Our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today, we look at the Kensington condo of Dan DeSalvo, a construction manager who has brought his love of light, plants, and antiques into an industrial loft in the Milk Depot building.
Ask any resident of Kensington to illustrate the the neighborhood skyline, and no doubt an oversized milk bottle water tower will be included in the description. The rusted relic stands tall on top of a building’s rooftop as a reminder of what once was: The oldest structure among a collection of properties for Harbison’s Dairy that was built in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Today, the once-abandoned warehouse is now a 13-unit condominium called the Milk Depot Building.
It’s a rarity for Milk Depot units to come on the market. So when Dan DeSalvo’s realtor friend Paul Gallagher gave him the heads up that a 1-bedroom, 2-bathroom unit was up for grabs in September 2016, DeSalvo wasted no time putting in an offer.
“I used to have a pretty great loft in Callowhill before, but condos in this building rarely come on the market,” DeSalvo said. “So when it became available on a Tuesday, I had it under agreement by Thursday.”
In the few months since DeSalvo has moved in, he’s managed to fill the 1,430-square-foot industrial space with a mix of plants, modern furniture, and unusual antiques. But he’ll be the first to admit that his home’s style is hard to define or pin down.
“I think it’s modern and industrial,” DeSalvo said. He paused, then continued, “It’s really a hodge-podge of things though. I knew if I tried to make it too industrial, it would start to look hokey. So I started to get some modern stuff and add some color.”
A lot of the corners and walls in DeSalvo’s home are filled with interesting relics and he’s collected over the years. DeSalvo says his knack for finding old industrial tools, like a grain-weighing scale that hangs in his dining room, partially comes from his line of construction and development work. One gig involved him traveling throughout the country, looking for “steam punk-themed” pieces to hang in a restaurant chain. “Part of my job was buying old gears and pressure gauges, things like that.”
One of his favorites is a piece of metal he scrapped from a portion of the Reading Viaduct Rail Park when he used to live in his Callowhill loft. Today, it hangs in a corner of his bedroom. DelSalvo has also been known to do a bit of dumpster-diving: He also found an old ladder in the dumpster and now uses it as a piece of wall decor in his living room.
“I have this thing for placement of certain things,” he said. “I describe it to my friends as furniture art.”
Gesturing to a black office chair in his kitchen, he continued, “No one is going to sit in that chair, and that clock doesn’t work. It’s just a grouping of things, but it’s almost like an art to me.”
Another way DeSalvo likes to showcase his finds is by hanging them from the loft’s tall ceilings. That’s purposeful, DeSalvo said, because it helps draw the eye down and prevents the space from feeling too exposed. It’s a trick he learned while living in his first loft, when he needed a place to store his bike. “It’s such a vertical space that if it can sometimes feel like everything is too far away.”
The living room wall was DeSalvo’s latest attempt at this decor trick. “I was struggling forever to fill that wall. I was going to put a big tapestry, but I decided I had enough stuff left over to hang up instead.”
DeSalvo’s plethora of plants are what serve as pops of color in his exposed brick-and-beam abode. The corner unit faces east and south, which makes it a near perfect place for his potted and hanging plants to flourish. “I love plants and light fixtures, and this space is perfect for both.”
The only room in the home where light is an issue is in the actual loft, DeSalvo’s bedroom. “I’ve got to put up a curtain one of these days,” he said, gesturing to the many windows next to his bed. “It’s kind of tough to sleep in.”
The bedroom also features an open-shelf closet, also hacked by DeSalvo, who before his transition to loft-life lived in a West Philly Victorian. “I didn’t want bulky furniture. So when when I moved from West Philly, I got rid of the whole furniture set: Dressers, drawers, all odds and ends, and developed this instead,” said DeSalvo, who continues to fix up and invest in properties throughout Philadelphia in his spare time. “It kind of feels like you’re browsing at your own store.”
Although DeSalvo only moved into his loft a few months ago, it hasn’t taken long for him to feel at home. Already, he hates to think about leaving. “If I ever get married or have to move away, it’s going to be tough. I don’t want to give up loft-living.”