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

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RowHouse Magazine

Letters from RowHouse

Before this blog was established, I wrote a monthly letter to the readers of RowHouse Magazine. As I go through the website to better organize it, I decided to move those to this blog, where they naturally fit better. It’s been a fun walk down memory lane!

You can read any of the original posts by clicking around in the archive for this blog, which goes back to 2007, the year we started writing about row houses.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been at it for six years!

Why do I love small row houses in the city?

It seems like just yesterday I Googled “row house” and only came up with random sites, most about businesses with row house in the name. Nothing I found spoke to me about the architecture and history of row houses and there was very little about the people who live in them, a group I was about to become a part of. Occasionally I tripped over a random article, lurking in cyberspace, but nothing really reflected row houses as a vibrant and vital component of urban life. So, I got the idea in my head to publish a web site that featured nothing but row houses, the people who live in them and how they live in them, and the places in which row houses are built. I didn’t aim for perfection but I did want to show a diversity I felt was sorely missing from what little I had found. Cheered on by friends and family, many of whom help out with photography and source material, I’ve been able to keep things going.

Part of being a good journalist is to be objective. As we’ve progressed, it certainly has become easier to step outside our house—a departure from one of the first articles I posted, in desperation to complete the issue, that was about my old apartment. But since this is an editorial, I thought it would be nice to knock down the wall for a moment and explain why I am such a strong advocate of the row house and urban living.

Although I think city living and row houses are fabulous, the lifestyle is not for everyone. And good thing, because not everyone can live in a row house since there aren’t enough, at present. I think row houses have gotten a bit of a bad reputation – perhaps some less than fabulous design choices in the fifties, perhaps because they are predominantly working class dwellings. In any case, I thought it was about time someone start to show row houses in a more positive light and along with the row house, also the lives of the people who live in row houses. People, who don’t live attached because they have no choice but who choose row houses on purpose. But why?

To start, you can read some of the articles we’ve written about residents in Ridgewood, Pennsport, Middle Village, or Olde City, with more on the way.

And, because we’re getting personal, below are my own reasons why I own a very small row house.

I didn’t want a house that took hours to clean. I’m not lazy but I have better things to do. My husband would like a little more space and a garage but even he will agree that our house is just the right size for us to manage with our very busy schedules. Additionally, I like to know where everything is which is paramount to keeping things running smoothly. Since I am absent-minded, the less space, the fewer things, the easier this is for me. If I had more space I would be hopefully disorganized and probably very miserable and inefficient. Besides, I really can’t be trusted and would probably shop too much which would be catastrophic for our budget.

As a first time homeowner, knowing that maintenance expenses can escalate quickly, I didn’t want more than we could handle. Likewise, our energy costs are lower. We use less because the other houses insulate ours. Typically we only have to heat or cool one room of the four as the others stay relatively constant. Even in the dead of winter, with no heat on at all, the house stays around 53 degrees. In the summer, with only the windows open, it rarely goes above 80 except on the top floor.

In the times ahead, American society as a whole, is going to have to rethink what necessity and luxury mean. I figure I might as well just start off being thrifty and space conscientious and save myself the trouble of having to adjust later on.

I fully admit that this is my own thinking. However, row houses come in all sizes, from tiny to huge, and all styles, from historic to contemporary. That’s why I love them and write about them. They work for just about everyone.

Although row houses are predominantly urban dwellings, not all row houses are in the city. But I think the best sort of row house living is in row houses in the city. The best way to explain why is to share my my typical day:

I wake up around 6 am, provoked by a cat who’s nearly as accurate as the electrical alarm clock. His method is to purr really loud and lick my face until I get out of bed. He’s relentless. Half asleep, I climb down the stairs, trying not to fall down them, tricky tiny colonial stairs that they are. On the way to the bathroom I tickle my daughter into semi-consciousness and deposit the still-purring cat on her bed. About an hour later, we’re finishing up our breakfast and getting ready to go. My husband drives to work. He doesn’t have to since public transportation is convenient for us. We don’t even need a car, a blessing in hard economic times. However, he’s a mechanic and driving makes him happy and because we only have one car, it’s a luxury we can afford, for now.

