The place was “a total wreck,” and the odor of a dozen cats and their byproduct permeated the house, but when Dan Clark saw the beautiful little plaster capitals on the first-floor archway, he was in love.
Well, sort of.
It took a year and a half of rebuilding and restoration, but the 25-year-old artist has turned the little South Philadelphia rowhouse into a mini-museum of the eclectic.
A painter by avocation and a historic preservationist by trade, Clark has rummaged through Craigslist, flea markets, estate sales, salvage yards, and, in one case, castoffs from a historic building to blend architectural eras in different ways.
For example, the staircase combines six different woods from 10 different buildings in what Clark calls “an ode to Frank Furness,” the legendary architect who designed the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. “I kind of puzzled it together,” he says.
“From refinished mid-century pieces to museum-quality Aesthetic furniture," he says, "every piece is unique and has been restored or transformed in my shop.
“One of the three bedrooms serves as my painting studio, while the basement is slowly transforming into a furniture repair workshop and occasional party space. I hope for this project to form a major part of my portfolio as I pursue more design work.”
There are two mini-time capsules: a kitchen and the upstairs bathroom, done in 1952 style. He even went online to find the right shade of green for the toilet-seat cover.
The 1,100-square-foot rowhouse, built in 1920, is the first home Clark has owned.
Before buying it in November 2017, he was living with his parents in Narberth while he finished at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, where he majored in painting.
Even before that, however, he had demonstrated interest in historical renovation, working as a teenager on interior restoration of the classic 1881 Maybrook mansion, an ornate Scottish baronial castle in Wynnewood.
Clark befriended the then-owner of the mansion and was able to get several items that otherwise would have been sent to salvage. These included the mahogany wainscoting on the walls of his entrance hall and the light fixtures from the Maybrook ballroom flanking his bed, which blend seamlessly with the eBay items that constitute the rest of the master bedroom.
When it came to finding a house, though, he realized that his vision outstripped his checkbook.
He started looking in Kensington and Fishtown but found the prices too high in the more desirable sections.
“The houses were so tiny," he says. "It just wasn’t my vibe.”
Even South Philadelphia seemed too pricey until he discovered the rowhouse recently abandoned by residents and cats.
“I had friends in the neighborhood, and the street was beautiful,” he says.
And of the eight houses he looked at, it was the one with the most long-range potential. A Realtor had bought it as an investment property and cleared it out but gave up on renovating it.
“It was a ‘worst house on the best block’ kind of thing,” he says. “There was space for it to grow. It had original character. I wouldn’t have been able to afford a house in this little pocket here if it hadn’t been a complete gut job.”
Clark also likes the Passyunk Avenue area. “It’s quiet,” he says. “I love my neighbors. My best friend from high school is my roommate.”
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