Many Ways To Skin A Row House

April 5, 2015 | by Ariel and Grace Diliberto


Across the city, architects and developers are finding new forms for the traditional row house, adding eclectic façades with layers of color and texture to the preexisting urban fabric. While a bright new skin doesn’t make up for unimaginative design, it does help enliven the streetscape, dominated as it is by brick and stucco.

Here’s a selection of recently constructed mostly infill residential row houses in Kensington, Pennsport, Bella Vista, and South Philly. This survey is just a small sample. In future articles we’ll take a look more specifically at multi-unit row house developments, where developers and architects have more room to reinvent the old form.

2231 Coral Street maximizes a small-sized lot | Photo: Michael Bixler

Built by Luval, Inc., of Milltown, N.J, 2231 Coral Street represents an innovative approach to a lot with an awkward footprint. The tall, yet exceptionally narrow form results in an adequate balance of square footage and lends to an interesting layout. The developer gave the building a subtle, complementary color and texture, which they carry through within the interior.

2064 East Arizona Street

2056 East Arizona Street (top) and 2064 East Arizona Street (bottom) match the scale of the older properties on the block | Photo: Michael Bixler


The block of 2052-2070 East Arizona Street includes visually striking new construction and more traditional rehab. The two new houses on this little block integrate into the existing block because they retain the two story scale; two-story new construction is a rarity.

The house at 2056 East Arizona Street, built by Ohm Construction, Inc., features metal panels of muted grays, which create a visual transition to the abutting row houses. Scope Homes, Inc. also utilized gray hues with 2064 East Arizona Street to serve as a visual connection with its neighbors, adding a few panels of bright yellow for visual contrast.

2415 Coral Street keeps with the scale of the block and showcases an understated modernism in its facade | Photo: Michael Bixler

2415 Coral Street, a project of Olde Glory Builders, is another rare two story new construction. The black casement windows combine well with the wood framing used also on the front door. While the materials are contemporary, the style is understated and fits in nicely as an end cap to this row of small houses. The developer also elected to preserve the mural on the rehabbed house, further integrating the building’s new, eco-friendly and innovative design with the neighborhood’s existing character.

2027 & 2029 East Huntingdon Street features large windows and a functional third-story balcony | Photo: Michael Bixler

2027 and 2029 East Huntingdon Street are sizable properties, but they sit well along the wide thoroughfare that is already flanked with large, three story homes. While the developer, United Makers, employs a strip of the omnipresent new construction black brick, they also feature attractive dark gray siding and smooth tan stucco for a tasteful and vaguely Mondrian façade.

We also appreciate that United Makers maximized natural light with large windows and installed third story balconies. They’re on the smaller side, but appear quite functional.

808 Carpenter Street stands out with its retro-modern design | Photo: Michael Bixler

These four new houses at 808 Carpenter Street are each 23 feet wide–about seven feet wider than the average Philly row house. Diverging from the palette of grays, blacks, and yellows, these Bella Vista houses, designed by Greyhouse Service Group, feature soft whites and grays with wood complements. Though larger windows would have been more gratuitous in the overall design, the square windows create a retro-modern appearance, reminiscent of the scarce brutalist architecture that can be found peppered throughout the city.

420 Federal Street in Pennsport is subtle, though it’s height is a selling point | Photo: Michael Bixler

The façade of 420 Federal Street in Pennsport is unremarkable, though we find the dimensions of MSJ Contractors’ tall and narrow building to be attractive and distinct. Despite its height, the building fit in well with the already variegated rooflines along the block.

1816 South 16th Street creates exciting visual dynamics between the variation in heights, window placement, and colors | Photo: Michael Bixler

We were excited to see the innovative design on the exterior of the reNewbold development in (where else) Newbold, nominally with the color palette. The row houses, a collaboration between Postgreen Homes, ISA Architects, Valley Green Bank, and LPMG Companies, are clad in gray, black, and aqua blue metal. The variation in height and window placement on these properties provides exciting visual dynamics, drawing the eye up and down along the roof and window lines. This kind of visual movement helps keeps the project from feeling monolithic.



