A heavenly slice of history is the site of a family compound in Chester Springs.
With a pedigree dating back to the 1764 sawmill and the prestige of a National Register of Historic Places designation, Pine Creek Mills is a more welcoming and homey property than you might think for such a landmark. Having a picture-perfect waterfall view—complete with soothing soundtrack—helps set the scene on the eight acres that the extended Richmond family has called home for 20 years.
You may have passed the collection of buildings—four separate residences, three-level stone barn, stone wagon shed, two-car garage, plus a pond, stone dam, waterfall and pasture—that looks like a small settlement across the charming arched stone bridge and cobblestone entrance along Lower Pine Creek Road.
With its converted sawmill and gristmill set among the majestic oaks and sycamores, the property was featured on a Chester County Day Tour years ago. Now it attracts curious drivers who pull over to ask the owners about its history. If you’re a local, you may know it as Clement’s Mill, named after the owner from the 1920s.
Having lovingly restored this second historic property (the family previously renovated an 1800s stone home nearby), the Richmonds are ready for their next adventure. And they are leaving a meticulously maintained estate for someone who appreciates Chester County history.
A stone walkway to the main house (c. 1801) includes just one of the many millstones that dot the property. This fitting approach to a classic Chester County fieldstone farmhouse foreshadows the period wood details, wide-plank hardwood floors, deep windowsills and other charms of a well loved architectural style.
Yet little prepares you for the open space within. The overused phrase “the best of old and new” does not do justice to the transformation within—think dark wood and stone details in spacious, white-walled rooms.
Red oak beamed ceilings and massive timber mantels in the formal living and dining rooms mix with soaring vaulted ceilings in the single bedroom and large, light-filled modern kitchen (SubZero, Viking appliances). Period chandeliers combine with new skylights. An office and laundry room join the bedroom and en suite bath on the second floor.
Far enough away for ample privacy, the miller’s house (c.1890) features stucco and stone outside and an open floor plan inside. A large living and dining room, kitchen and studio/family room are on the main level, with a grand bedroom, bath, office and loft on the second floor. Special features include three skylights in the cathedral ceiling of the oversized master bedroom and a stone cold storage room with arched ceiling—perfect for a wine cellar and tasting room.
Next along the line of residences is the gristmill (c.1790). The mill’s works were sold to the Pennsylvania Museum Commission. This charming three-story stone building has been converted into two apartments—a two-bedroom unit on the main level and one-bedroom unit, with private entrance and wall-to-wall carpeting, above. A broad, covered porch is one of many spots on the property to take in the waterfall view.
The stone and cyress siding sawmill cottage (c. 1764) is the fourth and final residential building in the compound and nearest the mill pond and stone dam with waterfall, as well as the stream that powered the mill’s wheel. Many local homes and barns were built from timber cut here before the sawmill closed and the works were donated to the Smithsonian Institute.
Again an open floorplan with vaulted ceilings and skylights, accented by dark wood details, is nestled inside a quaint Colonial exterior to create a two-bedroom home. This structure was built on the stone foundation of the original sawmill.
At the opposite end of the property from the waterfall and sawmill sits a massive, three-level stone bank barn (c. 1824) with several frame additions. Once used as a movie theater (the prior owner also owned West Chester’s Warner Theater), the barn still has a projection booth.
As well-maintained as the other structures, the barn could easily become a party barn, studio or whatever the new owner’s imagination can conjure. The insulation and structural integrity are there, as well as a lower level with ample space for stabling. All that’s needed are new plans.
A stone wagon shed has ample space for a workshop or vehicle storage. And the stall at the rear was for many years home to the Richmond’s miniature pony, often spotted grazing in the pastures. A two-car garage (c. 1960) also houses the property’s generator, with separate breakers for each building.
As the National Register nomination aptly puts it: these venerable, solid and handsome structures that served their community for an extraordinarily long time are bounded by the beautiful and unspoiled Pine Run, shaded by huge sycamores and oaks, and “convey a serenity and sense of another era which is equaled by few other locations in the country.”
