Row House Sampler – Greek Revival Row Houses

I’m constantly taking photos of row houses, many of which do not make it into proper articles. Below are row houses in the Greek Revival style. Homes like this were built during much of the early through mid-19th Century in just about every major city in the Eastern U.S.. This style was also very popular in London. For more information about the Greek Revival architectural style, read our Guide to Greek Revival Row House Architecture post.

When looking at historic row homes, many times you see a crossover of styles with elements from more than one style. These have Federal elements and the third photo has Second Empire elements.

Greek Revival Row House

Greek Revival Row House

Greek Revival Row House

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!

Perfectly Combining Sophistication and Historic Sensibility in Jersey City

I am pleased to introduce Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong. They own a beautiful Georgian / Greek Revival row home in Jersey City, New Jersey that they have lovingly restored. Their home is a wonderful juxtaposition of comfort and elegance with a great respect for the history of their home.

Where is your neighborhood?

Richard: Downtown Jersey City, New Jersey.

Richard: Jersey City is a city in transition — particularly since 9/11, 2001, when a lot of New Yorkers moved across the Hudson River. It’s an amazingly diverse community; there actually feels like there’s a sense of community here, and we’re only 25 minutes by the PATH train away from mid-town New York. We live in the Harsimus Cove section of Downtown, and there are about 3-4 connected sections within the city that comprise the Historic Preservation District, safeguarded by the JC Historic Preservation Council.

Is your house historic?

Richard: Yes, our house was built in 1833 — at least that is the earliest deed to the property that we’ve been able to investigate by examining public records, but regardless, the house definitely falls between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. I am not certain of the style but I think Georgian is the closest.

Exterior of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Exterior of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Any famous structures or neighbors nearby?

Richard: At the time our row of four houses was built, the only other structures nearby were the Baptist Church on the far end of other corner, and Grace van Voorst Episcopalian Church around the corner from us. Both churches were two important stops along the Underground Railroad. Jersey City, in fact was a big hub of the Underground Railroad because many slaves were brought to freedom there and then safely transported to other abolitionist safe spaces. In our house, we’ve always thought it strange that the basement door had only one lock and it was on the inside of the door, rather than the obvious outside of the door. We’d like to think that our house, too, was perhaps a part of the Underground Railroad. Hiding folks in the basement, with only access out provided when the coast-was-clear, seems like a pretty ingenious method to hide people in safety.

How long have you been living in your row house?

Richard: We moved in on July 4, 2002.

Front hall of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Front hall of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

What made you decide to embrace the row house life?

Richard: We always knew that we would find the house that was meant for us if it “sang to us.” The moment we crossed over the threshold on to the original red and white Minton tiles, we elbowed each other and nodded that “this is what we’d like to be shown by the realtor!” We had been looking for several months with another realtor who was showing us everything but what we had asked to see. And on some days we would drive from one freak show to another. Finally, we went into a building that, probably at one time, was a beautiful, elegant mansion but now just stepping on the staircase made it pull it a foot away from the wall. We turned and ran… literally!

Richard: We made an appointment with a new local realtor recommended to us by friends. We got to the appointment about 30 minutes early so we figured we’d walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the area. Michael, unable to pass by a stoop sale, points to a tree, with a sign reading “Parlor Sale” and wanted to go in. I was nervous about being late for our appointment but he convinced me that we’d be in and out of the parlor sale quickly. We followed the arrows up to the parlor floor, noticing that the entire first floor was covered with moving boxes and stacks of furniture. We then asked the guy running the sale why he was moving — because it seemed like such a beautiful house. He told us it had something to do with the owner selling it. We asked, “This house is for sale?” “Yes,” he replied and went on to tell us who the realtor was — the exact person we were supposed to meet in 30 minutes. We ran to the office, asked for the realtor, and told him he was about to make the easiest sale of his career. To his credit, he did his due diligence and showed us one or two more homes before giving us an “official” walk-through of what we just knew would be our new home. We made a counter offer to the current owner and he accepted it, pending inspection. So, as far as we are concerned, row house living decided to embrace us!

