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Zillowing Out

A $425,000 Townhouse For Every Mood We Might Have In 2021

an artistic rending of an overexposed philadelphia townhouse
Image: Chris Thompson/Defector

This time last year I was so optimistic. In retrospect, embarrassingly optimistic. The year 2020, I had decided with absolutely no evidence, was going to be a good year for me. I was going to be strategic and organized; I was going to become the person I wanted to be, or at least get closer to being that version of me. As an eldest child and a Virgo, I have never had one ounce of chill in my body. I’m a planner and a researcher. I’m the friend who makes the Google map for vacation and also copies it all into a tiny notebook in case the service is bad. Being this type of person, I immediately agreed to join a good friend in her yearly tradition of making 100 + the calendar year number goals. So for 2020, I made 120 small goals and one big goal (more charcuterie boards). This would be objectively ridiculous in a normal year. 

Because you have to make so many goals, my friend explained, the key to making the list is to break down bigger goals you have into tiny actionable steps. For example: My bigger goal of “being more sustainable” got broken down into smaller categories like “compost every week” and “buy beeswax wraps.” (I did buy the reusable beeswax wraps, which are meant to replace plastic wrap. They work and are nice.) One of the goals I made was to “finish painting my apartment.” I did not do this. Despite spending nearly every waking minute of my time in my apartment this year, the idea of trying to improve it at all depressed me more than the fact that my bedroom is still the same terrible cream color it was when I moved in six years ago. 

When I was looking at my goals list earlier this week, I remembered that the reason I wanted to paint the other rooms is because after I painted the tiny entryway and the living room,they felt like two separate rooms instead of being just one room. This is good because my apartment is small. Feeling like it is bigger is ideal. Anyway, I had this idea that I was going to paint my rooms and they would each feel like their own cozy space. This is not a rare goal, but most people do not take it to quite the extreme of this week’s house. 

Our first house of the new year not only has every room painted a completely different and bold color, it has given each space such a tightly defined aesthetic that it has the feel of a boutique hotel you were forced to book for your friend’s wedding because you were too late to get a room in the hotel block. 

The house is located in Philadelphia. As we have a Philadelphia expert and resident (Dan McQuade) on staff, I asked Dan what’s up with this house’s location. Dan said: 

“This house is at the northern tip of Northern Liberties, an incredibly old part of the city that’s been gentrifying ever since Old City got too expensive—probably 20 years. More importantly, it’s near two notable Philadelphia areas: The intersection of Frankford and Girard in Fishtown (another hip, gentrifying Philly hood), which has turned into a pretty decent party district in the last decade, and The Piazza at Schmidts—a renovated brewery that’s been bungled by a line of developers, including Jared Kushner. They briefly had a thing called the Brooklyn Flea Philly there, and Ivanka called it “the flee market” on Instagram. It was Brooklyn crap at Brooklyn prices. And this was back when the Piazza was better! Despite all that, this home is in a pretty great location. It’s a short walk to the El, a deli that sells pretzels and Arctic Splash iced tea, a good cheesesteak at Joe’s, or even a casino. (That last one may not be a bonus for some people.) It’s really not even that far to Center City. I’d live here. Please don’t turn it into an AirBNB, whoever has the pending offer.”

I think the house looks pretty cute. It’s a townhouse, but it seems a bit wider than some other Philly homes. The listing says the building is 20 feet wide which is wider than any spot in my apartment, so it is big to me. The door is orange, which is a bold choice but one that I respect. Let’s go inside, shall we? 

(Screenshot: Zillow)

The first floor looks like a very cute coworking coffee shop/bookstore that I went to a few times on the Lower East Side. There is a small sitting area painted a nice dark blue and a giant wooden bar. This is a little weird for a regular house. It does really look like the entry to one of those “speakeasies” that is actually just a bar with a locked door you have to knock on. Before the pandemic, I might have made fun of this. Who wants a bar in their dining room instead of a big kitchen table? Me, now. I do. I miss bars so much.