Pine Creek Mills, a turnkey 8-acre estate or family compound in Chester Springs and in the Downingtown East School District, is offered at $1,650,000. For more information about this historic property, contact Stewart Gross at the Holly Gross Group, 610-431-1100 (office), 970-306-9698 (cell); HollyGross.com.
Finding A Community That’s Right For You
If houses are like spouses, neighborhoods are like extended family. Except unlike your spouse’s extended family, you see your neighborhood “family members” everyday. And you’ll never be happy in your dream home if the surrounding area isn’t dream-worthy as well.
So before day dreaming about the perfect house with the perfect view, take the time to envision your ideal neighborhood.
Need help? Try these brainstorming tips to spark your imagination!
The Wish List
You can’t start looking for your dream neighborhood if you don’t have some idea of what you want. So, ask yourself the big questions. What are your must-haves? What do you want now? In the future? Do you envision a starter home or are you planning to stay put? And so on.
Gary Scheivert of Berkshire Hathaway suggests making a list of your present and future needs and see how different areas match up. For example, “Do you plan to have children in the future? If so, you may want a neighborhood that has a tot lot and sidewalks,” says Gary. And of course, a great school district.
“Singles or couples without kids might prioritize other benefits,” notes Gary. Things like walkability, proximity to activities and restaurants, plus your commute to work are all important to consider.
For couples, Holly Gross of The Gross Realty Group recommends each client makes a list separately, then both make a list together. “This way you’ll be able to see what you can compromise on, what you can’t, and go from there,” she explains.
A close-knit community with locally owned shops, dining and a theater at its center. A quiet rolling landscape with a handful of homes across acres of open farmland. A suburban family town mixing the best of city and country life just a short drive from great shopping. Which sounds most appealing to you? Anything else on your wish list?
Usually location and its corresponding personality are the first things people think about. “It might sound trite and obvious,” says Holly Gross, “but it really is the most important selling point to many people.” And just like your place in your extended family, you want to feel you fit in and are part of the larger community.
Some people will even sacrifice convenience or higher price if the area feels like the right fit. “If you’re really set on that rural landscape, driving 20 minutes to get to the grocery store doesn’t feel like an inconvenience,” says Holly.
If you know you can’t stand cramped city life or you’d feel isolated if your nearest neighbor was acres away, you’ll have a much easier time narrowing down your options.
Going hand in hand with an area’s overall lifestyle, neighborhood amenities are equally important. “Most buyers are very concerned with what’s around them, depending on their stage of life,” notes Missy Schwartz of Berkshire Hathaway. That’s where your wish list comes in handy.
“I always recommend driving around a little, at different time of the day, night and week,” says Missy. “It’s the best way to get a first-hand feel for the area.” Safety is always a top priority—those daytime verses nighttime visits are good tests in your research.
Being close to amenities like quality shopping, dining, hospitals, cultural attractions or nature might also be important to you. Or perhaps you’d feel better if your child’s school was minutes away, regardless of whether you choose a public or private school.
The vast amount of information on the internet has made the research process a lot easier. “Buyers coming to our area are very educated these days, not only about the individual properties, but also the region’s numerous perks,” agree agents Amy Mc
Kenna and Cindy Orr of Country Properties. “When they’ve already chosen their ideal town, it allows us to spend more time assisting buyers in finding the home to match their specific needs.”
A neighborhood is also defined by the people who live there. Especially if you’re community minded and like to get to know your neighbors, you’ll want to move somewhere that will make you feel connected. For this reason, towns with plenty of local events tend to be popular.
Also think about your stage of life. Parents might want to move to an area full of families they and their kids can make friends with. Singles will likely feel more comfortable around others in the same stage of life than with those families with little ones. And empty nesters and retirees looking for peace and quiet might not find it in a lively college town.
We all want the best value for our money, so it’s important to know budget limitations and overall cost of living in the target neighborhoods. Mortgages, resale values, property taxes, homeowner’s association fees and zoning regulations are all things to take into consideration.
If the value of your home increases, make sure you can afford the resulting increase in taxes. Likewise, if you’re not planning to stay forever, you’ll want to be aware of resale trends in an area.
