Collaborator Spotlight: Q &A with Illustrator Greg Dyson

Meet Greg W. Dyson, a Philadelphia-based illustrator, and graphic designer that has been working with Solo Real Estate for many years. Greg is a talented self-taught designer that has worked on countless flyers, posters, and materials for us in the past. He’s also responsible for the great new illustrations on our website and marketing materials. To develop these, Greg worked alongside our marketing team with direction from Aretz branding to perfectly bring to life our story and pay homage to our city through eye-catching and detailed Philadelphia cityscapes.

Gregory Dyson

Learn more about Greg through the Q & A below, and scroll through to see some of the pieces he’s developed for us throughout the years.

An illustration depicting a tree planting for Solo's community page.
An illustration depicting a tree planting for Solo’s community page.
 Rooted in Philadelphia. An illustration for Solo's about page.
Rooted in Philadelphia. An illustration for Solo’s about page.

Q: When did you start working with Solo Real Estate?

A: I started working for Solo as a freelance blog writer in 2019. Since then I’ve pivoted into becoming their de facto illustrator. It was a blessing linking up with the Solo team. They’ve been great patrons of my work and have given me so many opportunities to develop my style through commissions. I like that both of our brands seem to mesh well, since I like drawing scenes based around Philly cityscapes, and that theme seems to work for them as a local real estate brokerage. I also like their commitment to the environment and community, and especially love working on projects with Solo in collaboration with PHS.

Solo Real Estate's plant swap sign is currently up at the PHS pop-up garden on South Street. Illustrated by Greg Dyson.
Solo Real Estate’s plant swap sign is currently up at the PHS pop-up garden on South Street. Illustrated by Greg Dyson.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I grew up in Central Connecticut, but I’ve been back and forth to Philly throughout my entire life. In 2008-09, I came to North Philly for Americorps and really fell in love with the city. I came back here permanently in 2015 and now live in Kensington. I love North Philly and will never live anywhere else in the city!

Q: How did you become an illustrator?

A: I studied art history at a small state school in rural Connecticut and took a digital imaging class as an elective. That’s where I learned Photoshop and discovered I had a knack for design. My art history background really helps inform my work, but I learned the hard skills via YouTube.

Illustration Greg developed for our new commercial rental signs.
Illustration Greg developed for our new commercial rental signs.

Q: Do you focus primarily on illustrations or do you do other things too?

A: I do a lot of design for web these days, but designing for print is what I’ve always been more passionate about. I love the screen printing process and the parameters that are required for screen printing. I think it’s cool to have to make something look good with a minimal amount of colors, and I like that the end result of a print design is something physical and tactile.

I think it’s important to distinguish that illustration and design are two different fields that, while often overlapping, ultimately have their own individual purposes or solutions they’re trying to reach. I’m a very left-brained creative type of person, so my processes are super methodical. That lends itself well to the functional side of web design. Good web design needs to really balance form and function, and figuring out how to achieve the right amount of both is like solving a fun puzzle.

As far as other things go, I’m hoping to break into new crafts that translate well from illustration. I just bought a tufting gun and am hoping to start making rugs soon. I would also love to get into making stained glass.

A series of city illustrations completed for our fall home maintenance checklist blog post.

Q: You have a very specific style. How did you arrive at that?

A: I think style is fluid and always developing. Like most illustrators, I was pretty all over the place
stylistically when I was greener and getting the hang of things. Then over time, my work started to fall into place and find its own voice. I will say though, that while style development is occurring, there are these tangible “aha” moments that happen from time to time. For example, the rough line-work is very important to my style, and the images would look much different without that choice.

Poster Greg designed promoting the Philabundance food drive we held in partnership with the Kensington Community Food Coop
Poster Greg designed promoting the Philabundance food drive we held in partnership with the Kensington Community Food Coop

Q: Other than your design work what do you enjoy doing?

A: My dad is a classical violinist and pianist, so music was very present in my life. I’ll always be working on learning new instruments and trying to better my songwriting skills. I like folk music, so right now the guitar is my main instrument, but I’m also trying to get better at the banjo and learn the claw-hammer style. I ride my bike almost every day and love cycling around Philly. I also love surfing and find it to be the most wonderful physical and mental outlet. It’s both exhilarating and meditative, relaxing and physically strenuous. I also like camping and hiking, and just hanging out in backyards with my friends.

