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At home in one-third of a historic spot near Rittenhouse Square

"It feels like a very high-end home, not like a condo at all," says one owner, "yet if the roof starts leaking, our responsibility is a third rather than a hundred percent."

Dan Baker (left) and his husband, Tim, enjoy sitting outside their home near Rittenhouse Square and chatting with passersby.
Dan Baker (left) and his husband, Tim, enjoy sitting outside their home near Rittenhouse Square and chatting with passersby.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

If walls could talk, Dan and Tim Baker’s Rittenhouse home would have some interesting stories to tell. The original 8,500-square-foot mansion was built in the 1850s, and at some point in its history, was rumored to be a speakeasy. A 13-foot mahogany bar remains in the basement, serving double duty as a gathering spot and storage area for the couple’s impressive shoe collection.

The home’s charm and history made it a must-have for the Bakers. In addition to the bar, a century-and-a-half-old floor-to-ceiling mahogany mirror hangs in the living room, and guests enter through the original single-slab marble floored vestibule.

“This home has the character of a historic mansion, yet it’s all brand new inside,” said Dan, a product manager at Comcast.

When the mansion was refurbished in 2014 and divided into three units, ex-Eagle Connor Barwin lived where the Bakers are now. He installed hand-scraped hardwood floors throughout and upgraded finishes. The Bakers’ unit is about 2,400 square feet with three floors, 15-foot ceilings, two bedrooms, and four bathrooms — two full and two half — and a huge basement. The bedroom windows let in lots of natural light, but the home’s original shutters, which open and close from the inside, can keep the room completely dark.

The couple enjoy entertaining guests, hosting movie nights in the basement on the oversized “couch boat,” and enjoying wine and snacks in the kitchen.

Energy efficiency is important to the pair, who created a fully integrated smart home — a Lutron system with Sonos speakers providing surround sound and smart switches controlled with Alexa.

“I’m a bit of a geek that way,” Dan said proudly. “That’s really convenient, especially when you have three floors and you’re going to bed and can’t remember if you shut off the basement lights.”

They also love their Rittenhouse neighborhood, especially their corner lot, which is also a school bus stop. Tim has built a beautiful garden in flower boxes and pots that surround two wooden chairs, a favorite hangout for the couple.

“People walk their dogs and stop and say their kids want to talk about the garden,” said Tim, a Pottery Barn retail manager, who recently installed a large birdhouse in one of the property’s trees. “It’s neat to see people loving it.”

The couple, together for 23 years, married in 2016 and moved to Philadelphia from Los Angeles 13 years ago. Having never owned a home before, they realized the time was right.

“In LA, there was such a difference in what was affordable,” Tim said.

They also appreciate the security of a newly renovated home that is structurally sound, but because it’s divided into condos, they own only one-third of the property.

“It feels like a very high-end home, not like a condo at all, yet if the roof starts leaking, our responsibility is a third rather than a 100%,” Dan said.

The Bakers got design help from interior designer Glenna Stone, who chose the colorfully ornate floral powder room wallpaper they took a leap of faith in endorsing. “You get comfortable with things and having a designer, especially one as visionary as Glenna, allows you to push the boundaries a little more and still feel safe,” Dan said.

They struggled more with her insistence that they not put a TV in their living room, which abuts the kitchen. “She wanted the living room to be a conversation place where people talk and not just watch TV,” Tim said. “But we spend a lot of time here, eating and hanging out in the kitchen when our friends are here.”

Their concession: a television that looks like art. When it’s turned off, they can choose from a variety of well-known artists or display personal photos. Otherwise, it serves as a high-quality television.

Eclectic artwork fills the home, from the Donald Wilson Roller Cookie painting in the downstairs powder room to the huge Michael Hafftka Small Man Sitting hanging in the upstairs hall. That’s one Tim appreciates much more than Dan.

“I have a friend who’s an art dealer, and he told me all art evokes an emotion,” Tim said. “Whether you love it or hate it, you have an emotion about it.”

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