Trading up to a city aerie

Spectacular views lured couple from their Old City trinity to a condo above the Parkway.

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Alan and Mary Craig in their Center City condo. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)

Alan Craig was walking with his adult son in Center City several years ago when they passed an open-house sign for a new condominium. That's when his son suggested it might be time for a lifestyle change.

"Mary and I were living in a wonderful Old City trinity, maneuvering on three floors," Alan recalls. "We weren't getting any younger, and those steps weren't getting any easier to climb."

The Craigs had made the move from small town to city when Alan retired as headmaster of Moorestown Friends School. With that position had come a seven-bedroom country house often used for entertaining.

But Alan and Mary love cities, and decided it was high time they lived in one. After traveling the East Coast, surveying possibilities, they settled on the city they knew best: Philadelphia.

"So we'd already made the adjustment to city living, and we loved it," says Mary, also an educator.

The new question: where to go for a more convenient and manageable city life. The Craigs, native Canadians who honor home and all it means, didn't want to settle for a colorless condo where their cherished art and furniture would seem out of place.

They found what they wanted at City View Condominiums, off Benjamin Franklin Parkway - and the view is what sold them. So did the opportunity to buy a double space - two small condos already combined.

When the front door opens, the wow factor is immediate: panoramic views of the city through windows that give the condo light and drama.

Ultimately, the most direct bird's-eye view will be of the relocated Barnes Foundation gallery, which will be built almost directly below them.

In the condo's open living room/dining space, the views are at their most dazzling.

"I keep hoping that we'll never get jaded when we open the door at night and are greeted by the city lights," says Mary, a spirited woman who begins her days with a walk along Martin Luther King Drive. "It's glorious to be out there with all sorts of people, many of them young and friendly."

But life inside is even better than they imagined when they arrived in 2008, the Craigs say. Their high-in-the-sky nest has two bedrooms, two baths, and an "office" carved out of an alcove. The kitchen is modern, and one of Alan's delights is a storage space near that alcove that even has room for an auxiliary refrigerator.

"The first time I needed to fix a minor problem on a piece of furniture and walked a few yards to get my supplies, it was like a celebration," he says. "In other places we've lived, just getting tools and putting them back involved a small journey!"

Surrounding the couple is the art they have lived with and loved. Apron Strings, a striking bronze of a woman with a child, sits on a pedestal in the living room.

Another piece has particular sentimental value: Mary greatly admired a painting by a Russian artist of a woman in a head scarf, and her husband surprised her with it one Christmas. It hangs in a place of honor in their living room/dining room.

In the master bedroom hangs a Chagall print, a wonderful rendering of various operas depicted in wedges around a circle. It was given to them by a Moorestown lawyer and his family who long ago welcomed Mary and Alan as honorary grandparents to their children, as the Craigs' two grandsons are in California.

Paintings of faraway places - art from beloved students and other works in antique frames that are themselves showpieces - add warmth and color to the space.

The living room features a Chippendale-style sofa upholstered in a striking tapestry fabric of taupe and cranberry, which blends with an area rug in the same hues.

Against a back wall is a towering armoire that has its own story. Offered as a gift by a colleague when Alan was associate headmaster at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, N.Y., the piece was simple in style and lines.

"Then, on my wanderings, I discovered an unusual piece that I added to the top of it," says Alan. "Suddenly, the giver wanted it back, and now it's become a longstanding joke between us. So far, I'm still the rightful owner."

A classic dining set, an old dry sink, and a bookcase have moved with the Craigs wherever they've gone and make them feel completely at home in their condo. The "something new" in their lives is unquestionably the views.

"Wherever we are, we look out and see something wonderful. It's breathtaking," says Mary. Hardly a stay-at-home, her varied interests include membership in two book groups, theater and winter sports, as well as her work with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children), a group that helps protect the rights of abused and neglected children.

Alan's interests are equally eclectic: He regularly visits inmates at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia and serves as a commissioner for the accreditation of independent schools in the state.

"We love the freedom we now have to do these things," Alan says. "We're certainly not held hostage by taking care of a house and grounds."

Regrets?

"Only that we didn't do this sooner."


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Tell us about your haven by e-mail (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.com.

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