Also think about the amount of freedom you’d like to have on your property. Check for rules and restrictions about home additions like pools, fences, siding and landscaping, plus limits on other things like motorcycles, noise and animals. Typically condos and private developments will have more rules governing what you do to and in your home. Do some soul searching to decide whether those restrictions will feel limiting or if they might be the perfect solution to past neighborhood pet peeves.
Now that you’re armed with your list and knowledge, you’re one step closer to buying your next home!
Chadds Ford Architect John Milner Creates a Provencal Dream House on the Pickering Creek
It is the stuff of picture post cards, with fieldstone walls the color of autumn straw, baked clay tiles spiking the silhouette of its roofs, and a columned loggia with fountain and spy holes opening to an enclosed courtyard. There’s a warmth about this home—in Provence, they call it chaleur—but it’s no less appealing when this element takes shape along the Chester County countryside.
It didn’t happen by accident, says architect John Milner, the person the home’s owners commissioned to make their dream of a Provencal country home come true. “We wanted to evoke the feel of a French farm house with outbuildings and guest house, an agrarian compound that has evolved over time to accommodate large family gatherings,” says the architect.
Room for Large Families
As the lady of the house explains, the capacious farmhouse style suited her family’s needs and tastes. “Both my husband and I are from large families—he’s from a blended family of eight children and I’m one of five, with all of them within an hour of us.”
So the Chester County couple were used to large spaces. The home where she and her husband had raised their own three children was a 250-year-old converted stone bank barn along the Pickering Creek outside Phoenixville.
“Our living room was 25 feet by 50 feet with a 27-foot ceiling. Not only was it a wonderful place to raise a family, it allowed us the space to gather the large families together for numerous celebrations and holidays. It was not uncommon for our tables to be set for 40 to 50 people. We always swore that we would not move unless an amazing piece of land became available,” she says.
A Special Property
“Amazing” described the property that came onto the market in 2005. It was a 40-acre spread of land on an open, rolling hillside in the northwestern quadrant of Chester County, just a stone’s throw from Routes 202, 29 and 30. What made this property even more special was that all three of their children fondly remembered spending summer days playing in the Pickering Creek Valley.
After acquiring the property the couple began the process of interviewing architects, including Milner. What they had in mind, they told him, was a stone home, at least five bedrooms, with a European feel, like those they’d seen in southern France. There should be numerous outdoor gathering spots, arches, courtyards and intimate spaces.
Later she would think back on that first meeting with Milner and laugh. Had she been interviewing him? Or was it the other way around? The fact was, Milner wasn’t just a world-class architect whose works included some of this region’s most prestigious structures, he was also selective about the kinds of projects he undertook.
The Right Architect
On a recent evening Milner sits in his office—a place chock-a-block with remnants of farm implements and decorative pieces—and recalls the time a famed sports figure approached the architect to create a home for him.
What he wanted, said the celebrity athlete, was a house so spectacular people would drive 50 miles out of their way just to see it. With that in mind Milner drew up a list of ten other architects who’d be delighted to create such a home. It just wasn’t Milner’s style.
“There are lots of architects who’d be happy to design that kind of place. It’s a common mistake,” says Milner. “It’s like placing a house on top of a hill, to create a sense of grandeur. As Edgar Allen Poe said—grandeur for its own sake fatigues and depresses.”
It would be far more rewarding, he felt, to create a home with a bit of mystery to it. “The understanding of the house should evolve as you move from space to space. You don’t want to experience a place all at once; rather, it should gradually reveal itself, giving it a sense of discovery,” Milner says.
The first step in creating the Provence house was deciding how to situate it on the land. “There should be a reason for the placement of a house. People sometimes forget that the largest windows should face south for maximum sunlight, while the smallest should face north for protection from the wind,” he continues.
Decisions from the Ground Up
While Milner was occupied with blueprints for the house, his clients were busy with other details. Having lived in an old barn, they’d undertaken numerous renovation projects, but this was the first home they’d ever built from the ground up.