Dining room of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Dining room of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You mentioned in your original post on HGTV’s “Rate My Space,” that your home is one in a row of four that were built for one family. Your house was the last to remain in the original family’s possession. That’s an amazing history. Is there more to the story?

Richard: The only things remaining to the story are that we loved the house from the minute we saw it, realized that it had “grown” biomorphically — layer upon layer of improvements — e.g. handmade parquet floors in some rooms laid directly on the original pumpkin pine, a huge copper bay window in front of the house extending out from the dining room (it’s really a large piece of folk art made by the last owner’s father). There was an 80 year old rose bush in the back yard which was ripped out by the tenants living here before we bought the place, so we’ve planted new Don Juan climbers in that spot (the only climbing rose with a scent), the basement has the original hand hewn beams, (Michael: The structural beams are logs!). All of the doorknobs are placed lower than they would be on today’s doors since people were much shorter when the house was built.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You’ve done a beautiful job renovating and capturing the original style of the interior. Did you find a lot of original details? What sort of research did you do to keep with the period style of your early 19th Century home?

Richard: We have not touched anything in the house structurally, and the house needed very little renovation, per se — Pearl, the last family owner and her sister, hermetically sealed all of the old details beneath 70s paneling and drop ceiling acoustic tiles and shag carpeting. When the man who bought it from the estate removed all of the “mid-Century” improvements, all of the original wainscoting, mirrors, lincrusta and agalypta walls coverings, and beautiful flooring had been preserved. What we’ve tried to do is follow the shapes that already exist in the house (e.g. curved walls, patterns on the lincrusta) and chosen furnishings that reflect those shapes. One thing we did try to avoid, however, was anything Victorian and tried to keep things more Edwardian and masculine in feel.

When you chose your furniture and decor elements, did you adhere to an overall plan or did the style develop organically over time?

Michael: When Richard and I sat down to discuss and choose the colors for the entire house, we did so in about 45 minutes. Once chosen, we drove to the paint/hardware supplier in our neighborhood and offered him a list of the paints we needed… 53 gallons in all. (His eye’s completely bugged out of his head!) Although the color pallet appears simple, many rooms have up to four or five historical colors and different finishes too. Since it is an old house, we decided it should look and feel like one. By avoiding white (except for the trim work in the bathroom) it offered a warm and nest like quality. And since the house didn’t have electricity until the early 1900s (stumps of gas lines are still visible in every room) we both agreed that smoky colors would have been the best way to re-tell that part of it’s past. Although the painting took several years… plastering, patching and sanding, sanding, sanding… our originally chosen palette was carefully followed. Brown-tones, rich tans, satin black, musty olive greens, and a coral red were colors that were used again and again. The century old delicate wall treatments were minimally repaired and repainted and then treated with painterly glazes to accentuate their detail. Since our living room is just that, a living room, the color green for me best symbolizes it. The green sharkskin silk draperies were made of the same color to add luxury but to minimize them at the same time. The dining room is also monochromatic in shades of brown with drapes made of yards of silk to match.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Michael: The furniture was chosen for it’s simplicity, comfort, practicality and scale and although it all looks kinda’ old, it’s a mix of this that and the other… antiques, floor-room samples, Salvation Army, stoop sale rescues and garbage night discoveries. (I can cure leprosy with a coat of paint and Richard could rewire the Chrysler Building!) Since everything in the house is skinny and tall, everything we’ve added to the house is vertical. We’ve focused on vertical elements – stripes point up (notice the pin-striping on the couches) high back chairs, columns, draperies… tall, tall, tall. (If you can’t beat them, join them.)

Michael: And then to make the house look and feel like the Addams Family might have once lived here, something large and black was integrated into every room. That paired with the new and spooky additions – the secret wall that swings open to reveal the basement, the bookcase that unmasks a guest room and a cabinet that mysteriously lowers to reveal yet another place for guests to spend the night – make for a surprise in every corner.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Did you adhere to the original dimensions of the rooms? Or have you opened the space up?

Michael: Except for some minor alterations, we’ve kept the rooms and the footprint of the house exactly the way we found it.

There are always challenges with owning an historic row home. What issues have you faced and what are some solutions you’ve used?