(Screenshot: Zillow)

Next, we have the kitchen, which is alarmingly normal except for the fact that the microwave seems to be suspended above the stove by some kind of wrought iron chain and also the stove is on? I have never seen a gas stove burner lit in a listing, but I guess it is nice to know it works since it looks like no one has ever used this kitchen in its entire existence. This room is a warm white. Wait, is that an old movie projector randomly sitting on the counter? Okay, fine. 

The next room, though, is penitentiary white. It seems to have sliding opaque glass walls separating it from the hallway with an ominous light that shines through. Inside everything is white: the floors, the platform area, the stairs to the platform, the walls, the ceiling, the one light and stool and bed. It is my personal nightmare. I imagine myself knocking over a coffee and spoiling this good minimalism. This room feels like it has loft envy. It’s too airy in here. Where is all the stuff? Let’s move on. 

(Screenshot: Zillow)

Okay, sure. This room looks like it was shot with a 2010 Instagram filter. It is painted orange, and all of the linens are warm colors. There are floor pillows and three beds in here. There are thick draping curtains that can be released to divide each bed. You can imagine with all of these patterned pillows and ornate lamps that this would be named the “Morocco” room or something. The beds look so low to the ground that it hurts my knees just looking at them. (My editor, Justin Ellis, at this point in reading asked me if I “picked out a legit swingers house they decided to flip for a profit.” I will not answer or think about this question, but I will force you to.)

Next we have a room more in line with the bar room. A gray blue wall with green lamps like those in a college library. Some perfunctory yellow chairs that look terribly uncomfortable. There is a huge clawfoot tub on a tile platform in view of the bed, which I guess is luxurious but seems like an invitation to mold to me. Let’s move on to my favorite room.

(Screenshot: Zillow)

This is a goth teenage dream. The walls are painted black. The ceiling is painted black. The floors look original and so are maybe haunted. The bed is a four-poster, but instead of a canopy someone has hung black tulle like spiderwebs draped so low you would have to duck under them from the side to get on the bed. The chair is black. The lamp is black. The door has been painted black! Wipe your black eyeliner off, though, this next room is sweeter. 

It’s pink! Some might say millennial pink, but that’s wrong because this is more orange-y. This is yet another normal bedroom, except this one is not monochrome. There is some contrast here in the design decisions. But don’t get too comfortable. 

(Screenshot: Zillow)

The next room is RED. I mean 50 Shades of Gray red, photographed with a dusky red lighting situation. It is red curtains on the red walls, red. It would look like some kind of seduction room if anyone had bothered to put pillowcases on the pillows. Instead it looks like when my sister and I used to spend a whole day on a weekend building a tent by thumbtacking sheets into our popcorn ceiling. 

Upsettingly, the bathrooms have been forgotten. Both are bland, boring rooms with no color and no heart. There are only two of them, which does seem like a bit of a problem for a six-bedroom house, but that’s just my opinion. The only other aspect of note is that there is a small patio at the back that has not been painted a primary color and seems rather regular. It is however 100 percent more outside space than I have currently, so I love it. 

Looking at this house reminded me of my failed resolution. At this point, I don’t want to paint the rest of my apartment! I want to leave my apartment! Maybe I even want to move into a new apartment! I don’t want to improve where I am because I am sick of it and it’s hard to invest time and energy into something that exhausts you. Plus looking at this house has made me question my goal in the first place. Maybe painting all your rooms a different color is what causes the slow descent into these curious design decisions in the first place. Maybe it was better for my sanity that I didn’t paint the rest of my apartment last year after all. 

When I went to mark that resolution as unfinished—while writing this blog—I took a look at the rest of the list. I was surprised that I had managed to do almost half of my resolutions, which seems like a lot more than I should have managed given the circumstances. Maybe writing out all the things I wanted to do helped me internalize them in some way that guided me in the past year. I’m in a much less optimistic place this new year, but somehow even this is more optimistic than I was a few months ago. It feels okay to make goals again, like maybe this year won’t be a complete disaster. Maybe this year, I’ll try and get some new walls to paint instead. 

The many-roomed Philadelphia townhome has been listed on Zillow for 156 days, but someone made an offer on it last month. If you bought this exciting home, you are required to invite me to at least two long weekends in the goth room. Thank you so much.