The lengthy process of building permits and open space conservation issues allowed them the time to focus on the details of each and every room. The couple’s wish lists were identical: large kitchen with lots of counter space, large outdoor porch with a fireplace, infinity-edge pool, lots of reclaimed wood, brick and beams, high ceilings, and so on.
Ultimately he took charge of the electrical details, HVAC, generators, security system and audiovisual components, while she handled most of the details that involved tile, paint, decorating and plants. Ground for the new house was first broken in March of 2006 and the house was completed in December of 2008.
Typical of Milner’s work, the house emanates a sense of discovery. “There is a tree line on the land but instead of placing the house in front of the trees, I placed it behind, to create the effect of it being veiled,” says the architect.
Getting the Details Right
Close up, the sense of detail becomes apparent everywhere. The main entrance leads through a small double door with a weathered limestone surround from Abt, in France. “You don’t enjoy the best view of the house until you’re through the doors and onto the loggia,” says the architect. “The stones in the walls were hand set in recessed mortar to give it a ‘dry stack’ look, a technique that calls for a highly skilled artisan.”
The doors lead into the loggia where the sound of water comes trickling from a fountain in the wall and a small circular fenestration offers a glimpse of the courtyard within. Here and there, the stones are touched with patches of moss and other growths, a reference to the passage of time.
Inside, the home remains true to its Provencal roots. The living space is organized around a spacious great room with ceilings 19 feet high to accommodate large family gatherings. “We wanted to create the sense of a family compound rather than a literal copy of a barn,” says Milner.
Antique oak beams, warped and worn over time, were sawed into floorboards. Butternut wood—common in ancient French churches—was used for intricate carvings and millwork. Poplar was used for painted areas and where brushstrokes showed through, they were sometimes allowed to remain.
“Imperfections tell a story,” says Milner. “They related to the human element. They say there’s a bit of history here.”
However, the architect and his client didn’t agree on every detail. “There was a balcony railing that they wanted to do in iron, and I thought it would be better in wood,” Milner continues. On reaching a compromise they produced one more subtle point of discovery—wooden stair railings inlaid with iron strips.
In spite of being told repeatedly by others how stressful the construction process would be, thanks to Bob Griffiths and Wayne Rowland of Griffiths Construction, the owners realized the opposite to be true. “They all made the building process so pleasant,” she says.
“So did the masons of L&L Restoration of Parkesburg. “It was so touching to see the masons who worked here each weekday make the trip back with their families on weekends to share their handiwork,” she says.
As for the interior, says Milner, the lady of the house deserves the credit for the handsome Provencal-inspired décor.
Of course, a home that’s the product of so much craftsmanship and authenticity deserves grounds to match and for this, the owners turned to landscape designer Jonathan Alderson. “I have always had a passion for flowers, shrubs, trees and gardening,” says the wife. “But it took Jonathan to sort out which plants or shrubs would achieve the European garden look while surviving the Pennsylvania hot summers and cold winters.”
Sharing the Dream
After eight years in their dream house, the owners still pinch themselves that they live there. “We don’t take it lightly or for granted the amount of incredible talent and expertise contributed by all who helped build this house. It has been the scene of countless celebrations of friends and family, including three backyard weddings.
“When our friends and the ever-growing families gather and thank us for hosting, our response is often, ‘You are welcome ... we built this home to share ... so glad you can be here!’” she says with a smile.
- Architect: John Milner Architects
- Builder: Griffiths Construction
- Landscape Designer: Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects
- Stonemasons: L&L Restoration of Parkesburg
- Millwork: David Dougan Cabinet Maker and Ralston Shop
- Hardware: Michael M. Coldren Company
- Antique Timber: Tindall’s Virgin Timbers and Sylvan Brandt
- Framing: Mark Wagner Construction
- Tile and Stone: Petragnani Brothers Tile and Marble
- Pool: Armond Aquatech Pools
- Kitchen Cabinets: Coventry Kitchens
A dream house and bit of Britain in northern Chester County’s rolling hills
Any drive through the Chester County countryside will remind you of the deep connection early British settlers felt between southeastern Pennsylvania and the geography they left behind—lush farmlands, dense greenery, rolling hills and stone houses dotting the landscape. Many towns here share names with towns in the British Isles—Malvern, Exton, Warwick. And even the county’s name harkens from across the pond.
