This Artist’s Incredibly Unique Philadelphia Home Celebrates Spooky Season All Year Round
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Name: Adam Wallacavage and three birds, Buddy Cockatiel and two Zebra doves named Benson and Hedges Ultra Lights 100, and two goldfish
Location: Southern Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Size: 3000 square feet
Type of Home: 1890s brownstone row home with a classic stoop and tiny backyard
Years lived in: 22 years, owned
Adam Wallacavage is a photographer turned novelty chandelier maker. “I got my start shooting for Thrasher skateboard magazine in my early 20’s then shooting art and artists for Juxtapoz magazine then a bit of commercial photography before graduating to making sculptural lighting and then showing at Jonathan LeVine gallery in NYC and all over the world,” begins Adam.
“Before I purchased my home, I lived in a super tiny apartment across the street from famed stained glass artist Judith Schaechter. Her house is my original inspiration for what I wanted, but hers is a rare almost perfectly intact Victorian that was built by a developer who used it as a ‘sample model’ with all the bells and whistles as far as interior elements go. The idea of finding something similar seemed impossible, but I lucked out with the one and only house I looked at and got a place that had at least two elements of what I wanted — tall ceilings and stained glass.”
Adam continues: “Missing were all the ornamental elements as it was modernized in the 1940s, but this ended up being a blessing in disguise. It was dirt cheap, and I didn’t have a place worth restoring but a place worth customizing. I tore down walls and rebuilt the layout similar to the original design and taught myself the craft of making molds and casting plaster and turning the place into a Victorian style freak show. At the time, I was a full-time photographer shooting for skateboarding magazines and art galleries and doing commercial photography. It was the perfect job with a lot of between time to work in the place. After visiting the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, United Kingdom just a few months after closing on the house, I found my path to what I wanted my interior to be based off.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: I’ve often described my style as the mixture of the beach towns Wildwood, New Jersey, and Cape May, New Jersey. The Wildwoods are known for their kitschy ’50s neon and mid-century modern motels and boardwalk. And Cape May is known for its Victorian gingerbread.
Inspiration: I find my best inspiration from unseen ideas. Hearing a description or seeing a small part of something fantastic and imagining the rest. The mystery of the oceans and spirituality. Catholicism and religious art and architecture.
Favorite Element: I think it’s what I’ve learned from being there for 22 years and how it shaped my art career. I often refer to it as a sketchbook and I never let myself get scared of trying things no matter how weird. I bought an interior from a room in a Horace Trumbauer mansion that was being demolished and had it reinstalled by my art and skater friends Andrew Clark and Carlos of FDR skatepark. I must say, the skateboarders I know do absolutely incredible work.
Biggest Challenge: I was broke as a joke when I got the place, but I was able to do things like bling out the place in ornamental plasterwork with help from my friend Kathy Vissar who has a scagliola plaster studio and she let me borrow from her extensive rubber mold collection. Casting plaster is relatively inexpensive so casting the stuff myself saved lots of money.
Proudest DIY: The proudest would have to be the first room I did, which was inspired by Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” That’s the room that I made the first octopus chandeliers for back in 2001, which is what I make a living doing now.
Biggest Indulgence: The second floor greenhouse and backyard. I got an architect and permits and rebuilt the back of my house to accommodate it. It’s not finished or really started on yet, but the room under the greenhouse is going to be the seashell grotto room. I want that to rival everything. I’m basing the feel of it on a painting by Gustave Moreau called “The Apparition.”
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I would say that it’s basically a show room for my chandeliers. My studio is on the third floor as well.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I bought a backpack vacuum cleaner that I used funds from a music video by the band, The Bronx, directed by my friends from Yo Gabba Gabba and The Aqua Bats. The video is for the song “Side Effects” and features nine different views of my house with a story line that goes on within nine frames at once. Just look it up online. It’s hard to explain.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Don’t be afraid of messing stuff up. It can always be redone. Well, at least as far as paint goes. And don’t be afraid of what people are going to think. Do it for yourself first and not for trying to impress others. Being pretentious works in what you do as well as what you don’t do that’s not yourself or true to your vision. It’s okay to emulate others but always give credit to those who inspired you and try to put a spin on it.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Don’t be afraid of letting your freak flag fly. If you are remodeling, mess with what you are getting rid of for practice. Befriend skateboarders who know how to build concrete skateparks. They might be nightmares, but they know how to go far with any budget, and if they know how to build concrete bowls, they are most likely talented in a number of other skills. (This might be the best or worst advise btw).
Mostly everything I own is secondhand but there are great places in Philadelphia to get the kinds of things I have:
- Chair — Empire Antiques in Hightstown, New Jersey
- Wolfbat — Wolf Bat/Dennis McNett
This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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