A Spruce Street brownstone's 19th-century design recalls a bygone era in Philadelphia.
Plush sofas and gilded mirrors are right at home in this circa-1860 Spruce Street manse—the perfect match for such architectural details as marble fireplaces and crown moldings, luckily left untouched by the previous owner.
Oscar Soldano laughs when he remembers the first time he and his partner, Luis Bird, toured their huge Spruce Street brownstone near Rittenhouse Square. “It was so dark, we needed a flashlight,” he recalls, trailing his hand down a long corridor lined with magnificently carved mahogany paneling. “And then we saw this,” he says, stopping at the grand central staircase. “I said, ‘We have to live here.’ I just fell in love.”
Broken into nine apartments and three boarding rooms, the 7,000-plus square feet would certainly need work. “But we were really excited to turn it back into a single-family home again,” Bird says. The couple would end up being just the third stewards of the property, which was erected circa 1860. Best of all, even though the previous owner subdivided the building, he had barely touched the architectural details: Over six decades, he had altered nary a marble fireplace (there are nine altogether), crown molding, leaded glass window, or built-in.
The Argentine-born Soldano—who was trained as an architect and made a living in the States as a landlord—had big ideas on how the property could be improved. Chief among them was creating a sky-lit interior by removing a center wall and a small hall closet. The result is a soaring atrium that rises through the five stories of the house, effectively turning landings into balconies.
All told, the couple spent two years renovating the house, carefully trying to update systems while keeping its historic assets intact. “Not everything could be restored perfectly, but it’s all still there,” observes Bird, a psychiatrist. “We know this is a special house. There’s so much craftsmanship, but there’s a lot of dark Victorian wood paneling. It might not appeal to everyone, that’s for sure.”
For the most part, the couple has decorated the residence with a mélange of period knickknacks like ornate birdcages and baronial candlesticks, accents such as Oriental rugs and gilded mirrors, and furniture that includes plush sofas and canopy beds. That this is a contemporary home is made evident, though, in the gleaming commercial kitchen, the two-car parking pad, and the Jacuzzi and steam shower (equipped with speakers) that occupies one landing. Mod cons like zoned heating and air-conditioning, radiant flooring, and a central vacuum system make the living easy, as does a garden landscaped with ivy, potted geraniums, and hydrangea.
Private bathrooms accompany the master bedroom and two guest rooms; there’s even a fourth-floor hideaway that can function as its own retreat, as well as various sitting and dressing rooms. Perhaps the most impressive space in the house is a second-floor library that’s generously outfitted with mahogany shelving. A few years back, one celebrity guest, Neil Patrick Harris, got to know the house very well indeed when he—and a cast and crew of dozens—took it over for a week to film "The Best and the Brightest."
Now, it’s time for Bird and Soldano to move on. The couple are relocating to another brownstone that they’ve long owned, nearer to the Avenue of the Arts. “I’m renovating the apartment now,” says Soldano. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
For more information, contact Damon Michels, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Realtors, 854 Montgomery Ave., Narberth, 610-668-3400.