New Digs: From Kensington Contemporary to 19th Century Fishtown Charmer
There have been two constants in Michael McTigue’s real estate journey over two decades. All three of his residences have been in the area north of Vine Street and west of I-95 known as Northern Liberties, Kensington, and Fishtown. And all have been bought and sold by Deborah at Solo Real Estate.
“I bought my first home twenty years ago in Northern Liberties with Deborah Solo and stayed in touch with her,” said McTigue, a Philly native who works in corporate communications for a healthcare company. In 2018, McTigue asked Deborah for a walk-through of Phase Two of Kensington Yards, 1326-38 N. 5th Street, which was still under construction. Impressed by the 1600-plus sq ft. bi-level, two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath condo in Building B, McTigue immediately said, “I’ll take it!”
At the time, McTigue was sold on the open floor plan, terrace, and a window offering views of downtown. But when the pandemic hit, his lifestyle as a remote worker, began to close in on him. In spite of the spacious shared courtyard, McTigue felt isolated. “I missed having frequent interactions with neighbors and I wanted a garden.”
Open to many neighborhoods, McTigue started looking in Fitler Square and came close to making an offer in West Philly. But it was a street in Fishtown that captured his imagination. “I knew the street and always loved it,” he said. What intrigued McTigue was the uniformity of the block’s architecture. “The newest house is from 1900. It looks like Sesame Street – all brownstones and Federal style,” he said. Another perk? “It’s not near any of the trendy places people go to at night, so parking is never a problem.”
This was a major change from his previous contemporary condo and the real selling point was the huge backyard. “My parents were big gardeners and I had a place in the mountains where I could landscape,” he said. Since moving to Fishtown the last week in June, he has filled his 20 x 40 feet yard with perennials and is experimenting with herbs and vegetables, including tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, and basil.
The focal point is a large outdoor dining table. “I’m hoping to make outdoor space a gathering spot for summer and fall,” he said. In the meantime, the family member who is enjoying the yard the most is Suki, McTigue’s Boston Terrier. “It has really changed her. She’s never had this kind of space before.”
Other advantages? “It’s just two blocks from the river and when they redid I-95 they landscape the embankments with native plants so it attracts birds,” said McTigue. Plus, friends live on the same block. “I called to ask if it’s okay if I move across the street from him and they were very supportive.”
However, it was the house itself that gave McTigue joy. “The original part of the house looks like a typical Philly trinity from the late 1790s or early 1800s with narrow stairs, plus two additions built in the 1960s. But it still has the old wide plank wooden floors.” McTigue had Donahue Construction replace the kitchen countertops and backsplash, renovate the half-bath of the kitchen and expand the master bathroom, allowing room for a glassed-in shower. As happens with older homes, it had no insulation, so he had to do that. His third-floor home office is still a work in progress. The biggest makeover? Turning a small bedroom into a large walk-in closet!
Moving from an ultra-contemporary condo to a historic house requires rethinking your décor. “It’s an old house, a worker’s house. I sold a lot of my former furniture to Modern Republic on 5th Street,” said McTigue. “My dining table wouldn’t work here.” But McTigue’s mix of Mid-Century Modern and Bauhaus home decor, including a Noguchi glass tabletop, Eames chairs, an art collection, and an expansive collection of vinyl record albums fit right in.
While McTigue is settling into his new abode the listing for his former home at Kensington Yards attracted a lot of interest, including being featured as the Inquirer’s “House of the Week” on August 22, and is now under contract.