Passersby may have noticed an unusual sight about a year ago outside the X-rated clothing and paraphernalia shop in the 300 block of South Street: Well-dressed ladies from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church giving directions to a party in an apartment upstairs.
Host Dan Hart, who works as a hairdresser on Rittenhouse Square, had joined the nearby church shortly before, and he was pleased but realistic at the high percentage of party RSVPs among the traditional Society Hill congregation.
“I think they were curious about this tattooed guy who had started showing up [at church] every week,” he said.
It is unlikely that the walk up the creaking stairs left them disappointed.
For 30-plus years, Hart and his partner, retired eighth-grade English teacher Joe McCole, have gone on a decorating journey from eclectic to psychedelic and back, with numerous stops in between.
The closest Hart comes to describing a theme for the decor is, “I wanted it to look like Jerry Garcia’s place in Haight-Ashbury.” Extricating his tongue from his cheek, he quickly admits that he never saw Garcia’s place.
At the same time, he said, “people don’t expect it to be so homey and normal. Almost everything comes from within a three-block radius. We carried it home.”
The long dining room table — actually two $200 IKEA tables placed together — is flanked by semi-matched chairs from American Pie up the street.
Above, two blue ceramic rabbits are propped on a wrought-iron chandelier from artist Warren Muller, then on Third Street.
“I call it ‘Alice in Wonderland meets the Last Supper,’” Hart said.
Stereo speakers are covered with a fabric pattern by William Morris, the famed 19th-century British textile designer and guru of the Arts and Crafts Movement. “He must have been on mushrooms,” Hart said.
The living room couch, bought 25 years ago and scheduled for the junk heap after the couple’s cat had clawed it to disrepair, was saved when Hart discovered it was a classic piece by Jay Spectre, a famed New York furniture designer. He had it revived using cloth from a matching bolster. The sofa pillow is by well-known French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.
There are also several sculptures by designer Ed Zucca, and a bed and chest in Hart’s bedroom from the North Carolina manufacturer Henredon.
And the main bathroom is decorated with tiles from Philadelphia mosaic legend Isaiah Zagar that were there when Hart and McCole moved in.
Of course, not everything is from or patterned after a name designer.
Above the headboard in the guest room is a mural by “a kid I saw doing graffiti on a building on Orianna Street. … I paid him a hundred bucks.”
A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Hart came to Philadelphia after “a bad experience” in San Francisco that he does not discuss. “Philadelphia had a stabilizing effect on me that San Francisco did not,” he said.
But there are numerous West Coast touches in the apartment, including a photo of him and artist Jane Krupp in which he resembles a young Arlo Guthrie and a painted version of it that evokes the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine album cover.
Hart lived in several places, including Society Hill Towers, before settling in his present rental in 1988, attracted by the roomy layout despite the fact that the building, which he thinks is about 200 years old, is hard to maintain.
It had been renovated by its owners at the time, Ruth and Rick Snyderman, owners of the Snyderman-Works Galleries. Over the years, occupants of the downstairs store have included an upscale Italian clothing store, a water ice shop, and an X-rated lingerie store. The neighborhood, as colorful as ever, makes Hart think about Woody Allen’s Annie Hall character living under the roller coaster on Coney Island.
But the couple have remained with no plans to leave.
Hart anticipates no major changes — “If something breaks or the cat soils it, we replace it” — but since he is 65, he says, there is still time: exactly four decades.
“I want to drop dead at 105 in the middle of a haircut.”