Jewelry star and antiques buff Craig Drake has an eye for great finds, and his Philadelphia penthouse is the perfect spot to display them.
Craig Drake is a true collector.
He appreciates a rare find, and when he has to have something, he has to have it. Even if he’s never seen it.
His home overflows with such finds — in fact, his home was such a find. Drake put down his money on the adobe-style house atop The Touraine in Philadelphia before he ever laid eyes on the place.
As soon as he heard that the house came with complete roof rights and a bird’s-eye view of Center City, he picked up the phone. “Because this is the most amazing thing there is,” he says, gesturing past the deck, out toward a blanket of rooftops that stretch, uninterrupted, so far into the distance that they begin to resemble Monopoly pieces. Drake loves that the place is so surprising. “If you didn’t know about it, you’d never guess it was up here,” he says.
Such impulse-buying is a habit for Drake, who, luckily, has an eye for great finds. He hones it designing fine jewelry for his eponymous Center City business, and it shows in the carefully culled collections displayed everywhere in his home.
Enough natural light spills through tall windows, through six sets of French doors, and through a skylight in the ceiling above the entry stairwell that there’s no need to flip a switch during the day. All those windows and French doors afford a view that’s the centerpiece of the combined dining and living area: of the deck, its garden, and the skyline beyond.
But the space really came alive when Drake left the decorating to his wife, Tania, a fashion designer who runs a women’s boutique in her native Brazil. She excavated boxes of accumulated collectibles from storage and filled every available inch of wall and shelf space. Hung artfully askew up one side of the entry stairwell are alternating sizes of antique copper pots, vessels and cooking tools. Hung opposite are paintings and personal memorabilia, including a framed certificate of appreciation from Smokey Joe’s, the popular bar for University of Pennsylvania undergrads. It’s dated 1959, Craig’s graduation year.
Upstairs, there are more copper groupings on the walls, and every surface — and every available inch of floor space — is put to good use. Antique prints of four views of Philadelphia from the vantage point of Independence Hall hang in a row along one wall. The 18th-century Philadelphia furniture and paintings of Center City and views of the Schuylkill are natural collecting categories for a craftsman who’s Philadelphia born and bred.
On another wall is General George S. Patton Jr.’s pistol. Next to the kitchen door stands Andrew Jackson’s water cooler. A brass diver’s mask, some copper watering cans, funnels and basins sit on the oak floor beneath several handsome pieces of 18th-century Philadelphia furniture and a farmhouse bench. Rows of French traveling clocks (precursors to the folding alarm clock) top an antique wooden chest in the dining area and the headboard in the master bedroom.
Clocks are one of Craig’s longest-running obsessions — it may be in his blood, given that his father was a horologist. His first buy was an antique banjo clock (named for its shape) made by clock maker Simon Willard. Craig was on his way to Wanamaker’s on 12th and Chestnut to buy a TV set with the $450 he and his first wife had saved, when he passed an antiques shop. In the window was the clock. The place wasn’t open, but Craig knocked on the window to get the shopkeeper’s attention. Then he talked the guy into selling him the $600 clock for $450. When he returned home, his wife asked what kind of TV he’d bought, and Craig replied, “A Simon Willard — you can watch it all day.”
The clock collection is now so large that it’s spilled over into his Walnut Street atelier, where the dark-wood clock cases complement the bling of gems and precious metals glittering from rows of velvety display trays. Women who come to browse his jewelry tell Craig they feel like a kid in a candy shop. He can relate. That’s how he feels when he walks into an antiques store.
He loves the act of collecting — the more outlandish the story, the better. He points to a copper watering can and tells how he spotted it in a Paris bar. It was filled with dried flowers. He bartered with the bar owner, trading the gold bracelet off his own wrist. The can was dented during the journey back across the pond. He likes the dent, considers it part of the charm. Then there’s the Egyptian mask he bought during a wild New Year’s Eve auction in Marrakech. “I woke up the next morning,” he recalls, “and said, ‘I bought what?’”
Space, however, isn’t unlimited, and sometimes Tania takes it upon herself to pare down the collections.
“I also have a collection of wine openers,” Craig says, looking around.
“I gave some of those to your kids,” says Tania.
“Oh,” says Craig, amused. “Thanks, honey.”
“At Christmas,” Tania says, “it’s like we look around the house, thinking, ‘Oh, what can we give them?’ If they’ve just moved into a new house, we say, ‘Here! Take this table!’”
Craig claims he’s not buying anymore, but Tania knows that must-haves will continue to crop up. Recently her husband received an ad that a friend had clipped from an antiques magazine. A dealer was selling a snuffbox made of pressed horn that once belonged to Sir Francis Drake, a direct ancestor. It’s now mounted and hanging in a glass case outside the guest bedroom. “Well, that,” Craig says, “is something you have to buy.”