Agent Stories: Exploring Philly Arts Spaces With Niki Cousineau

Niki Cousineau approaches real estate the same way she approaches her practice as a dancer and choreographer – it’s all about space. Niki, a new agent with Solo, appreciates space in all of its forms. She brings this appreciation to her work as a realtor. Who better to help you find your next home than someone who sees the beauty in a whole range of unique spaces?


While the connection between dance and real estate might not be readily apparent, a deep emphasis on the spaces we inhabit is something shared by both. Recently Niki took us on a tour of some remarkable arts and performance spaces that most Philadelphians might not have access to normally. Take a look at our insider’s peek at Philly’s cool performance, arts, and practice spaces!


The Glass Factory


The first place Niki showed us is tucked away on a quiet side street in Brewerytown. From the outside you would never guess the amazing, cavernous space that lies within. Niki first discovered this space with the company she co-directs, Subcircle. Subcircle came to the Glass Factory with their show Hold Still while I figure this out in June 2016. That piece was more recently performed at FringeArts this past fall.


One thing that really stands out in the Glass Factory are the raw materials. While the space is simple, the signs of it’s past life as an auto shop give off a raw, edgy vibe. The exposed brick with phrases such as “Cars Washed” and “Brakes” painted on and the iron beams fit in with today’s popular post-industrial vibe. Meanwhile, the spacious stage and skylights add lightness and grace to the room.

While Niki discovered the Glass Factory through her dance and choreography work, the space hosts a wide array of events including music performances, martial arts classes, and art installations.

Subcircle performing at the Glass Factory


MAAS Building


The second location that Niki gave us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of was the MAAS Building. This brewery turned trolley repair shop in Olde Kensington is, coincidentally, just two doors down from our project Kensington Yards. Now the building is home to two offices on the ground floor, an events and practice space, a recording studio, a large garden courtyard behind the main building, and a private residence.

When owners Ben and Catherine first acquired the MAAS, it hadn’t been used since its days as a trolley shop. It’s because of this that so much of the original industrial workshop character is preserved. A floor was built to divide the building into two stories, and this diverse practice, performance, work, and home space was born.


While one of the most common uses of the upstairs space is actually weddings, Niki and her company Subcircle host their works in progress series and rehearse there. Other local groups that take advantage of this gorgeous, open space are Almanac Dance Circus Theatre and New Paradise Laboratories.

Subcircle in the second floor of the MAAS Building


Crane Arts


The last space Niki showed us was Crane Arts. Crane Arts is a well established place for artists’ studios and rental space in Olde Kensington. In more recent years they transitioned their Icebox Project Space to having a more structured public presence as well. The Icebox already existed as rental space in the Crane Arts building, in fact, Subcircle did their piece Still Unknown there in 2006. Now they host more regular performances, installations, and shows. With this expanded programming, Crane Arts moves beyond its role as a rental space. The directors are interested in expanding their scope and joining the conversation in Philly’s art community. 


Believe it or not, the Crane Arts building used to be a plumbing warehouse. After that a seafood packaging plant called the enormous building home. Between the shuttering of that business and its 2004 purchase, the building remained vacant. The Icebox, which we spent most of our visit in, was actually a giant walk-in freezer back in the days of the packaging plant, hence its name. Some of that original character is still noticeable in the large, blank space suitable for all sorts of performances and installations.


An edited photo from a Subcircle performance in the Icebox

Kensington Yards Phase Two Groundbreaking

We at Solo Real Estate, in collaboration with Bright Common and Red Oak Development are so thrilled to announce the groundbreaking of Phase 2 of Kensington Yards. Building B will have a lot in common with the first phase of our project which is fully completed. Although, unlike the first building which incorporated an old, pre-existing structure with new construction, the second building will be all new construction which allows for some additional flexibility in design.


Phase 2 will consist of 7 units which will be priced starting in the high $200,000s. You will see many of the finishes that were present in Phase 1 in these units, such as reclaimed wood and poured concrete countertops designed by local artisan Jayme Guokas of Craftwork Design.


Especially exciting is that, once the second building is complete, plans for the communal interior courtyard designed by Philadelphia-based landscape architect Hans Hesselein of Apiary Studio will be implemented.

Recently we sat down with Solo’s Alex Franqui to discuss what we can expect from Kensington Yards Phase 2. Here’s what we learned!


