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Interiorssneak peeks

In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm

by Quelcy Kogel

I’ve heard the story (urban legend?) of new homeowners finding stacks of vintage porn hidden within drop ceilings. That’s cheeky and amusing, but imagine finding a loaded gun while pursuing a renovation. Would you walk away slowly, then start to sprint as fast and as far away as possible? For Neal Santos and Andrew Olson, the discovery of a loaded gun was no urban legend, but it is a strong metaphor for their ability to turn abandoned, rejected corners of Philadelphia, PA into beautiful spaces with lots of heart.

With a background in horticulture, Andrew was in search of a place to live where he could garden and keep chickens and bees. He found an amenable landlord, which landed him on 51st Street, but his green thumb quickly surpassed the yard and spilled into the adjoining abandoned city lot. Andrew and Neal began working with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Harvest Program, which equipped them with compost, lumber and seedlings, enabling them to expand their garden endeavor. Farm 51 was born and became a community hub (as evidenced by the many pictures of cute kids tending to vegetables via Instagram). They ran a weekly farm stand, selling veggies, eggs, honey and flowers.

But before there was a picturesque farm stand, there were thousands and thousands of pounds of trash to be hauled, weed trees to be cut back and general debris to clean up. It was during one of the initial volunteer clean-up days that they discovered the loaded gun, and they admit, “We’re still never sure what we might find when digging deep for a new tree or shrub.”

A few years into their urban garden project, the house adjacent to the garden lots, a three-story Victorian, went on the market. Andrew and Neal, a freelance photographer, bought the house and fully committed to 51st street. Having suffered decades of neglect, the house was in poor enough condition to send several contractors running for the hills. Plaster walls and ceilings were collapsing. Plumbing leaks had rotted and buckled the floors, but they finally found a brave contractor who, like them, could see the potential in the old bones. He lovingly restored any original elements that could be saved, then Neal and Andrew did what they do best: they filled the space with life and beauty.

Owning the home enabled them to buy one of the adjacent lots through Philly’s Side Lot Program and added more security to their farm endeavor. They hope to someday open up more of the house to create more flow from home to garden. In the meantime, their house brims with Andrew’s painterly floral arrangements, which Neal seems to freeze in time with his lens. Between garden, home and camera, these two have so much inspiration to offer, and if that’s not enough, they have plenty of cute dogs, too! —Quelcy

Photography by Neal Santos

Source List

Martha Stewart Paints:
-Nimbus Cloud — living room
-Avocado Peel — front door vestibule and fireplace