It’s that same connection that the owner of this month’s featured home felt to the Chester Springs area. After a two-year search, she found the place to create the dream home that reflected her English roots. And after taking photos of gracious manor homes in England, she had images to inspire the design of her future home.
Local architect Peter Batchelor was able to translate her photos into a drawing on his first effort—the proof captured in a framed rendering hanging in the home’s hallway. And so began the two-year process of building the custom three-level, five-bedroom, five-plus-bathroom English manor home nestled in ten-plus prime acres in Chester Springs.
The grounds are no less charming. A small brook, lily pond and springhouse mark the approach on the tree-lined drive, curving to the big reveal of the magnificent home. A pool, gazebo and stone patios make the outside as inviting as inside—both superb spaces for entertaining. Beautifully maintained perennial gardens, planted for extended bloom-time, form the perfect backdrop amidst the mature landscaping that provides seclusion and privacy.
With room to expand the shed barn to add horses to enjoy open pastures and an interior design adaptable to becoming a charming B&B, this property is available to be a dream home or a dream venture.
Every detail of this home reflects the care spent to bring a dream to reality. From the bespoke Clive Christian kitchen, to the hand-crafted artistic wall finishes in virtually every room, to the stunning array of carved moldings that are a master class on decorative details throughout the interior, this home is filled with custom design.
It’s not surprising the home was a destination on prior Chester County Day House Tours and other open houses during its past 18 years.
The stately façade foreshadows the regal interior. The foyer’s green marble floor and sparkling crystal chandelier bracket a movie-set-worthy balcony and curved stairway begging for grand entrances. Carved pillars, crown molding, shell built-ins, wainscoting, carved stone fireplace and a two-story Palladian window are just a few features of the stunning formal living room, with balconies on two sides and a hand-painted mural on a third.
A two-story great room with walls of French doors and hand-painted faux plaster wall art shares the same sunlit feel and custom details. The adjacent formal dining room boasts dentil and crown moldings, Adams fireplace, built-ins and cherry floors with maple details.
The hand-built, imported kitchen by British designer Clive Christian is equally spectacular. With beamed ceiling, French limestone floors, soapstone countertops, green marble island, commercial grade Dynasty six-burner range and Sub-Zero refrigerator hidden behind custom cabinetry, this chef’s dream kitchen and adjoining breakfast room/sunroom are sure to be natural gathering spaces. More carved moldings and hand-painted cherries and raspberry vines frame the space that looks out to the stone patios, pool and gardens.
Down a hallway with crackle paint finish—past the powder room where antique furniture houses the plumbing fixtures—leads to the library, potting area, front and back family entrances with hand-painted hunt scenes, and back stairs. Peek into the library, with raised cherry paneling, faux red leather walls, stone fireplace, coffered ceilings and a secret shelf of books hiding a TV.
The back stairs to the bedrooms sport one of several imported English newel posts installed throughout the home. Since each themed bedroom has a private bath, the home is a good fit for those yearning to run a B&B.
The hunt-themed bedroom is bedecked in Ralph Lauren design, while the “ladies” bedroom has a claw-foot tub under a chandelier. Another large bedroom suite has its own sitting room.
The master suite includes a sitting area, his-and-her closets, dressing and bathrooms. Cathedral ceilings, stone fireplace, columns and a balcony are notable features of this sumptuous space.
On the lower level, there’s a so-called 18th-century room, with beamed ceilings, brick fireplace and Williamsburg bar. An adjacent billiards room with fireplace and walk-out to the pool is a perfect man cave.
This level also houses a full bath, with easy access to the pool, laundry room, storage and mechanical rooms, plus two home offices, one with an exercise space and either suitable to convert into another bedroom.
This exquisite property, full of character and craftsmanship, awaits its next family to live out their dreams in this corner of Chester County.