Question: What’s exciting about Building B?

Alex: The home stretch! It will be great to have 7 exceptionally thought out spaces for sale. In particular, I’m excited about the largest one bedroom, which is about 1,200 square feet on the top two levels. That should be a terrific, one of a kind space.


Q: What are the design goals and core values of this phase?

A: We’re looking to provide great light and large, usable spaces that prioritize the daily living experience of the residents while also aiming for energy efficiency. We want to give residents something more than what else is out on the market, and to a create a building that is additive to the community at large. We really want to respect the current built environment while at the same time creating something new and modern that’s nice to look at.


Q: What kind of community are you building?

A: This is tough, because we don’t select the members of the community. The community selects itself in a way. We believe that people who prioritize design and appreciate the texture of the neighborhood will want to be members of this community and build on it together. People of various ages and backgrounds have been attracted to the units so far. It is very much a microcosm of our diverse city here in Philadelphia.


Q: What role do you see KY playing in the fabric of the neighborhood?

A: We want people to stop and say, “Wow, new construction can look great!” We hope that through our clean, straightforward design we can show people what’s attainable. Maybe some other developers will take notice as well.


Q: What’s exciting about Kensington?

A: Kensington is Philadelphia. It’s a mix of industrial, residential, and cutting edge commercial. It’s racially and ethnically diverse. It has room for newcomers and a strong existing community that helps guide the shape of things to come.

The construction begins on Kensington Yards Phase 2!

The target completion date for Phase 2 is August or September 2018 so stay tuned for more information and updates as building progresses! Can’t wait for Phase 2? There are just a couple units from Phase 1 left, available here. Need more info on that communal courtyard ASAP? Check out our profile of Hans Hesselein of Apiary Studio on the blog. Curious about the architect behind the project? We have a blog feature on them too.

Progress Report: Kensington Yards Fuses The Old With The New

In the market for a home but torn between wanting something old or new? In a city exploding with new construction, but also bursting at the seams with its large stock of historic homes, the conflict in choosing between the two is understandable. Here at Solo Realty, we might just have created the perfect solution with Kensington Yards.


Along with our wonderful friends and collaborators, most notably Bright Common Architecture & Design and Red Oak Development, we’ve found the best of both worlds – new construction convenience and Victorian charm – and we’re ready to hand it over to you to call home.


When I stopped by the other day to take a look around at the progress being made on the units, the whole place was abuzz with activity. Most notably, the iron railings were on the final stages of installation. With the railings in, many of the stairwells and hallways are complete which rounds everything out nicely.



The beautiful granite countertops that we mentioned Jayme Guokas of Craftwork Design was preparing to pour in our last update post, are also in place now. Guokas included in these countertops little morsels of glass and shells, adding a real quirkiness to the design that is sometimes lacking in new construction.



One of the biggest challenges of the project was fusing the pre-existing 19th century rowhome with the newly constructed property. While this was no easy feat, the architects and construction workers did a beautiful job blending the old structure, preserving many of the original floors, brick walls, stone foundation, moldings, and doors, with the new property and all of its 21st century eco-friendly design elements and appliances. Reclaimed wood countertops and stairs can also be found throughout the units.


The finish line is just within reach now. By August 1 a model will be ready, which will help potential buyers get a better idea of what their unit will look like.


We are also excited to announce that our first unit is under contract, with closing slated for late August. We couldn’t be more excited to have the first buyer for Kensington Yards lined up. While we’ve already had a number of showings, now that the model is nearing completion and the units are all starting to take shape, we can’t wait to show off Kensington Yards even more.


This project is something that the team at Solo is incredibly proud of, and now that a lot of the hard work is finished, we are looking forward to sharing these sustainably built, historically embedded, and forward thinking 14 units with potential home buyers and the larger South Kensington community.


Fine out more at http://www.kensingtonyards.com/.


Progress Report: Kensington Yards Approaches The Finish Line

If you happen by Kensington Yards these days you’ll notice that building is moving along at a clipping pace. Solo Realty’s new construction development in South Kensington, a couple years in the making now, has rounded the corner and is heading towards the finish line.


The just completed facade on Fifth Street.

Popping up right in the middle of North 5th Street between Thompson and Master Streets, the drywall and windows are in, the facade is up, and showings are underway for the units.


