A Philadelphia townhouse provided the space they needed during the pandemic

Chris Balbi has credited the townhouse he bought in the Hawthorne section of Philadelphia in January 2020 with saving his relationship with future husband Frankie Rowles. At the time, the couple shared a 700 square foot studio.

“If we hadn’t done this right before the pandemic, we probably wouldn’t be together because we both ended up being home a lot more often and needed space,” said Balbi, director of the marketing for the Meesha Aesthetic medical spas.

They now share 1,300 square feet in their three-story house dating from around 1920, with three bedrooms (one with an attic), two bathrooms and a roof terrace. When they moved in, all the walls were white, giving them a blank canvas to build on.

Among their many personal touches, the most recent was replacing the house’s wooden railings with black wrought iron for a more modern feel. They also created two green walls, a larger one on the second floor landing and a smaller one, framed like a work of art, behind the living room couch.

“I’m more of a dreamer, and Frankie is more realistic, so I imagined this living wall and sketched it, and he figured out how to make it happen,” said Balbi, who was inspired by a wall similar. in Ikea and a TikTok video.

Armed with plants made of recyclable materials that looked real – there isn’t enough light for live plants – Balbi added a faux rock texture and worked to make it look as organic as possible.

“We added a bunch of different varieties of plants in different tones, textures and colors to give it that living, breathing look,” he said.

His pride and joy is their colorful resin coffee table, made by Jason Frantz, whom Balbi met on Reddit. The table was constructed from an old oak pew that had been salvaged from a church, split down the middle and filled with resin. Balbi appreciates the beauty of the table but also the meaning that went into its design.

“Frantz explained to me that his wife had terminal breast cancer and that she would help choose the colors of the resin so that a piece of her would live on every table he made,” Balbi said. .

At Balbi’s request, the artist carved dinosaur footprints into one corner, a nod to Balbi’s love for all things dinosaur. Dinosaurs initially roamed the house, but at Rowles’ request Balbi moved his collection to the guest bedroom, where visitors now sleep in the ‘dinopad’ among a range of toys and artwork from dinosaurs.

As the couple live with the home’s original kitchen, a renovation is on the to-do list. For now, Rowles, a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, does most of the cooking, often relying on Hello Fresh for inspiration and instruction.

The couple love to entertain, often gathering with friends, neighbors and their Jack Russell terrier, Maggie, around the fire pit in the open ground next door. They volunteer to clear the pitch of trash and overgrown weeds, and Rowles has painted a colorful mural on the wall. There they held Pride events, seafood boils and movie nights.

Since embellishing their rooftop terrace with a lattice wall covered in creeping vines for shade and privacy, it’s become another space they like to hang out.

“What I love the most is the community we’ve built,” Rowles said. “We love our neighbours, who look out for each other, keep everyone up to date with what’s going on. Some people have lived there since the 90s while others have just moved in. It’s an array of people from all walks of life who enjoy spending time together.

The couple met in 2015 at Barnes & Noble in Center City, when Balbi spotted Rowles reading his favorite book, The donor by Lois Lowry. They plan to get married this fall.

“Our love for Philadelphia makes me want to make our home a centerpiece,” Balbi said, “because I want to make Philadelphia a brighter, better place.”

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