Richard: We live in a designated historic district and so sometimes the bureaucracy slows things down, but it’s all worth it. All of the houses in our row had been painted over the front brick sometime in the 50s-60s and looked horrible — red paint with a black stenciled “pointing” that never matched the actual brick and pointing beneath. We had our house stripped first, and had to make our case with the Historic Commission as to why we didn’t want the new pointing to be toothpaste white as they were insisting. Our feeling was that we wanted our house to look like a house that was built in 1833, not 2002, and to look like an old home and therefore wanted the pointing to look like it had been exposed to the elements for all those years. We’re happy that we won that decision. Two of the other three houses in our row did the same. The fourth house in our row, on the corner, has a store beneath the living quarters, and they haven’t yet stripped their brick. Their house is painted to match the house across the street from it.

Richard: Another challenge we had when we purchased the house was that the former tenants had decided to put a garden in the front and a water-feature in the backyard — each of which covered the airspace/windows that had allowed the house to breath for 170 years (these windows were probably originally used as coal shoots). So we had a lot of problems with dampness in the basement until we got rid of the piles of dirt covering the windows. Then, when indoor plumbing was installed in the late 1800s/early 1900s, all 4 houses were put on one sewer line connected from the back, leading to the avenue 3 houses away from ours. Over time, with the use of modern conveniences, more bathing, etc., the original sewer lines just rotted and we had a raw sewage emergency three Christmases ago. The municipal utilities crews were out immediately and we each got a separate sewer line from our homes directly out to the street in front. Had we not been four houses joined together on one line, the work would have cost each of us upwards of $20,000, but because of the original sewer set up, the city worked for free.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You’ve been very environmentally conscientious with your home. Share with us some things you did to make you older home more earth-friendly.

Richard: We’ve replaced the energy inefficient appliances as we’ve proceeded and have replaced all but two windows with thermal pane models. We put our boiler on a thermostat and keep the temperature a few degrees cooler than we would like and just wear sweaters and layers. Our upstairs toilet, which is part of the original house’s indoor plumbing has a beautiful, ornate porcelain bowl, and at one time probably had a wood tank with a chain. Somewhere along the line, a back tank was jerry-rigged onto the old bowl. To improve the system’s efficiency, we put water-filled bottles into the tank to save water with each flush, since the original bowl is not up to code but too beautiful to remove. At some point, we will have it removed and restored and perhaps even reinstall the ceiling wood tank which they still sell in catalogs.

Jersey_City_1830_Row_House_08

Michael is the author of “Clean: The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing.” I find that cleaning my home puts me into a wonderfully happy place. Up to this point I thought I might be insane. Is there really a zen to cleaning? Do you think that cleaning a row house especially increases one’s tranquility? (At RowHouse we like to think row houses are extra special!)

Richard: Michael is definitely the best person to answer this question, particularly since his recipes are non-commercial and use ingredients that were most probably used by people in the 1800s.

Michael: When we clean our homes with materials that don’t poison us much of the drudgery melts away. I’m a neat-nick and hate a mess so cleaning – at least for me – is an everyday occurrence. It’s amazing how just-about anything can be cleaned and once done – outside of painting it, re-building it, re-plastering it, or re-wiring it – the simplest renovations can occur. Our forefathers were right… the purest and simplest means to cleanliness are indeed the best.

Obviously you are very proud of your home and the love shows in the attention to every detail. What is the best thing you like about your row house?

Richard: It’s not so much the pride we feel in the house as the love we have for it. It is a very modest house, probably built for a family of factory workers or housekeepers for the wealthier families a bit further south from our house. But everywhere we look, there is something that makes us smile and appreciate it all over again. There are several rooms per floor and I often don’t go into some for weeks at a time, and so it’s like discovering a hidden treasure all over again.

