEA hackers who do amazing things by using the IKEA raw materials and making completely customized furniture out of it (http://ikeahacker.blogspot.com/). We’ve done a bit of customization ourselves. Our LACK table has legs from another model and we cut the side of our IVAR to accommodate a ledge in our kitchen. In total we have BEKVAM, IVAR, KURS, INGO, LACK, LESVIK, MINNEN, MIKAEL, POANG, and probably more I can’t recall right now.

Just about our entire house is filled with IKEA.

Just about our entire house is filled with IKEA.

So far it’s been a good relationship. I still get a sense of accomplishment when I put a piece together. Putting IKEA together is a family event now that my daughter’s old enough to help. I’ve made the meatballs at home. I use the comforter covers. I have IKEA dishes, towels, and flatware which I use everyday without fail. It’s never let me down. As my daughter grows, I know IKEA will help us evolve her room into something she will love and putting it together herself will hopefully give her a sense of accomplishment too.

Inspiration: Decorating Your Row House for Halloween

There simply isn’t enough time to capture all the wonderful decorations we’re seeing around the neighborhood! But, we’ll do our best.

We were out and about in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia and this lovely home caught our eye.

Northern Liberties row house.

The arches over the windows and doors are fairly unusual and I would love to learn more about the history of this home. Meanwhile, I thought their window was really very cute and the graveyard a nice compliment to the Gothic architecture of this home. It’s amazing what you can do on a window sill.

Northern Liberties row house Halloween.

 

Inspiration: Decorating Your Row House for Fall Holidays

Some of our favorite holidays occur during fall; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Oktoberfest.

Quite a few of our neighbors are getting into the spirit and have decorated their row houses and I thought I’d share a few for inspiration. Things are just getting started and there will be more posts to follow.

It doesn’t take much to accent your home. This is a very simple pine cone wreath with a bright orange ribbon. Elegant and understated, yet it totally pops against the black door. When it’s time to decorate for Christmas or Hanukkah, all they’ll need to do is change the ribbon.

Decorating your row house for fall - front door.Staying with the less is more theme, all it really takes are some mums and pumpkins. Stack them on your stairs and voila! Instant curb appeal.

Don't forget to decorate your stoop!

Some of the more grand row houses have fencing, which is great for decorating. The lights and leaf garland is very festive.

Autumn decoration on a Federal row house.

Of course, we’re currently experiencing summer-like weather so it doesn’t feel like fall but hopefully things will kick into gear soon. As for us, we’ve decorated our own little row house as well!

Halloween decorating for row houses.

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Research

A wooden row house in Brooklyn Heights, New York.Baltimore City Historic Society

Athenaeum of Philadelphia

Historic House Trust – New York City

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

National Parks Service – Technical Preservation Services

New York Historical Society

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

The Bostonian Society

Please note that listing a product or company here is not an endorsement of the product and/or its quality. Listings here are meant to be useful and informative but not promotional. Companies listed here have not paid compensation to be listed.

If you would like to be added to this list, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

Making Your Facade Fabulous

Federal row house window box garden.Often, it’s the small things that make row houses special. Take away the architectural accents and you probably find yourself in a fairly basic, brick box which is why row houses have such a bad reputation for being boring. Well, we don’t like boring! Additionally, summer is the perfect time to add a little charm to your row house.

If you’re lucky enough to have a front yard there’s a lot you can do. If you mix the types of plants and flowers you have, you can transition from season to season without ever having the front of your house look bare. Small ornamental trees like the Japanese Maple, Cascade Falls Bald Cypress, and Forest Pansy Redbud are perfectly scaled for smaller homes. A nicely pruned Holly or other evergreen will provide foliage year round. Just make sure today’s perfect little tree doesn’t turn into a monster that will fall on your house in future years.

Many row house dwellers have street facing homes with nothing but a stoop and concrete sidewalk. You can still can add some nature to your facade with window boxes and container gardens. Window boxes can range from inexpensive wire baskets to elaborate wooden boxes. Because they’re small, you can experiment with different plants and flowers. If you have a black thumb don’t be discouraged, there are very hardy plants that require minimal attention, such as a Hosta. Minimal attention will keep it fairly lush and Hostas come in a variety of colors. Ivy is another nice choice as long as you watch that it doesn’t attach itself to your walls and cause damage to your masonry. As a former plant-killer, I have found that if you take the little stakes that come with the plants and use them to make a watering schedule, it works out fairly well. I use a calendar and make notes on which days I need to water which plants. The process takes about 10 minutes, once a month, but I’ve been able to keep more plants alive this year than any year previous. It helps to hang the calendar in an inconspicuous place and buy a perky watering can that you will look forward to using.

Container gardens are equally nice if you have a little more room to work with. Usually you can stash a pot or two next to your stoop without getting a summons from the city for obstructing the sidewalk. A good rule of thumb is to take a look at what your neighbors have done and devise what you can get away with. Ask your local garden store what sort of plants work best in containers. To avoid people from walking off with your plants and to promote drainage, put a nice layer of heavy rocks in the bottom before you add the dirt and your plant. If you can fit a very large pot, you may even be able to grow some of the smaller ornamental trees and shrubberies.

If you’re ambitious and have a decent budget, shutters can add lots of charm. All About Shutters provides a decent repertoire of information for people looking for interior and exterior shutters. Before windows had glass, shutters would offer privacy and protection from the elements. Once glass windows began to be widely used, shutters still provided protection from storms and harsh weather. Today, most people don’t have functional shutters.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to install shutters on your house. If you are using functional shutters, which are especially nice if you have historic windows with glass panes that may be over 100 years old that need protecting, make sure you measure several times to make sure they’ll fit correctly. If you opt for decorative shutters, make sure you hang them close enough to your windows so that you don’t see a wide gap. They’ll look better if they look like functioning shutters instead of a random attachment.

Finally, summer is a great time to make sure the facade of your house is in good condition. No sense making it pretty if it’s falling apart. Inspect your masonry or siding for any evidence of wear or damage. Check your gutters to make sure water flows smoothly. Water can cause quite a bit of damage so you want to make sure it’s going where it needs to.

Acorn Street, Boston, MA. Source: Amanda Beattie

Happy Holidays from Row House!

Acorn Street, Boston, MA. Source: Amanda Beattie

Acorn Street, Boston, MA. Source: Amanda Beattie

It’s the quiet before the storm (not really – just figuratively) here in chilly Philadelphia. We spent the evening walking around, shopping for last-minute presents at some of our favorite local stores (Blendo on Pine Street, Greene Street Consignment on South Street, and Paper Moon on Fourth Street), where it’s more like visiting friends. We have a wide variety of stores, many very reasonable, and the sidewalks aren’t crowded, even this close to Christmas.

Over the last week I’ve really enjoyed my commute home. Yesterday there were carolers in front of a restaurant, which was a lovely treat even if it was only for the five minutes it took to walk by. Most homes are decorated really nicely. Many row homes don’t need much more than fresh greenery, little white lights, and red bows to look really festive. There are a few that are channeling alien life on other planets but it wouldn’t be the holidays without at least a few over-zealous light displays.

I’ve also really enjoyed having the Christmas Village to look at from my office window. It’s a family tradition to drool over the German decorations, drink Gluhwine, and eat wurst at least once and we’re planning on visiting once more before it ends.

With all this Philadelphia activity going on, it seems odd to post a picture from Boston but I discovered this wonderful photo during the ongoing content transfer and since we don’t have any snow, I thought it would be nice to share.