In the upcoming weeks a lot of the finishes are going in, really solidifying the progress that has been made in the past few months at Kensington Yards. The cabinets and trim are slated for installation next week, with the tiles not too far behind.


After those touches go in, the painters will come through the building and then the flooring will go in.
We are really excited about the concrete countertops that Jayme Guokas of Craftwork Design is creating for the project. Jayme is slated to start pouring his custom concrete countertops as soon as all the aforementioned features are completed and we cannot wait to see how they turn out.


Finally, once the walls, floors, and countertops are complete, the electrical and plumbing fixtures will all be put in, pushing the project towards a mid-July completion date.


From top to bottom: A GoogleMaps screen cap of the Kensington Yards site pre-construction, the facade in progress, and a rendering of the interior living room and kitchen.


So far, we at Solo Realty could not be more thrilled with how Kensington Yards is coming along and taking form. It has been such a thrill to work with so many great collaborators – Bright Common, Apiary Studio, Red Oak Development, and Craftwork Design. As the final product takes shape we look forward to sharing more updates and some photographs of the interior so keep an eye out for that as we enter the summer months!


Featured Collaborator: Apiary Studio

“Have you ever heard the expression ‘a stitch in time saves nine’?” asks Hans Hesselein, the face behind the Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm Apiary Studio tasked with designing and landscaping the courtyard at Solo Realty’s South Kensington development Kensington Yards. I haven’t, but as Hesselein explains the proverb to me, I realize that this philosophy of addressing a problem head on at the outset, as opposed to skirting around it and creating more issues later, underlies a lot of the work that Apiary Studio conducts.


A little over two years ago, with a BA in Landscape Architecture from North Carolina State University and a number of solid years working in the field in New York City under his belt, Hesselein made his way down to Philadelphia. Ready to start his own firm, an undertaking much more affordable in Philadelphia than New York, Hesselein saw here a city that is on the brink of many things – of figuring out what it wants to be, bursting with opportunities for impactful and meaningful work, and moving in a positive, innovative direction.


Hesselein in his new Germantown studio space


Hesselein approaches his work by addressing the context of the city and the contents of its soil. Philadelphia has a rich industrial history that shaped the physical, built landscape we inhabit today. Yet, that past life also bears influence on the soil we tread upon now, ravaged by industrial activity. Instead of bringing in new soil, an expensive and often unsustainable practice, Hesselein prefers to work within the fabric of Philadelphia’s landscape. Sometimes this means sourcing rare native and/or adaptable plants from the nursery that he and his partner, a gardener at the Wyck House, operate. More often it means planting what Hesselein describes as “tough, urban plant material” and “weedy stuff”.


Weeds, in fact, as Hesselein enlightens me, are some of the more viable urban plant material. It makes sense – weeds persevere, which means even in the tough soil conditions present in Philadelphia, they will thrive.



Addressing the industrial past of the Kensington area is exactly what Apiary Studio brings to Solo Realty’s Kensington Yards project. Not only has the factory studded built environment of the River Wards influenced the fashionable industrial-futuristic aesthetic of many popular restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and residential units in the area, it has contributed to the actual makeup of the soil we are left to work with. Hesselein is constantly thinking about these roots that continue to shape Kensington today, and with his landscaping work, he seeks to address those issues directly.


Hesselein is close with the team behind Bright Common, the architecture firm designing Kensington Yards, which is how his studio came to be involved with the project. Both firms share a similar focus on sustainability, recycled materials, and an ethical aesthetic.


With the common space that Apiary Studio was tasked to design, Hesselein created something very sleek, yet edgy, channeling all of this influence. He made use of raw, heavy materials to reference Olde Kensington’s industrial age, while establishing nice, clean side gardens to speak to the modern lifestyle. The movable fire pit is the focal point of the courtyard, which is shared between all of the units, encouraging community and intermingling. The design also includes a handful of side areas and nooks for more private or independent enjoyment of the development’s outdoor space.


We couldn’t be more excited to see how Apiary Studio’s courtyard design comes to life at Kensington Yards, and to hear what future contributions Hesselein has in store for the city. As Hesselein explained to me while we chatted in his second floor workspace at his Germantown apartment, he hopes for his studio to someday grow into its name – apiary – a busy-bee workspace with a hierarchy that functions horizontally, meaning everyone works collaboratively.

Check back in the upcoming weeks for a progress report on Kensington Yards.