Benjamin Moore Paint:
Onyx Black — Master Bedroom, chicken coop, fences

Behr Paint:
Dark Jade — Neal’s office/nook/muay thai exercise room

In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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When this house went on the market, Andrew Olson and Neal Santos seized the opportunity. It enabled them to fully commit to their urban garden, Farm 51 on the adjacent lot. The house had suffered years of neglect, but you'd never know it today.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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The welcoming street entrance to the garden, adjacent to their Victorian home. Neal explains, the "planter-topped fence with cacti and succulents form a friendlier version of barbed wire." Grapes grow along the arbor made of salvaged porch columns, and the whole space brims with life and beauty. Neal and Andrew turned an abandoned lot into a beloved community space and a model of urban sustainability.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Neal says, "The porch is one of our favorite places to spend time in the morning, listening to music, having coffee with the dogs and saying hi to our neighbors." The front porch features a vintage bike a friend was going to scrap, but they turned it into a unique focal point.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Andrew and Neal find gems everywhere. The coffee table trunk was found in the home in its original neglected state. They found the ficus on a curb seven years ago. It loves that Victorian window light.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Neal says, "We like to decorate with natural objects that can be composted or returned to the garden as we change things up. Plants hide all of our decorating shortcomings." ("What shortcomings?" you might ask, to which I would reply, "I have no idea!")
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Neal photographed the pet portraits and the summer harvest scene above the mantel. Andrew made the frame with lathe from the house. It was the first present Andrew gave Neal as soon as they closed on the house. Neal recalls, "We had a romantic dinner of Indian takeout the first night we got keys and ate on the floor before any of the renovations started." The terrarium has nothing but ferns and begonias and "disappoints every kid that expects a snake or a lizard."
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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In addition to the farm, Andrew is one half of Chicory Florals, a farm-to-vase florist. This vignette features dried flowers from Chicory in front of a vintage mirror. The salvaged wood was leftover from their kitchen shelves.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Then along comes this pièce de résistance, which really makes me want to be friends with these creative homeowners and their friends. Is that an eye-catching wallpaper? Even better! It's a HAND-PAINTED WALLPAPER MURAL by Neal and Andrew's friend Maria Tina Beddia (@shelikestodrawl), complete with artwork "hanging" on the walls.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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A detail of the hand-painted "wallpaper" by artist friend Maria Tina Beddia (@shelikestodrawl). You can see one of her behind-the-scenes shots here.
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Neal and the dogs in the kitchen. They line up in this fashion whenever food is involved. (Left to right) Roscoe came from a shelter in Seattle, "he's the OG of the group." Violet was abandoned three blocks from their house, Giblet came from the Philadelphia SPCA, and Cheech was a Craigslist find. Neal and Andrew enlarged the original kitchen window to get a good view of the garden. The shelves were made from 14-foot x 12-inch wide beams from an old factory being torn down along I-95 in Philly. They salvaged the wood themselves in an old pickup truck in what Neal called the "slowest ride possible on a major highway, but it was all worth it to have these open shelves." The counter features fresh garden vegetables and a compost bin, which I'm hoping to see in more and more home tours.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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What happens when you combine eight years of houseplant collecting with a south-facing bay window? This uplifting wing of Andrew and Neal's home. The suspended ladder was salvaged from the trash, and the plants visible in this photo range from agaves and begonias to opuntia/prickly pears.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Andrew co-owns Chicory Florals with Erica Maust, which operates from the second floor of Andrew and Neal's home. The constant stream of flowers, branches and sloshing water added a need for durability to their home design. In this picture, Andrew was arranging centerpieces for a fall wedding. Luckily, Neal and his camera are never very far from the florals. He captures Andrew's work so vividly for Chicory's website and social media images, I feel like I can smell the florals from my screen.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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The house reveals still-life after captivating still-life, such as this master bedroom detail with more photos by Neal and dried thistle from Chicory.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Having followed this site for years, I dare say this bathroom is a Design*Sponge first. Not the classic subway tile or the dark color, beautiful as they are. But look at that luxurious clawfoot tub. It's a third-floor oasis for Kale and Collard, two turtles with a pretty good thing going. Also, are those not the best names for turtles?
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Tucked in the back of the house, this cozy room acts as Neal's editing office / Muay thai practice room. The barber chair was a yard-sale score a few blocks from their home. The brown leather heavy bag was made custom from Outslayer, Professional Fight Gear. The striking paint color is Dark Jade from Behr. A friend was going to throw away the rug, but Neal gave it new life in his office.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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The office is a room where they like to decompress. Here, Andrew can be seen resting with Giblet and Cheech. A repurposed vestibule mirror is now a shrine housing crystals, skulls, and dried sage from the garden -- all things Andrew is fond of collecting on their many dog-walking adventures.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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A cheery garden table, which they use to host parties with friends, as well as Filipino pop-up dinners. Neal is one of the founders of Pelago Philly. As they describe it, "Think, a Filipino family party on an urban farm in West Philly with all your Titas doing line dances and your cousins bumpin’ to stoop jams. But also kinda fancy."
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Andrew uses his shirt as a basket to gather this late fall harvest of swiss chard, tromboncino squash, and a dozen eggs all grown on the abandoned lots adjacent to their home.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Andrew Olson and Neal Santos pose with just a few of the many creatures living at Farm 51. Summer tropicals including castor bean, elephant ears and ferns, help shade the chickens from the harsh afternoon sun, in the stylish coop Andrew built.
In Philadelphia, a Victorian Home With An Urban Farm via Design*Sponge
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Violet gave her paw of approval for Neal and Andrew's sentiments on why they love their home.

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Comments

  • I love everything about this, including four dogs, two humans, two turtles and even chickens! And plants, of course! I really relate to carrying produce in a Tshirt basket. I’m usually at the family farm once a day, and often head to the garden to see what’s up (Yeah I did that) and decide I have to gather a few edibles but didn’t bring a basket, and I’m too lazy to go back to the house, so… use what ya got. The gardens are gorgeous, and the inside of this house is my dream. Warm colours and plants and art. And critters. On top of that, I’m always thankful when a crumbling old house gets some love and life back into it. Thank you so much for this tour, and for the positivity!

    • I pretty much only ever manage to harvest into a t-shirt and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve smashed a forgotten egg in my pocket. We’d get along great! -Andrew

    • At one point we had 5 (wonderful)roommates…..we’ve only just gotten used to just the two of us humans. I’m sure we’ll get lonely soon.

