After living in several cities, Stephanie Aviles and Riki Noar joined the ranks of neighborhood newcomers who appreciate density, diversity and renewal, and settled in Philadelphia two years ago.
They rented for a bit, and when it came time to buy, they scooped up a three-story rowhouse on the cusp of Fishtown, where new rubs shoulders with old, mortgages are still affordable, and where they could invest in "their" city.
"We love it around here. There are restaurants not too far away. And I walk to the York stop [of the Market-Frankford El] every morning to get in to work," Aviles says.
Both Aviles, 29, and Noar, 31, hail from tropical islands: She grew up in Puerto Rico; he is from Hawaii. Eight years ago, they met in Syracuse, while Aviles was a student at snowy Syracuse University and Noar was living nearby. They lived in New York City before moving to Philadelphia.
The urban setting aside, the couple fell in love with the 1,700-square-foot house, built in 1875, for its good bones, strong utilitarian design, and best of all, that it had been renovated.
"We also liked that it has green features," Noar says, of the solar water heater, dual-flush toilets, and rainwater collection system.
While the simplicity of rowhouse living is a positive, deciding on design schemes for these rectangular spaces requires some creativity.
The twosome, who are salvage seekers, welcomed the challenge. By mixing personalized pieces and upcycling mid-century furniture, they have created stylish, separate spots that lend themselves to relaxing nights and entertaining friends.
In the entry, the couple's bikes hang on the wall, well in view, almost as art. The living space is arranged with a quirky teal chair from Craigslist; a mirror and credenza from Jinxed, an antiques shop on Frankford Avenue; and a green sofa and chair, both by Kroehler, and found at Shindig Alley in Phillipsburg, Pa.
A grouping of taxidermy — a bat, a two-headed chicken, a jackrabbit with mounted horns, and Max the chinchilla — represents the couple's fun personalities. "We found most of them on Etsy, but I had Max commissioned," Noar says of his onetime pet.
Hints of their island heritages abound, from the vintage pineapple door knocker from Ebay, the pineapple-trimmed serving tray, and the banana leaf wallpaper that's on a transitional wall between the living room and kitchen.
There is also a tiki bar, gifted by a friend, but reupholstered by the couple. Above it hangs a fishing net, trimmed with pineapple lights, glass balls, and blowfish taxidermy.
Both Aviles and Noar know their way around a good cocktail: She is an account director for Quaker City Mercantile, a creative company focusing on the drinks industry; he has worked in liquor retail.
The expansive kitchen has stainless-steel Bosch appliances, white cabinetry, and plenty of counter space, perfect for the couple who love cooking together. "We lived in apartments that were so small, and we'd get in each other's way when we cooked," Noar says.
Aviles, with the help of her father when he visited from Puerto Rico, installed the white subway tiles on the backsplash. Lots of sunlight filters through the windows above the sink and the French door that leads to the backyard.
Maroon booths from Circle Thrift on Frankford Avenue and a 1950s Formica-topped table from Craigslist (that was free) provide seating. A 1960s hutch displays tiki mugs, an Orchids of Hawaii punch bowl, antique Pyrex cookware, and patterned plates, some of which were recently found in a vintage store in Chicago. "I got so excited when I saw them that the guy in the store just gave them to me," Aviles says.
On the second level, a nautical theme, consisting of maps, an anchor hook, and prints of boats, decorates the guest room. There is also an office and a laundry closet.
A collection of masks, such as a lion from Costa Rica and a jaguar from Nicaragua, hang on the hallway wall.
The third-floor master suite, complete with a generously sized bath, is simple and bright, with few colors and material accents, such as the pebble shower floor.
Another playful element is the tattoo-themed curtains, framing the large deck, where Piggy, their deaf 3-year-old pit bull mix, likes to lounge. Aviles bought the curtains, given that the couple are avid fans of and possess a fair amount of body art.
Of all the places they've lived, the couple say this finally feels like home — and they don't just mean their house, but the city, too.
"Parts of our house are still a work in progress," Aviles say. "But when we come home from work, we love to hang here."