It's a new house, but it suited two old-house fans just fine

Daniel Glaubinger (left) and Sauce Leon in hammock chairs on the rooftop deck of their house.

Daniel Glaubinger and Sauce Leon were moving to Philadelphia from Newark, N.J., and they wanted a home that was environmentally sustainable and did not take up a lot of room.

For the couple - Glaubinger teaches high school history and Leon, his husband, teaches special education at an elementary school - house-hunting resulted in that vision's evolving a bit.

"First, we looked at old houses, and we loved the way they looked, but they had all kinds of leakages and high costs," says Glaubinger.

"Then we looked at more modern houses in developments, but they looked as if they were cut from cookie cutters."

When then they found architect Dave Whipple's development in Fishtown, they knew: It was the perfect fit.

"We are both interested in old architecture and thought we wanted an old house, but we were sold here," Leon says. "The view is amazing, and that is what clinched it."

He was particularly thrilled with the vista the deck offered of City Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and even the stadiums in South Philadelphia.

The property that grabbed their attention is at one end of a grouping of three tiny rowhouses on a narrow Fishtown street. Their house and one other - situated at the ends of the row - have facades of brick and corrugated metal. The house in the middle does not have the corrugated front.

"The different fronts add variety," Whipple says. When the dwellings were being planned, neighbors in Fishtown's older sections voiced objections, but now seem pleased that the development has replaced a vacant lot at the site.

Once inside, it's hard to remember that the house is just 1,800 square feet - spread among four levels.

On entering, the first thing that comes into view is a floating stairway that extends to the third floor. The steps seem to be individual platforms with no railing. A wire mesh to one side assures that those climbing the stairs do not fall, fulfilling Philadelphia building-permit requirements.

"I think the fact that there was a landing on each floor really sold me," Leon says.

Next, visitors get an introductory view of the kitchen and a glimpse of the backyard. Also on the first level, the great room includes a comfortable living area, with a floor-to-ceiling bookcase, and a dining room.

"We have a Christmas party every year, and this works great," Glaubinger says.

A basement TV/recreation room does double duty as a guest bedroom.

On the top level is the deck, outfitted with two hammock chairs - one for each of the homeowners, of course. When the weather is right, what's not to enjoy?

The master bedroom occupies part of the second level, as does another room for guests that is also where Lola, the couple's cat, resides.

Lola, as in that well-known song from Damn Yankees featuring the line "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets."

Glaubinger and Leon say they're pleased that the utility costs to live here are about $50 a month for gas, electricity, and "everything."

Whipple, a principal of Assimilation Design Lab in Philadelphia, said the couple's reactions are exactly what he hoped for.

"I plan to have homeowners who are young and usually buying their first home," he says.

The houses have a flexible arrangement, so the occupants can use the basement room for whatever purpose they choose: as an office, say, for working at home, or as a place to relax, as Glaubinger and Leon do. Some homeowners use their decks; some do not.

Whipple says it's important to make sure his houses are environmentally sustainable.

"This house has a four-story space that allows for natural air movement through the house," he says.

The shaft-life space helps bring sunlight to the whole house, and also keeps air-conditioning costs down, according to the couple.

In addition, Whipple says, the house employs closed-cell insulation and high efficiency mechanical equipment, as well as large windows that enhance natural light.

"All of this is both good for the environment and the homeowners' budget," he says.

"I think the house is saying that anyone who lives here is cool," Glaubinger says and laughs. "We are very happy that we found this house."

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