For more information about this unique hone on 10.7 acres in Chester Springs, offered at $2,195,000, contact Karen Nader at Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty. 484-888-5597; BFPSIR.com.
Chester County Day, the longest-running house tour in the country, takes place for the 76th time. And as always, it offers visitors what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit unique and historic homes and buildings, lovingly preserved and added to over the decades and centuries.
Following tradition, the event is held on the first Saturday in October—this year October 1st. Thousands of visitors from different states and countries will get a chance to appreciate the historic appeal, interest and charm of this region’s architecture and its surroundings.
Organized from the beginning by the Women’s Auxiliary to the Chester County Hospital, Chester County Day directly benefits the hospital. Tour tickets and VIP passes, available on the hospital website and local shops, help support the hospital’s cardiac program. More details are in the Events section of this issue.
The 2016 celebration of Chester County Day focuses on the southwest quadrant of Chester County—sites in the West Chester, Kennett Square, Marshallton and nearby areas. This preview looks at five properties on the tour—four preserved and improved over the years by a series of caring owners, one a newly created interpretation of Tuscan architecture that lends a Mediterranean note to an area known more for its roots in the English Isles.
From views of formal gardens to contemporary art, the preview is just a taste of the ongoing traditions and surprising variety Chester County Day reveals about the region it’s named for. Enjoy this armchair preview!
Southdown in East Bradford Township
Anne Watkins says she and her husband Peter were looking for a horse farm in the area three years ago when they heard about Southdown. They sent their daughter to visit first, she pronounced it “enchanting,” and that was that.
The charm is evident enough from the moment you enter a long tree-lined drive that leads upward past a large pond where a swan and her cygnet calmly glide. The main building is a stone mansion, with six bedrooms and six bathrooms, with an unusual mansard roof that brings a bit of France’s Second Empire architecture to this East Bradford Township site. See photo on prior page.
Dating to the early 18th century, the home was originally in the Cope family and was the birthplace of local historian Gilbert Cope. In the 20th century, it was restored by Eugene Gagliardi, the Steak-umm inventor, who owned it before the Watkins.
Now the property features a paved courtyard ringed by outbuildings, some of which now serve as a poolside socializing space. The whole 42-acre site has a relaxed, welcoming beauty for which the word “enchanting” is, in fact, as good a one-word description as a visitor could imagine.
Rosewood Outside Unionville
Bruce McNew was looking for “land and character,” he says, to explain what led him to Rosewood, a mansion built in 1861 on Wawaset Road outside Unionville. The original owner was a garden enthusiast who planted specimen trees on the site, some of which still grow there.
The character of the mansion both outside and in is mainly one of formal elegance, leavened with Asian and contemporary art—beautiful vases grace the dining-room table, and a striking European advertising poster is a main feature of the foyer. The family living areas are more relaxed and comfortable, but offer plenty of art to please the eye as well.
McNew renovated the mansion in 1993, but since then has focused on the 34-acre grounds, where the formal elegance deepens with an East Garden and Secret Garden that would look perfectly at home at a certain well-known horticultural site a bit southeast of the McNew residence.
The house is hard to see from the road even in the winter, and of course the walled Secret Garden is out of the question. So Chester County Day is your best bet for seeing this remarkable example of loving attention to a landscape.
A Tuscan Villa Near Unionville
Chester County may be mostly an area of British-related history and homes, but if you go down the driveway of Wayne and Colleen Simpson’s home near Unionville, you’ll find yourself looking at a vision of Italian architecture that seems to have been put there by some Prospero-like conjurer.
But the explanation is simple enough: Wayne Simpson took a year off in college to travel in Europe and fell under the influence of Italian architecture. The Italians have greatly influenced British and American designers over the centuries—a Renaissance Italian named Andrea Palladio has been called “the father of American architecture”—but Simpson’s work is a more direct celebration of the sorts of historic homes you’d see in a Tuscan countryside.
Built about 15 years ago, it’s designed with courtyards and porches meant to connect inside and outside, also captured in this issue’s cover photo. Add Colleen Simpson’s talents as an interior designer and the inside of the home combines modern comfort and flow among the rooms with a mix of traditional and contemporary art the Simpsons collected or created themselves.
