Hidden Row House Rows in Philadelphia – Queen Village

One of my favorite things about Philadelphia is the small, hidden rows inside of blocks. Most of the time, these aren’t visible from the streets and require navigating through passageways between other houses. Every now and then, I get invited to someone’s house or interlope during an open house and get the opportunity to view one of these little secret little rows.

The row houses below are situated in the middle of a block in the Queen Village neighborhood. To access the pair of rows, four homes on each side, you pass through a gate from the street and walk through the street-facing row houses. Often, there is a little courtyard between the houses and gardens. This particular pair has a mural and a bench.

Hidden Row House Rows in Philadelphia

Below, we’ve turned around and you can see the back of the street-facing row house. Technically, these homes are built within the original property lines of the street-facing house. During the 19th Century, Philadelphia had such a population boom that they were building these little rows wherever they would fit. If you needed extra income? Pop in a few extra row houses in your backyard.

Hidden Row Houses in Philadelphia

These are small row homes and the house I got a chance to view the inside, revealed a living room and kitchen on the first floor, and likely two small bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor; I didn’t want to impose. It wasn’t uncommon for these homes to have the kitchen in the basement, which would have made the main room larger. I also don’t know if there is a third floor loft space but it is possible to add a small space.

Hidden Row Houses in Philadelphia

The last home has a lovely bay window and in general these homes are small enough to be very well lit, despite the close quarters with the neighbors.

Hidden Row House in Philadelphia

These are rather small homes but they’re also very private, aside from your immediate neighbors. The outer, street-facing row homes buffer out most of the street noise and keep any creepy-types from lurking about.

Whenever I discover one of these blocks, and even after nine years in the city I’m still finding hidden blocks, it’s like finding buried treasure.

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!

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.

The Bitter Moretti studio in Manhattan.

The Studio of Karl Bitter and Giuseppe Moretti

The Bitter Moretti studio in Manhattan.

The Bitter Moretti studio in Manhattan. I took nearly the same photo but it came out entirely blurry so this one is from Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

During a recent trip to New York, we discovered this lovely row house studio (249 1/2) on East 13th Street. I can’t imagine a better place to work! Because of its small size, I imagine if it had been a regular home, it probably wouldn’t have survived. But, thanks to its famous owners, it’s here to be enjoyed today. It’s a very unusual house with a large stone sign, somewhat mixed architectural influences, and, only two stories. I’m always on the look-out for small row homes and since its neighbors are all much taller, this one really caught my eye.

The studio belonged to noted sculptors Karl Bitter and Giuseppe Moretti and was built in 1892 by Bitter. Bitter, from Austria, and Moretti, from Italy, were architectural/sculptural artists, active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They produced many public works and most likely met through a mutual friend, the architect Richard Morris Hunt (from the Daytonian in Manhattan blog) with whom they both worked. They only used the home as a studio and for only a year or so. The sculptors lived in an adjacent apartment building and no one knows why they stopped using the studio together.

When I looked up the sculptors to learn more about them, I discovered that Bitter produced architectural work for the Jayne House in Philadelphia, as well as the statue of William Pepper in the Free Library. I always love discovering another New York/Philadelphia connection!

Other noted works by the artists include:

A close up of the studio door.

A close up of the studio door.

Currently, the studio appears to be the office of a talent agency.

Columbia Place row house in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Row House of the Week: Columbia Place, Brooklyn Heights

Columbia Place row house in Brooklyn, N.Y.Columbia Place is a regular stop on architecturally-oriented walking tours of Brooklyn Heights. It’s a quiet street, protected from the noise of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway by Alfred T. White’s (see White’s awesome row houses) apartment building.

These four, wood-frame row houses, built in the 1830s, represent a row of cottages that originally included nine. Even more unusual are the intact porches facing a very quiet street. It’s one of my favorite blocks in Brooklyn heights.

Worries about fire typically made row house development more likely in brick or stone later on but before 1850, it wasn’t unusual to have some rows in wood and there are a few lovely examples in Brooklyn.

While I was looking around for some information about these homes, I discovered this listing – http://www.corcoran.com/nyc/Listings/Display/1955345, just in case you wanted to rent an apartment in one of them. My phone was taking horrible pictures this weekend; this website listing has much better photos.




Philadelphia row house during the holidays.

Philadelphia Trinity Row House

This is a lovely Trinity row house in the Queen Village neighborhood in Philadelphia.

This is a lovely Trinity row house in the Queen Village neighborhood in Philadelphia.

We recently came across this wonderful article that talks about Trinity row houses and the benefits of the small streets of Philadelphia.

In “My Own Piece of Dirt” by Juliet O. Whelan, she says:

“Some of America’s first urban workers lived in a unique type of Philadelphia home called a Trinity. Examples date from 1720. Trinities were built to house the artisan classes flocking to a burgeoning city; but while these workers moved on to populate America, the Trinity House didn’t follow them. But the Trinity and the narrow streets that contain them warrant a closer look.”

“A Trinity, as the name suggests, consists of three rooms stacked on top of each other – and that makes the whole house. A Betsy Ross stair punches through, basically an elongated spiral stair that is so narrow and steep that, instead of a railing for balance, you haul yourself up using a vertically mounted steel bracket.”

Trinities aren’t the only great small row homes in Philadelphia. Small Federal row homes as well as the workman’s row homes are equally wonderful, creating a cozy feeling to a big city.

To read the entire post, please visit http://www.metropolismag.com/pov/20120430/my-own-piece-of-dirt

The Workman's Cottages in Cobble Hill.

The Workman’s Cottages in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New York

The Workman's Cottages in Cobble Hill.

