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Abington, PA 19001


1636 Brisbane Road
Silver Spring, MD 20902
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Row houses are cool. Our first one was in Roxborough. I learned plastering, electrical (cross yourself, close your eyes and connect the wires...) and resisting the Devil when my neighbor bought new vinyl windows while I rebuilt the original wood ones.


They are also a real PitA. With everything (and everyone) in America growing bigger, they have 30" front doors, 30" halls, 7'6" ceilings, postage stamp back yards, plumbing from before time began and electrical systems that defy comprehension.

That said, they are usually affordable, have great neighborhoods, lower fuel bills, proximity to active urban life, and fewer rooms to furnish. But modern life being what it is, they could use a couple more rooms to furnish and to stick the kids in or to have friends over.


In the rowhouses I have designed, new or renovated, the common issues are: new rooms off the back, a new kitchen and maybe a PR on the main floor, laundry upstairs and a person-sized bath on the upper floors. Oh, and throw in a roof deck for the fireworks. I have also deepened the basement (not for the faint of heart!), replaced the front brick facade and cleaned up the Living room-to-kitchen visual axis.



In a new home in the Italian Market, this axis gave us an archway to the dining room, large pass-through at the kitchen, and large windows opening the a deep back yard. Nice if you can get it, but a cool growie or sculptural element on the back garden wall can be rewarding as well. We also moved the laundry upstairs, deepened the basement for the new HVAC systems and a workshop, and managed to squeeze in a new powder room and a bath on each floor. The best part is the new stair to a cupola on the roof with a full deck across the back, with great views of the fireworks and the South Philly sunsets.


For adding new rooms to the back, the typical one is over an already-expanded kitchen. The structure is already there and it is a logical place for a bedroom, bathroom, office or what have you. It usually depends on the existing bedroom and bath layout what you can do there. The other cool thing is that since they are so simple you can go very modern or very traditional and have it work.


In South Philly, below Wharton, we added new rooms on the rear, revised the plan for a new laundry area and updated bath, used a window seat for a roomier feel in an office (soon claimed by the daughter) and a deck. The deck is a natural adjunct to the new 3rd floor family room.  For a deck, we can use either the rear room roof on the upper floor or, if you want an additional bedroom or family room there, add stairs to the main roof. That's where the view is!

If the place is derelict, my challenge is to take a ruined shell and turn it into a house a family would love, and to keep it in character with the neighborhood. In some cases, the structure will be in dire condition due to years of neglect, unsaveable and we will have to rebuild from scratch. BUT even that has opportunities since you can build better and more efficiently an innovatively than before. All in all, it is a cross between a sailboat and a Rubik's Cube, but with care you can open things up a bit and make a 200 year old house the (cozy) home of your dreams.