The first to greet you at the Northern Liberties home of Sayde and David Ladov is Bear, the huge chocolate Lab who believes he's hospitality chairman.
Like his owners, Bear has made the transition to this unique townhouse - "vertical space, not horizontal," as the Ladovs like to say - from a traditional Colonial in suburban Blue Bell.
"This was definitely more Sayde's plan than mine, but she was right - it was a terrific move for us," says David Ladov, 56, cochair of the family law practice group of the Cozen O'Connor law firm and vice president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers' Pennsylvania chapter.
"We'd looked at a lot of apartments and condominiums in the Rittenhouse Square area, in downtown, and on the Delaware River, and they just weren't right for us," echoed Sayde, the departing chancellor of the 13,000-member Philadelphia Bar Association and a shareholder in the Offit Kurman law firm, where she is in the litigation department.
Sayde's New York roots were gradually pushing her to a more urban setting. Even before the couple became empty-nesters two years ago, the quest began to find a space that would meet their requirements. Daughter Lauren, then a student at Germantown Friends School, happily went along with the plan because of her affection for Old City. Anything that brought her closer was definitely "cool" in Lauren's view.
David, who had never lived outside a Montgomery County zip code, wanted to be able to walk to restaurants. For Sayde, proximity to theaters and her Center City office was important.
When Northern Liberties popped up on their radar, the two barristers decided they'd hit upon the Philadelphia version of New York's SoHo, a place that would allow ample space for their extensive art collection and also provide the wow and fun factors in their lives. They made the leap three years ago.
Step inside the four-story townhouse's first-floor den. On the wall is a striking piece by Red Grooms, the American multimedia artist known for his pop-art creations. Dali Salad, as the piece is called, offers Salvador Dali, the surrealist painter, surrounded by salad greens and a serving utensil. The art, payment from a client of David's, is a scene-stealer.
There's more art on the first floor, where hallways are filled with eclectic works, including several by Charles Fazzino, whose specialty is highly detailed 3-D art, often of urban scenes. One of the couple's most prized possessions is a handwritten note from the artist, sent to them on a milestone anniversary.
A colorful abstract titled The Dancers, by Romero Britto, dominates a foyer wall. On another, Itzchak Tarkay's portrait of a woman in cloche hat is simpler and reflects the couple's affection for the art deco period and portraits and studies of women.
"We wanted to keep things lively," says Sayde, a talented raconteur. She is not shy about introducing color and verve to her spaces, and her husband gives her free rein. David, however, was as involved as she was in finishing the space created by custom builder Don Ventresca, who put five upscale townhouses on what had been an empty lot.
The formal living room includes a fainting couch, the sort on which maidens presumably did their swooning centuries ago. Upholstered in brocade against a free-form curved frame, it's a focal point. A square coffee table with a marble-framed glass top holds a tiered metal sculpture.
Two Egyptian-style chairs blend with an elaborate hassock, all in a palette of cinnamons, bronzes, and golds. A simple, formal white silk sofa asserts itself against the red wall.
Against all odds, the Ladovs' dining room accommodated all of the furniture from their Blue Bell dining room, including a glass-topped table, server, and a breakfront.
"We love to entertain, do it often, and we can still accommodate 10 to 12 for a sit-down dinner," Sayde notes. "Entertaining was high on our must-have list, and often we're home base for our daughters and their friends."
The kitchen is another showstopper, with contemporary black cabinetry, a copper backsplash, granite countertops, and state-of- the-art appliances. Many purchases were made at neighborhood businesses.
The house even has extra space. Besides their fourth-floor master bedroom suite, with breathtaking city views, and a third-floor "daughter room," for either Hillary, now a law student at Rutgers-Camden, or Lauren, a sophomore at Emory University, they have a third bedroom that's empty.
David, who brings work home from his office in West Conshohocken, has created a combination man-cave and office. It also contains their car's luggage rack, used on family trips. "I can't part with it, even though our family trip days are probably over," he says. "I'm sentimental."
There's another testament to their previous life: On a small patio outside the dining room, there sits the grill, usable but, well, suburban.
"I guess," David says, "the grill is the last thing to go." I
Sally Friedman is a freelance writer based in Moorestown.