Around 7:20 am, my daughter and I begin our commute to school and work. People can’t believe we walk about two miles but it’s our special time together. It’s 40 minutes of chatting and watching the world change around us, interacting with life instead of watching it pass quickly through a car window. I’m not distracted by anything other than walking so I can pay almost complete attention to her, very valuable for a full-time working mom. If the weather’s bad, we take a 10 minute bus ride.

At the end of the day, I pick my daughter up — her school is three blocks from my office — and we either walk, or get a ride from my husband, typically on bad weather days or on days I go running. He starts dinner while I run for about an hour, which I do because it’s cheaper than the gym and if I don’t, I can’t eat dessert, which I love. As soon as I get home we eat, followed by clean up, wash up, and a little quality time before lights out.

On the weekend we have museums, parks, playgrounds, a farmer’s market, and antique shops to explore without having to use the car. Weekly housekeeping takes about two hours max which leaves plenty of time left over for fun. Occasionally there is some handyman work that needs to get done but nothing takes more than a day. Specific to Philadelphia, we find history is everywhere, which provides hands on learning for our daughter. Much of what’s available to do is free and with so many free things to do it’s easy to forget about not having extra money.

I think we enjoy a good quality of life with a nice balance of home, work, entertainment, and exercise and we’re able to do it within a reasonable budget. I’m aware that it’s not easy for all the pieces to fall into place and not everyone who lives in a row house is going to have an arrangement they love but it is possible. I do believe that there are things about urban row house neighborhoods that lend them to being able to best accommodate a well-rounded lifestyle, especially in tough times.

We’re catching our breath.

It’s nearing mid-January and I still haven’t dismantled my Christmas decorations and recycled my tree which pretty much sums it up. I had the best intensions on posting some neighborhood decorations but… well, just about now I wish this could be my only occupation but alas it’s a labor of love.

Anyway, onward we go into another year at RowHouse. We have several articles in the hopper including: a kitchen remodel with our favorite Middle Village, Queens couple; a departure into the world of the semi-attached; and learning how cleaning your row house can put you in a zen-like state of mind. Just as soon as I find my notes underneath eight tons of laundry that needs to be done.

More than ever, as I approach my two-year anniversary in my own little row house, I am devoted to row houses near and far. This year I hope to venture southward to Baltimore and Washington DC to share some of the wonderful row homes in those cities. I was very excited to read an article in The New York Times recently about how developers are making row houses in Germany that do not require heating systems. Apparently they are very well insulated and have a unique air transfer system that circulates the air with fresh air from outside but retains the heat. Absolutely facinating and absolutely green! Our own experience is that even without heat, it doesn’t really go below 51 degrees in our little house because by design, row houses are very efficient. As energy and resources become more precious, we imagine row house architecture will go through a revival, not only in the city but even in less urban places.

Finally, I got the most wonderful letter from a reader who wasn’t initially looking for a row house but ended up being a proud owner when her perfect house turned out to be one in a row. Happily settled in, she writes that she wouldn’t have it any other way. Our feelings exactly!

A Row House Summer

The weather is warming up and bringing row house dwellers everywhere out of their homes to hang out on their stoops and porches. Besides promoting the wonderful architecture of the row house, we want to share how wonderful it is to live attached to your neighbors. It is unlikely these days that I will be able to get into my house without stopping to say hello to at least one neighbor. During the weekends, our children will play long into the evening until we can’t ignore our rumbling stomachs and have to turn in for dinner. Occasionally, there will be an impromptu barbeque or pizza night at an obliging neighbor’s house. And of course, the time is nearing for our annual block party. These are the months I most love living in a row in the city.

There is more to a row house than just the house. I find that the people who live in row houses seem to be a little more willing to be neighborly. Private types would not want to be so close to other people. They would want their four walls and surrounding property. But people who are willing to live attached to one another seem to be more willing to be connected to their neighbors and communities. You have a front seat to their lives as they do to yours. I think when you have two walls in common, it leads to a closeness. It’s not a hard and fast rule – a few of our neighbors do manage to be very private and we try to respect that – but it’s an interesting observation.