And as much as the surroundings recall the Mediterranean, much of the materials are locally sourced and furnishings locally built. Besides its visual appeal, the Simpsons say the home is a comfortable place to live, work and entertain.
Robinhurst in Kennett Square
Back in 2007, the owners of the John S. Gilmore house on North Union Street in Kennett Square called real estate agent Matt Fetick to help sell the historic home, built in 1866. Fetick already knew about the house, and he told the owners he’d be right over.
But he didn’t want to sell the house—he wanted to buy it. Within 15 minutes they had an agreement; within an hour Fetick had gone back to the office and written up a contract.
The large mansion is often called “Robinhurst,” and was once the home of banker and ornithologist Charles Pennock. It has a number of features derived from various architectural styles, but “graceful dignity” might be as good a general description as any. Fetick says its design shows a turning away from the more profusely decorative Victorian styles.
Although Fetick (the Borough’s mayor) and his partner David Williams recently undertook a renovation of the first floor, the house has needed only the usual minor attentions since he bought it, Fetick says. The front features a wide lawn, large overarching trees and attractive landscaping. The back has a pool, a carriage house with an open porch for socializing and ornamental gardens.
Judge Gawthrop’s Home: VIP STOP
John and Polly Robbins were relocating to the area from Connecticut three years ago when they heard about the availability of a classic center-hall Colonial home built in 1917 on Sconnelltown Road, just outside West Chester. Polly says her husband was in the area, took a look, and that was that. Entirely by chance, they’d learned of the house close to the instant it was listed and were able to act on it quickly.
Since then, the Robbinses have heard from more than one annoyed neighbor who had been waiting patiently for the home to come on the market. It’s known in the neighborhood, in part because it was owned for a time by well-known judge and singer Robert Gawthrop III.
And VIP ticket holders are invited to tour this special property on The Day. Soon it will be open for other events—dinners and small weddings.
The Home: The home has a certain old-world dignity about it, but inside it also has an expansive, open feel. Some renovation work was done by Period Architecture, enclosing open areas and adding a mudroom and spectacular kitchen.
The ground it occupies is level, open and surrounded by trees that screen it from the road.
There are musicians and artists among the Robbins family members, and the furnishings reflect that influence.
And as in many traditional homes, the more modern elements complement and add interest—it’s the best of both worlds.
VIP Tickets: VIP ticket holders also enjoy a special Preview Party with the Tour’s homeowners at Vickers Restaurant, a chance to tour for the day in a Mini from Otto’s Mini of Exton (while they last!), and a gourmet boxed lunch prepared by Montesano Brothers Italian Market and Catering.
VIP Tickets cost $100 and 100% of your contribution benefits The Chester County Hospital. For information, call 610.431.5329.
Turnkey equestrian estate with 27-stall barn, indoor and outdoor arenas on 33 acres in Honey Brook
Horse lovers naturally gravitate to Chester County, long known for its equestrian heritage. From nationally recognized events—The Devon Horse Show, Plantation Field Three-Day Event—to community shows—Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show, Devon Fall Classic—our area is home to Olympic-caliber equestrian competitors, weekend fox hunters, polo players, pony club families and other members of the horsy set.
So it’s fitting that tucked in the northwest corner of Chester County, in Honey Brook, is a world-class equestrian estate, rivaling any in other horse-meccas such as Wellington, Florida.
Near Struble Lake, Brandywine Creek and historic Isabella Furnace is Whitewall Farm. Or for locavores, it’s two miles from Wyebrook Farm’s market and café, the place that most recently put Honey Brook on the map.
Encompassing 33 flat, fenced acres, Whitewall Farm has everything a trainer or serious rider could dream of—all in turnkey condition in a pastoral setting. Because the property is under conservation easement with Chadds Ford-based North American Land Trust, with neighboring properties similarly protected—over 25 percent of the township is protected in perpetuity—this corner of Chester County will retain the privacy and viewscape it enjoys today.
A Stable with 27 Stalls
Why build a stable with 27 stalls? Because you have 45 horses.