The Workman’s Cottages in Cobble Hill

Originally posted winter 2007.

These utterly unique, three-story, row houses in Brooklyn represent the ideal of Alfred T. White’s vision about working class housing. Built in the late 19th century to house the managers of nearby dock companies and their families, they accompany the near-by Tower Buildings which were built for the dock workers.

White’s focus was on decent housing for the working class that could still remain profitable. He also believed that working class housing should be beautiful and stylish. The cottages are a prime and well preserved example of Romanesque Revival architecture from the late Victorian period.

Another unique feature is the private lane these houses occupy. This row sits in the middle of a regular city block. There is a shared front garden complete with a fountain and koi pond. The impeccably landscaped garden is bordered by slate walkways. Behind either row, is a narrow passage of patios where the residents enjoy the shade of towering trees and privacy from the main street’s traffic. The entire block is gated.

At 11 and a half feet wide, space is of a premium. However, owners find they can gut these homes easily and rearrange the definitions as they please. Originally, the entrance would lead to a short staircase which would lead into a small parlor. The floors would have been split by a centralized staircase, which some have moved to the side in later years. Behind the stairs, there would be an additional room on the main floor. Down the staircase is a lower level kitchen and dining room and going up the staircase takes you to the bathroom and master bedroom. In total, I don’t believe the home is bigger than 1,000 square feet.

These homes had at least one fireplace on each floor and in the example I viewed, there was actually one in each room on the main floor, one in the dining room and the remains of one in the kitchen which might indicate two fireplaces per floor.

Learn more about these and other works from Alfred T. White.

Furniture for Small Rooms – Living Room Sofa

Finding the right sofa for your row house can be a challenge.

Finding the right sofa for your row house can be a challenge.

Small and/or oddly-shaped rooms are something quite a few row house dwellers have to deal with. Sometimes the room is long and narrow, or there are stairs against the only wall big enough for a sofa. And if you do think your wall is large enough for a sofa, you find that when you get to the furniture store, everything is two inches too long. It’s no wonder that RowHouse gets a lot of email about furniture options.

We often champion the flexibility and ingenuity of the row house dweller. There is no time this is more true than when furnishing a row house, especially with large items like a sofa. To be able to combine design and function in an often oddly-shaped space seems like an impossible dream, but it can be done.

Flexibility is Key

Perhaps it’s your first home and you had lofty decorating ideas you got from House Beautiful. Or, perhaps you planned on living in another home and find yourself unexpectedly in a row house, a smaller row house. If the reality is that you now occupy space-challenged rooms, you may have to throw out your original ideas about what your dream living room should look like. Make a list about what really defines your style in terms of fabric and texture – things that are flexible in their application and project that on what actually fits in the space.

For example, you may love the 1970s casbah look and desire a dreamy, massive velvet sectional. However, your new living room is roughly seven feet square. You may have to get a small, modern sofa. However, you can recover the little sofa in the velvet that you love and use throw pillows to add the texture.

Don’t forget color and art. Sometimes you will need to get functional (boring) furniture but color and art take up very little space and can set the mood beyond what a singular piece of furniture can do.

Be Opportunistic

If you can sit on it, it’s seating. Perhaps you often have a dozen people over and can’t fit permanent seating for 12 in your living room without blocking the door. Upholstered ottomans provide seating and storage, comfortable dining room chairs can be moved from room to room as needed, and floor cushions, which can be stowed under the bed when not in use, are all flexible seating solutions. When people come over, pile everything into your living room. When people leave, you can put things back so you can move around your house, and escape, freely again. Keep in mind everything people could sit on in your house and you might have more seating than you thought.

Function First

A sofa needs to be comfortable. What it looks like is secondary. It could be the most beautiful sofa ever, however, if it puts your guests in physical distress, it’s not a very good sofa, is it? If you host overnight guests often and do not have a guest room, you’re going to want to make sure it’s comfy for sleeping on as well.

Additionally, decide what the function of the room is. If you have people over every week, you may want more permanent seating options. If you don’t have people over all that often, it may make sense to borrow pieces from other rooms for when you do entertain.

Small Living Room Sofa Options

If combining chairs to create seating doesn’t thrill you, and you still want a sofa, consider the modular sectional. Often you can get just the right size and shape by combining different pieces. And often they separate, allowing for maximum flexibility. Unfortunately we can’t include photos but we’ve linked to the websites. We’ve also included some inspirational rooms.

Bo Concept

The Indivi 2 can be configured in any number of shapes. It doesn’t separate so it’s for a permanent arrangement. The Carmo is a modular sectional that can be rearranged as needed. Bo Concept is a modern design that offers clean lines.

Pier 1

The Broome Sectional is another modular option that can be rearranged as needed. This is a little more traditional and comes in several fabric options.


The KARLSTAD and KIVIK sectionals, both come in a wide variety of options. Like the Indivi, they don’t separate. They also come in a lot of fabric options and are so neutral, they’ll work with just about any style.

Crate and Barrel

The Moda Sectional Sofa is another flexible option that can be moved as needed. The single pieces are small enough to work in even the tightest corners.

Pottery Barn

Pottery Barn has several “build your own models” that offer several styles, many more traditional instead of the modern options we shared above.

Small Living Room Inspiration

This blog post on Andie Day Lifestyle offers several small living room ideas. We love the last photo.

This blog post on Nice Space shows another two rooms that could be row house living rooms. The first, with the sofa against the stairs is very typical of row house living rooms.

Real Simple Magazine often shows creative ideas for small spaces. This example is from a room that’s only 11 feet wide.

Forgive the ads on this page, but the picture shows a smaller love seat with an arm chair and floor cushions, which is a great way to have flexible seating.