Haven: A sliver of city living in Philly

The master bedroom , on the third floor, is awash in natural light from windows and a transom light. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer
The master bedroom , on the third floor, is awash in natural light from windows and a transom light. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer

HAVEN | Skinny Town offers surprisingly spacious quarters tucked into a modest budget.

Posted: June 09, 2014

Christian and Brittany Rubio just got married in November. But thanks to some savvy online research, they soon moved into their very own, brand-new, budget-friendly Philadelphia home, on the border of Northern Liberties and East Kensington.

A couple like the Rubios - Christian, 32, is a government employee and Brittany, 27, is a critical-care technician - typically might have moved into an apartment until they amassed more cash and credit, but they kept their digital eyes open, planned well, and were able to buy a house within a year of their wedding.

"We both liked the Northern Liberties area, but we looked at homes in the neighborhood and they were too expensive," Brittany says of their prenuptial house hunt.

For a while, they did live in an apartment, in Jenkintown.

"We had to commute to work, and it was very difficult," Christian says. His job is with the Internal Revenue Service at 30th and Market Streets; hers is at Cooper Hospital in Camden.

Then they found a three-house development called Skinny Town online and scheduled a peek at the project in progress.

"We first saw the house when it was just a frame, still under construction, but we loved it," Brittany says.

They were among the first to sign up for a Skinny Town house, so-named because architect David Whipple thought it gave character to his design. The houses were constructed on land purchased from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

Each of the three houses is 12 feet wide and 35 feet deep, with a small yard with a high wooden fence. The three-story dwellings are each 1,500 square feet with a full basement. Each level is about 500 square feet, with bamboo hardwood floors.

"The houses are energy-efficient, but at that price we couldn't make them officially LEED-certified," Whipple says, referring to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. The houses were priced about $250,000.

After selecting their house, the Rubios once again got to work researching and found assistance, about $15,000 worth for first-time home buyers who met household-income requirements, from New Kensington Community Development Corp.

Their first house is just what they had in mind, Christian and Brittany say.

"We were looking for something more modern and wanted to be near things we enjoy, and we found it," he says.

Concrete siding that looks like wood covers the narrow structure, situated at one end of the row of three.

Enter through the front door, however, and the space seems more open than its dimensions would imply. The living room's expansive feel is helped by an open stainless-steel staircase that leads to the second floor. Through the steps is visible the kitchen window at the rear of the first level.

"I wanted to splurge on this floating stairway because a regulation stairway would take up too much room," Whipple says, making the space feel much smaller.

High windows and an open floor plan that allows for a kitchen and a separate dining area add to the light, airy quality.

The second and third levels were designed to be identical, though they may serve different purposes.

Each has a bathroom, a bedroom, and a curved area with a three-story light well illuminating the hallway and connecting the three floors.

The curve accommodates a desk or a table, and aims to make the hall more inviting than would a straight path from front to back.

Christian and Brittany's master bedroom is on the third floor. It is a sunny yellow with high windows and a transom that bring abundant light into the space.

"We have lots of room for everything," Brittany says.

Including fun. She points out that she and Christian can entertain friends on their roof deck in warmer weather or in their basement recreation room on cooler days.

Also benefiting from a little play space: the Rubio animals.

Unlike many pets in the city with no outdoor space of their own, family dogs Lucy, a pug, and Lenny, a terrier, now have a fenced-in yard to frolic in.

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