  1. john says:

    sardines come in cans too.

  2. Carsten Johnson says:

    Remember some serpentine stone facades on Society Hill houses, Delancy St.

  3. Kenny G says:

    Something to consider with facades that incorporate multiple siding types is that each transition between materials must be flashed properly. Each transition is a likely spot for future maintenance issues, especially since different trades are involved (three different contractors for a brick/stucco/metal siding facade) and this style is new to residential builders. When maintenance issues arise, there is the potential for finger pointing, as a leak could be caused by each of those three trades.

  4. Jon Tungsten says:

    These houses are all exceedingly unattractive.

  5. Jon Tungsten says:

    All of these facades do a great job of being exceedingly unattractive.

  6. Scoats says:

    Wow. All but one of these are extremely fugly. And the lone exception is merely not ugly.

    It is possible to make a rowhouse that is both modern and attractive. We do have examples of those around town.

  7. eileen tee says:

    The facade of 420 Federal Street is a cover for ridiculously amateur construction. Different types of wood are stuck here and there on the floors and stair steps; looks as if they ran out of wood and filled in with scraps. The woprkmanship is a disaster, and one of the bathrooms has medicine cabinets that stick out over the sink, so if you are planning to lean over and wash your face, well, too bad! But go to see it if there’s an open house, because it provides comic relief!

  8. NickFromGermantown says:

    It’s funny. I didn’t want to make a negative comment, but after seeing these others I just can’t help myself. Almost all of these designs are so ugly. I really hope that these are not emerging trends.

  9. Leonard says:

    I prefer the Northeast Philly idea of an ENTIRE BLOCK of same looking rowhomes. i happen to prefer uniformity of the ENTIRE BLOCK……than a hodgepodge of eclectic buildings all screaming LOOK AT ME!

  10. TM says:

    “The two new houses on this little block integrate into the existing block because they retain the two story scale; two-story new construction is a rarity.”

    Let’s hope it’s a rarity because it’s incredibly stupid and wasteful. Philly is cursed by low-level neighborhoods (and building equally disproportionate towers in other parts of the city doesn’t make things any better).

    1. Steve says:

      Two Story construction is very appropriate for a very narrow small street — especially in the winter where there is little light to shed on a block that may be filled with ice and snow. You may not be as smart as you think you are in building higher on such a street where there will even be more darkness, leaving almost no natural light to penetrate and melt snow and ice.

      1. TM says:

        Oh come on. By what standards are these streets too narrow? I’m not advocating for excessive height but 3-5 story height is appropriate in most urban settings.

  11. Michelle C. says:

    Several of those identified as new construction are actually rehabs…they may be extensive rehabs, but are rehabs nonetheless. For instance, the stub of an old chimney on 2056 E Arizona is a dead giveaway that there’s an older house under there.

  12. Mary says:

    It does look as if these are all finalists in an “Ugliest House in Philadelphia” contest. But that house on Carpenter Street – how are those tiny windows even legal?

  13. John G says:

    I was relieved to see so many negative comments on this article. Every single one of the examples shown is an indication of the lack of respect for existing housing and neighborhoods on the part of both developers and their architects. They are the types of development that is ruining the character of Philadelphia.

  14. Jamie says:

    These are all so ugly. Yuck! 🙁

  15. Chris says:

    I’m a huge fan of Victorian era architecture; I absolutely adore it. Seeing things like this not only disrespects the original Victorian era character that these row houses had, it does a bad job of it. 808 Carpenter sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the stately older buildings surrounding it. When it comes to reconstructing the facades of older houses, like some of the buildings here, I always hate when the original detailing, especially the cornice, is removed. These row houses are one of Philadelphia’s defining aspects and these ‘eclectic’ replacements are almost disgraceful. I may be late to the party, but I just wanted to vent this out. Anyone who thinks these are ‘suitable’ replacements needs to get their head checked.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.