Michael: I not only clean a little bit in our house every day I also work on a project in our house every day… it’s how I procrastinate. It’s the way I slip away and find my center. I too am surprised by rediscovering something I’ve completely forgotten about. You know the saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” I’m sometimes so focused on some detail that I forget the larger picture. But when I sometimes walk into the house I share with my partner Richard, and I see the sunlight across the dining room table and the surfaces all seem to perk up in the way I had imagined… it all seems worth it.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

About the portrait in the library, is he a relative? Former resident? He’s just perfect there. For our story about the Joseph Sims House we were able to get a portrait of the original resident. It was nice to put a face with the house.

Richard: Even before we owned this house we had a small cottage in Northeast Pennsylvania, for which we started collecting portraits — the man in the library was our first purchase. Since then we’ve been avid collectors of miniature portraits as well as folk art from the 1800s. Michael can explain more about them all.

Michael: Many of the paintings that we own are objects that we’ve discovered and feel that they tell a story. When we walk friends or visitors though our house we point out the pictures of the “Dead Folks.” Although many of the faces are unknown and the painters names obliterated over time, the life-sized full-figured self portrait of a man at the top of the stairs through research has been identified.

Michael: We found the painting on e-bay. Since I’m always looking for that “needle in a haystack” I found it listed under oil “potraits.” (I’m always looking for misspellings… e-bay doesn’t have a spell-check system.) The seller wanted to unload the painting and its amazing original frame and the only information we were told was that the original owner had come from Denmark. Knowing that, I visited the The Skagen Museum in Denmark’s virtual tour and voila! There was an other painting that looked like the one we had just purchased on e-bay. The artist’s name is Peder Kroyer. With minimal research, I found mountains of support material (including a photo found online of him in exactly the same clothing from the 1880s) and, once here in our home, we were able to have it appraised and authenticated.

Greek revival row homes in Beacon Hill, Boston.

Row House Architectural Guide: Greek Revival

Type of Row House Architecture: Greek Revival

Years Popular: 1825-1860

Typical Characteristics:

  • Promanant and ornate cornices
  • Flat roof
  • Symmetrical façade, though entry is often to one side
  • Windows typically six over six double-hung sash
  • Entry or porches with prominent square or rounded columns
  • Stories are taller than earlier homes
  • Narrow windows around front door

Architects:

  • Alexander Jackson Davis
  • Minard Lafever
  • Robert Mills
  • Alexander Parris
  • Ammi Young

Examples of Greek Revival Row Houses:

Transitional, Federal to Greek Revival, row homes in Queen Village.

Row homes in Queen Village.

Greek revival row house in Philadelphia.

Greek revival row house in Philadelphia.

Greek Revival row homes in Philadelphia.
Greek Revival row homes in Philadelphia.

Greek Revival row homes on Portico Row in Philadelphia.

Greek Revival row homes in Philadelphia.

Greek Revival row homes in Philadelphia.

Greek Revival row homes in Philadelphia.

References/Sources:

The Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual

The Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual

The Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual

My professor of architecture at CUNY Queens College once told me that there are cities of houses and cities of apartments. He was speaking of urban growth and architectural development in the late half of the 19th Century and said that, at that time, apartment buildings were on the rise in cities like New York and Paris. He added that in cities like London and Philadelphia, however, they were still predominantly building row houses.

Philadelphia has a lot of row houses, more than any other type of dwelling. In fact, the city has such a rich history of row houses that the row house could be the official dwelling of Philadelphia, if they had such a thing. Row houses don’t just exist in the older parts of the city but also radiate outwards. Even in areas where detached homes could have been built, and indeed were built, you’ll still find row houses. It’s almost as if planners conscientiously decided to represent every size and style house within each neighborhood, making sure residents would have a choice between small row houses, elegant attached townhouses, and detached mansions. This hasn’t stopped since, even these days, there are still row houses being built here.

With such variety, homeowners need some guidance. Rachel Simmons Schade from Schade and Bolender Architects, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Office of Housing and Community Development and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, all worked together to produce the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual. The Manual is a concise guide to owning a row house. The contents touch on all major points and are presented in short, bulleted lists with a decent list of resources at the end. It’s not an extensive volume on home ownership and maintenance but it’s enough to prompt homeowners to stay on top of things and ask more effective questions when it’s time for home improvements.

