This South Philly Home Has 100 Plants, a DIY Fireplace, & a Heart-Shaped Window

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Name: Valerie Green
Location: Philadelphia, Pennslyvania
Size: 1000 square feet
Years lived in: 2.5 years, owned

Valerie has lived in Philly for about 17 years now, and after graduating from Drexel University, she’s been working at the Urban Outfitters Home Office, on the Women’s Design team. She’s lived all over the city, from West Philly to Center City to North Philly and now has settled in South Philly. And after renting for several years, Valerie met with a realtor friend to start looking at houses. She shares her home story below:

“I looked at my house on Halloween (my favorite holiday) and honestly, once I saw the heart shaped window in the door, the exposed brick, and the claw foot tub in the bathroom, I was sold. The size is perfect for me and the location is great! The house was renovated just before I bought, and while very nice, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I’ve spent the past few years changing anything I can without undergoing too many major renovations. It’s nice to take things slow and work on my own time since nothing is urgent (and is pretty much all aesthetic) and big things like the plumbing, electricity, walls, floors, etc. are done.

Before I bought this house, I could barely hang a shelf without 10 phone calls to my dad with questions, but over the past few years I have amassed a collection of tools that I actually know how to use; wood and hardware and other miscellaneous supplies and have become quite handy. I still constantly call my dad needing advice for every project but I feel pretty confident with tiling, building small pieces of furniture, drywalling, and so many other things! Next up I’ll be building a few more pieces of furniture and someday I hope to finish tiling my entire bathroom (which I started over a year ago).”

This block has turned out to be one of the best things about this house; it’s a small street so it stays relatively quiet, and I’ve learned from my neighbors that at one point just about everyone on the block was related and I love that history. The neighbors have all been great… at any given time there are people out chatting with each other in the street; we help each other out with errands and dog sitting and plant watering; my one neighbor always shares her “Sunday Gravy” with me. There’s such a nice community feeling that has really made me appreciate living here, and it feels so much more important now. 

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: I feel like my style is a mix, with a lot of greenery to tie it all together. I try to just buy things I’m drawn to and figure out a way later to make it all work together. The way I see it, if I go with my gut and buy or make what I love, somehow it will all blend together. I guess I would say I’m a mix of vintage-rustic-slightly modern-boho eclectic… that’s a style, right?! I tend to change my mind all the time which makes it hard to pinpoint a style. One month I’ll want a rustic cabin-type space, the next I want something fancier, sometimes I want a clean minimal space, and other times I want to go the maximalist route. I’m constantly moving things around or re-working a room and generally end up doing everything a few times before I’m happy with it, but that’s just the way I work! 

I love having art on my walls, and I’m so lucky to have so many talented friends and family members who have gifted me their amazing work. I have other pieces mixed in that were gifts or bought locally from the artists, as well as some pieces I’ve made, and I’ve also started framing drawings from my 5-year-old nephew and 3-year-old niece and those are some of my favorites. 

The most important thing for me though is to have a home that feels comfortable, welcoming, and calming with lots of little things to look at and I hope I’ve achieved that. I love having friends over and always want people to feel at home when they are here, and not afraid to get comfortable or worry about making a mess. 

Plants are definitely a huge part of my home and style. My dad is a landscape architect and nursery owner, my mom and older sister are amazing gardeners, and my little sister is a tropical horticulturist, so I guess you would say it runs in the family!! I have so many plants but I just can’t stop! Every time I look around I find a new spot that needs to be filled with a new plant. Or I discover a new plant that I just HAVE TO HAVE. My sister helps with my constant questions on how to keep my plants happy and diagnose what they need, and also helps me find a lot of the specific plants I’m searching for. Whenever I come back to Philly from a trip home to Rhode Island, I’m that person on the train lugging bags of plants around. 

Inspiration: I don’t really have a specific point of inspiration; of course seeing what people have done on social media is always inspirational, and I especially love seeing something I like and then figuring out how to do that myself or make it work in my space. I also like to look at VERY expensive real estate to see what people do with their row homes and then think about how to incorporate some of that into my space and with my budget. It also doesn’t hurt that I work in a very inspirational office full of talented and creative people! 

Favorite Element: My front door! I don’t even generally like heart motif things but this door is just so cute and I fell in love. South Philly has lots of interesting vintage doors and I’m so happy to have one of my own!

Biggest Challenge: Dealing with living in a narrow row home and figuring out ways to make it unique can be a bit of a challenge. So many houses here have the exact same layout, so I’ve really been trying to turn the space into my own. I especially wanted to blend the somewhat awkwardly placed powder room so I built bookcases around the doorway, added a more interesting old door (purchased from a local guy off Craigslist) and now it’s one of my favorite spots in the house, showcasing all my books and trinkets. 

I’ve also had my fair share of construction issues with this 100-year-old house, as I’m sure many have with their homes! But I’ve just plowed through the issues, with lots of tears and then help from my family and recommendations from friends and neighbors, and hopefully I’ve made it through the worst of it (knock on wood)!

Proudest DIY: My proudest DIY would have to be my fireplace. I’ve always wanted a fireplace and have been dying for a vintage marble one, and once I bought this house, I knew I had to make it happen somehow. My dad built me a “chimney” between the dining room and living room with an opening for a fireplace, and then my friend and I were shopping and miraculously found the perfect vintage marble fireplace façade at Beaty American, one of my favorite places for reclaimed/salvaged materials. I cut down and added beams as a mantel, salvaged from the Divine Lorraine Hotel (my favorite building), also bought from Beaty American. I installed some brick tile to blend in with the exposed brick wall and added the (electric) fireplace. I barely ever use the fireplace function but I love having such a big centerpiece that I made and I’m always changing up the decor on the mantel. 

I’ve done a lot of other DIY projects in the house as well; I made the shell light sconces in the entryway from candle holder… I turned a plain cabinet into a concrete topped island in the kitchen… made the bench in my bedroom and little table by my couch… added the wood posts and beams in the kitchen along with the shiplap (with some help), I did all the tiling in the kitchen (with help for the floor)… swapped most of my builder-grade interior doors with vintage/salvaged doors… and probably more that I’m forgetting!

Biggest Indulgence: All my plants! I have surpassed my goal of 100 plants and see no sign of stopping! Luckily I get nice natural light in the house to keep everyone alive and happy. 

Best Advice: Try not to make impulse decisions, and don’t rush to decorate without spending time in your space it first, to see what you really need to make it work for you. I don’t always believe the rule that “form follows function” but it is important to keep the function in mind when designing and decorating!

What’s your best home secret? Don’t get hung up on the one function something is listed as… stepstools and chairs can be plant stands, rugs as wall hangings, blankets made into pillow covers, cups into planters… think outside the box! 

Carina Romano


Carina is a freelance editorial and portrait photographer in Philadelphia. She co-owns Love Me Do Photography in Fishtown with fellow Tyler School of Art Alumni, Amanda Jaffe. Carina's work has been published nationally and internationally.

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