Another issue that has caught our attention is the need for preservation. Historic homes are often protected but newer homes, those from the early to mid-20th Century, also need protecting. Even historic homes are at risk if the neighborhoods in which they are located don’t have adequate zoning and construction regulations. Too often, row houses are overlooked because they represent ordinary, middle-class housing. They don’t have the cache to merit enough attention. Row houses, which are great for sustainable city dwelling, are knocked down so that developers can build multi-family homes and apartment buildings which lead to over-crowding and over-development. It’s important that there be a balance of different kinds of housing to meet many residents’ needs and to ensure neighborhoods maintain a high quality of life that comes from a strong community. But in order to do this, people must protect the housing that already exists. We’re devoted, as ever, to promoting and protecting the row house and hope that it continues to have a strong representation in the urban landscape.

Row House on a Roll!

Wow! What an exciting month for us here. Our visitors have more than doubled this month, thanks to the new format and more frequent updating. It’s nice to be getting out there and making new friends!

We have some really nice stories in the hopper for upcoming releases, especially the next story in the series about the history of the row house in American and the analysis of how different architectural styles have been represented in this humble abode. Also, we’re going to visit some of the last remaining Federal period row houses in New York.

As we continue to cover row house enthusiasm on location, we’ll be doing a feature on the Queen Village House Tour right here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am privileged to be a part of this event, as a house sitter, and hope to meet some really neat people as well as homeowners who will hopefully lend us their stories and share their homes with us.

And of course we’re welcoming Spring with beautiful warm weather. The city is in bloom with fragrant cherry blossoms. Such a welcome from the cold gray days of winter. It’s been so nice to get out there and take some beautiful row house photography.

Happy Birthday RowHouse Magazine!

I am overjoyed to be celebrating the anniversary of our little web site. To celebrate we’ve made some minor changes to the design of the web site. We found it was hard to choose only the photos that fit in the space. By using flash, we can show a lot more in less space. We’ve also changed the homepage to a more update-friendly format. Going forward we’ll be updating more frequently.

Over the past year, we’ve gotten great feedback and made great friends. We’ve learned how to make our spaces a little nicer and we’ve visited places around the world, virtually speaking. We hope next year is going to be even better.

Even though things are going well, we’re not resting here at RowHouse Magazine. In the next year we want to increase our focus on the human element. After all, it’s not just great architecture that makes row houses so awesome. It’s the people living inside that make the difference.

Besides reaching an important milestone, we’re excited to share our first “on location” story about Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this fantastic neighborhood just off Boston’s Back Bay area.

It was also a special pleasure to discover that the root of row house architecture in America is right in our backyards, here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I can’t wait to continue my exploration, which begins this issue with a retrospect of row houses in Philadelphia.

Finally I want to extend special thanks to all the people who helped us out this year and continue to do so. Thanks to our staff who help with editing and photography because I can’t be in eight places at once. Special kudos are deserved because this is a labor of love. Without your support, who know where we’d be. Thanks to the awesome people who we’ve interviewed this year for our articles. Thank you for being willing to share your stories and take the time to talk to us. And finally, thank you to all our readers who make all this work worthwhile. Thank you!

Happy March Dear Friends!

Welcome to March! I’m happy to have survived our first issue and the transition into a bi-monthly publication. More than ever it feels like we’ve got our feet on the ground and are off to a great running start.

I continue to meet the nicest people in my travels and make new friends who share our love of row houses.

Additionally, it’s been a very exciting month for me personally as my family made our dream of owning a historic row home a reality. We’ve faced some interesting challenges I hope to share in the next few months as we adapt to our new surroundings.

I want to extend a special thank you to our neighbors in Queen Village who really came to our rescue as we dealt with a non-functioning heating system during the coldest week in February. Philadelphia is certainly the city of neighborly love!