The Manual is divided into four main sections, an introduction to row houses in Philadelphia, the general inside of a row house, the general outside of a rowhouse and, finally, things dealing with how an owner relates to their specific row house.

“The two-story dwellings of this city are beyond all question, the best, as a system, not owning to the single family ideas they represent, but because their cost is within the reach of all who desire to own their own home.” – Frank Taylor

There are three periods of row house development in Philadelphia: Colonial, the 1800s and Post-1900. For each, the Manual provides three examples of typical dwellings based on size: small, medium, and large. Although there are more styles of homes in Philadelphia than nine, usually you can find enough similarities to match your house with one of the examples. With each unique style, there are things to consider. For example, the Manual points out that older houses may have very limited outdoor access while newer homes have off-street parking and garage issues.

The next section addresses the exterior of the row house. In a city with many homes over 100 years old, it’s especially important to promote good maintenance and awareness of specific issues that may arise as a home ages. Because most of the homes are made out of brick, either entirely or partially, there are special notes about taking care of brick. (See our article about historic masonry as well.) There are also pictures that show what damage looks like so homeowners can be on the lookout. When covering other features like windows and porches, each section includes little red notes indicating things that are very important to know. The overall tone is that it’s important and preferable to keep the row as close to original as possible. The Manual also stresses importance of keeping the row maintained, well lit and clean. A beautiful block can increase property values and decrease crime. It often doesn’t take more than keeping things clean and tidy but well maintained exteriors, trees, plants and flowers help too.

The Manual isn’t without a sense of humor. When discussing parking, they suggest you get rid of your car since Philadelphia is a highly walkable city. In reality, all homes built in the last ten or so years have off-street parking for at least one car and parking on the street is doable with resident parking permits.

Next, the Manual moves inside. Row homeowners have the most flexibility inside. Often row homes can be entirely gutted inside creating a blank slate. The vast changes in row house interiors, which are readily observable in the over 300 years of row house architecture represented in Philadelphia, are a testament to the superior versatility of the row house. However, there are still some things to consider. The advice given in the Manual is practical for any homeowner, with a special focus on row homeowners in Philadelphia who may have to deal with quirky things like small spiral staircases. For example, they caution against buying furniture that is too big for the space or won’t fit up the stairs. The Manual suggests best practices when designing closets, powder room interiors and buying appliances. They conclude the section with a very basic introduction to the structure of a row house.

The final section is about how the row homeowner relates to their specific row house. Maintenance is important on many levels. If your home is not properly maintained, it will lose value, become unsafe and make the entire row look disheveled. There is a really thorough check list that will help homeowners stay on top of maintaining their row house. There is an additional checklist of things that should be considered when renovating or doing other major construction to the house along with a guide to all the places you will need to go to to get permits for your project. The Manual mentions that in Philadelphia, because of all the historic houses in the city, they have specific property owner guides for people who own historic homes and want to preserve the original character.

In closing, the Manual adds that “between 1887 and 1892, nearly 45,000 new houses were built, most of which were rowhouses, worth an average of $3,000. Many of them were variations on this two story model. More citizens owned their own single family homes in Philadelphia during this time than any other major American city. Because of the growing industrial production in the City, good affordable housing for working people was a necessity. Between 2001 and 2006, 1,350 new homes were built, at an average cost of $160,000 each.”

The Manual includes a quote from Frank Taylor, author of The City of Philadelphia as it Appears in the Year 1894. He wrote, “The two-story dwellings of this city are beyond all question, the best, as a system, not owning to the single family ideas they represent, but because their cost is within the reach of all who desire to own their own home. They have done more to elevate and to make a better home life than any other known influence. They typify a higher civilization, as well as a truer idea of American home life, and are better, purer, sweeter than any tenement house systems that ever existed.”

The Manual isn’t definitive but its short format allows it to be available for free download at http://www.dvrpc.org/HistoricPreservation/Tools/pdf/PCPC_rowhousemanual.pdf. It’s a great, easy to understand and use, guide that will get row homeowners started and involved with the maintenance and domestic lifestyle of living in a row house in Philadelphia.

More information:

The Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual (free pdf download)

Schade and Bolender Architects LLP

Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

City of Philadelphia