This Facade is Literally Magic

A small snapshot of Isaiah Zagar's multi-story, multi-faceted mosaic Magic Gardens

It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to buy a house that includes a piece of magic—Magic Gardens that is. Isaiah Zagar, the mosaic artist behind the mindblowing Magic Gardens at 10th and South Streets, will occasionally complete a piece on a rowhouse façade. Solo is thrilled to currently be the seller’s agent for one such rowhouse!

The Magic Gardens itself was constructed over many years, beginning in 1994. The immersive piece of art includes tunnels, grottos, stairs, and paths, all completely covered in Zagar’s unique mosaic style, comprised of colored glass bottles, found objects, hand-made tiles, mirrors, and a lot of bicycle wheels. It is now a popular tourist attraction, which thousands of people visit every year.

Now there is an opportunity to own an original Zagar, and did we mention it comes with a home, office, and an amazing location? Situated in Old City, 144 Vine Street leaves a great first impression with its distinctive Zagar mosaic façade. The interior doesn’t disappoint either, with handsome original features such as wide-planked pine floors, high ceilings, and original panel doors.

The facade of 144 Vine Street, with original mosaic by Isaiah Zagar
The facade of 144 Vine Street, with original mosaic by Isaiah Zagar

With a first floor office space and two apartment units on the upper floors, the property itself is a mosaic of uses and potential uses. The lucky future owner could rent out one unit and live in the other, or use it as a spacious single-family home with an in-home office or studio.

A lovely office space currently occupies the first floor of 144 Vine Street
A lovely office space currently occupies the first floor of 144 Vine Street

Philadelphia’s rowhouse stock is beloved partially for its consistency. The backdrop formed by that consistency allows for slight deviations to create a sense of delight, and that’s precisely the effect of the façade of 144 Vine Street.

144 Vine Street has additional Zagar murals on the rear of the property
144 Vine Street has additional Zagar murals on the rear of the property

Solo Listing Featured in Philadelphia Magazine

Solo Real Estate’s listing for a trinity house 228 Catherine Street, #3 was featured in Philadelphia Magazine’s “Trinity Tuesday” series!

As the article puts it,

“A large part of the appeal of trinity houses is the character of the house. They’re often on tiny side streets, and the fact that they’re so small and so old adds an inherent vibe to them that you’re just not going to find elsewhere. This week’s Trinity Tuesday house has just that vibe.”

Read the full article here.

Solo Property Houses Indego Bike Share HQ

Philadelphia’s new bike share program, Indego, is launching this week! The program found the perfect home for its headquarters in a South Kensington property rented from a family partnership of Deborah Solo, Angel and Alex Franqui of Solo Real Estate.


Learn about the unique warehouse/office space hybrid they’ve created in the building to accommodate Indego’s diverse needs.


Peter Hoban, COO at Bicycle Transit Systems and General Manager of Indego, was struggling to find the perfect building to house the headquarters for Indego.


The building had to be inside the station map area: Tasker Street to Temple, Delaware River to 45th Street. In addition to office space for some 20 staff, it needed to be big enough to house 5-10% of the initial 600-bike fleet, with room to grow.



The room that will be used for bike maintenance (left) features one of the many skylights Solo installed in the building. A large storage/warehouse space (right) comprises the rear half of the building

Then, on Craigslist, Hoban found it: a small warehouse in South Kensington owned by Deborah Solo, Angel and Alex Franqui. The family worked with Hoban and Indego every step of the way from obtaining a use variance for light industrial and commercial use, to retrofitting the space to create the ideal hybrid of warehouse and industrial-chic office space.

Open-concept office space (left) currently being built-out, and the kitchen-in-progress (right) featuring yet another skylight

The arrangement is a win-win-win, the third win being for the neighborhood. South Kensington gains 20 new jobs from the Indego headquarters, which will also result in 20 new patrons for local businesses.
The neighborhood will also benefit from the activation of a building that has been unoccupied since 1983, including more lighting at night and the addition of security cameras.
No wonder the project received overwhelming support from the local Registered Community Organizations (RCOs), South Kensington Community Partners and Olde Kensington Neighbors Association.

Solo is extremely excited for the launch of Philadelphia’s bike share, and honored to have the opportunity to help implement the program!

Indego officially launches this Thursday (April 23rd). Attend the launch party and ride-off at Eakins Oval at 11:30am that day.