  • Whoa!! This is West Philly!! Love what you guys are doing at Farm 51 and love your home! Thanks for all you’re doing and for representing our neighborhood so wonderfully!

  • Absolutely love everything about your home! WOW to have such a beauty in Philadelphia is awesome, the back yard and that porch what a treasure.

    I can see that your home is filled with that represents you and is a retreat.

    Warm and inviting, thank you Neal and Andrew for opening your home and inspiring us.

    Now following you on Instagram!

  • I love the quirky design and living sensibilities that Neal and Andrew have. It reminds me (in a more sophisticated version), of this hippie farm ‘homestead’ that was up in The Santa Cruz Mountains, that we all used to hang out in, with the goats, chickens, dogs, in their amazing farm (organic of course, way back in 1972), when I was in college.
    Neal and Andrew have brought the vibe up a ‘notch or three’ in their home, it’s so cool and reflective of them.

  • This is a totally one-sided love story…. I bookmarked this post, I went over your work related posts, I admire you guys and everything you do, you have adorable pets (I love anybody who has pets although I wouldn’t give my claw-foot bathtub to turtles…) and your photo with the two dogs looking into the picture under the dog picture is pure joy! I ‘only’ thought ‘Oh gosh, they need to change that wallpaper’…. before I read on and saw the GENIUS of SheLikesToDraw :) So incredibly creative! Love all the details, the ideas, plants, the love you poured into it all – Congratulations boys, you’re just awesome! Kisses to the dogs from this Swiss woman living in France

  • Wonderful tour, lovely, loving home, beautiful plants and animals.
    Admire the effort and amazing results, and the wallpaper!, the paint choices, the patience of the dogs! So beautiful–your lives.

  • Your home is amazing – so much of it and your passion for found things, renovating homes, and gardening resonates with me. Well done!

    Can you tell me, what is the secret to building strong floating shelves out of salvaged beams without using brackets underneath? I attempted to do this in my bathroom, and failed somewhat miserably. I’d like to try again in my kitchen, but don’t know how!

  • I think this is my favourite Design*Sponge home tour EVER. So much warmth and happiness, so many good vibes in this house. And those dogs. I’m actually smiling at my screen like a dope :)

  • Such an inspiring home and family! It feels like I just discovered great interior design all over again. And in West Philly! Can’t believe it took me so long to find out about these two and their pups <3 Thanks for sharing!

  • Ahhh, this house captures everything that I love about my neighborhood *and* it gives me ideas about how to fix up my creaky old west philly victorian. THANK YOU for featuring our lovely neighborhood. Now I just have to figure out how to become friends with Andrew and Neal.

  • Echoing all the shouts of “Favorite house tour EVER!!!” This place is incredible! You guys have done an amazing job. I perked up at the paint colors, gazed with longing at that amazing mural, and then fell head over heels in love with the turtles in the bathtub. I nearly cried at how perfectly imperfect everything is. Wonderful!

  • Ahhhhhmazing! I live in Philly and had never heard of this place — how?? So lovely seeing the way they’ve brought so much life and creativity and community into this home, as is very much the west Philly vibe. Also … seems like I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on DS recently about Philly homes, which is oh so great!

  • Seriously, most amazing house tour of all time. You guys have curated a home and lifestyle that I am in awe of, surrounded by beautiful things from sunrise to sunset. Work/life balance doesn’t even seem necessary because it’s all just love and creative passion. The only thing I hated about this tour was that I couldn’t zoom in on all of the tiny little moments you two have created in every little corner of your world! Bravo. This planet needs more people like you!

  • I love everything about your home and garden! It has such a fantastic welcoming and peaceful energy. Thanks for sharing your home!

  • These people are gorgeous and seem creative, kind and sincere. I absolutely love this tour (and I want to be reincarnated in one of these turtles, or chick!)

  • So honored to have visited this amazing home and garden Happy Holidays to you guys! Wishing you the best for 2017.

  • Ok I’m bookmarking this one. There is nothing that I can say that others haven’t, but this is the first time I’ve commented on DS. Once I saw this amazing house I had to chime in and add my voice to the chorus of love being showered on this beautiful home. Well done <3

  • Your gorgeous home is an inspiration. (We’re still living in the “before” phase of things and may never get to “after.”) Thanks for allowing us a peek at your glorious creation.

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