That was the situation when the current owners bought Whitewall Farm in 2007. They proceeded to create a premier equestrian estate around the historic stone farmhouse. While they updated the 4,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-plus-bathroom home (more on that later), these horse lovers transformed the equestrian facilities.
Now, there’s much more than just eight stalls in two shed rows and a two-level, antique stone bank barn on the farm. Currently used for storing hay and equipment, that gorgeous old bank barn can be converted into a party barn, indoor basketball court or put to other uses.
In 2007, the owners built—and continuously updated—a stunning, custom-designed, 8,800-square-foot barn with 27 additional stalls, each with water, electricity, grooming box and window for ventilation. There’d be pillow mints, if that were done for horses. The barn also houses a large tack room, office, feed room, two washing stalls and hay storage on the second level.
Outdoor and indoor areas were added, both with euro-felt footing, making the indoor ring virtually dust-free. The fenced, 100-by-240-foot outdoor area has jumps and is adjacent to a circular pen with screening and rubber flooring.
Describing the 100-by-200-foot Coverall indoor arena doesn’t do it justice—it’s a cathedral to riding with its peaked roof, though some may envision the perfect venue for a concert, wedding or indoor soccer game. Constructed of a translucent material and no internal supports, the arena enjoys natural light so no need for overhead lighting—a great cost savings—and it has no hard surfaces for sound to echo. It’s a quiet, dust-free oasis. A heated observation booth provides a perfect vantage point to watch the action.
The grounds also include 17 fenced pastures, 12 with run-in sheds.
As meticulously maintained as the new construction, the charming historic main house was built in several sections, two with date stones marked 1741 and 1809. The oldest section houses the living room, with master bedroom above, and retains distinctive period details—original oak floors, deep sills, exposed beams, walk-in fireplace with cooking crane—yet feels modern with high ceilings and gracious dimensions.
Enjoying a surprising open flow that’s perfect for entertaining, the living room opens to the spacious family room, with a convenient wet bar, highlighted by an exposed stone wall. The adjacent exercise/sunroom is brightened by walls of windows and French doors to the patio, hot tub and pool area.
In the 1809 section is the large dining room, with another of the four fireplaces, more original wood floors, built-in cupboard and south-facing windows. The efficient kitchen combines granite counters and modern appliances with period charm, like pegged oak floors.
Down the hall are a powder room, mudroom with access to the one-car garage, laundry room, and full bath, with separate shower, perfect when guests come in from the pool.
Four bedrooms and three baths fill the second level. The large master suite boasts oak floors, a fireplace and three closets in the bedroom, separate his-and-her bathrooms, a dressing/sitting room with more closets, and a covered balcony overlooking the pool and stables. Pull-down stairs lead to a finished space, perfect for a sewing room or private studio.
Other bedrooms include many closets and special details, like built-in bunk beds. The final bedroom with en suite bath—guest room or au pair’s room—has four closets, plus a storage closet, and stairs to the ground level.
On the Grounds
The grounds boast an apple orchard, grape vines and numerous mature specimen trees. Three outbuildings add more charm. A stone summer kitchen, with a beamed ceiling and walls of windows, is a perfect home office or studio. Once a pump house, the garden shed makes an ideal potting shed. And the original springhouse awaits the needs of its next owners.
A three-bedroom, brick tenant house provides a convenient home for an on-site caretaker or horse trainer.
Whitewall Farm, a turnkey 33-acre equestrian estate in Honey Brook is offered at $2,775,000. For more information, contact Stephen Gross at the Holly Gross Group, 610-431-1100 (office), 484-883-0681 (cell); HollyGross.com.
Buying your first home is a major milestone. It’s likely one that will make you feel more like an adult, a more responsible person, and more connected with your community. The perks of home ownership are plentiful—tax benefits, building home equity and credit, sometimes even a cheaper monthly payment. Plus ownership brings with it a sense of pride and security you won’t find while renting or crashing with friends or family.
Before you take the leap and buy your first home, you’ll want to be prepared for the responsibilities that accompany your new status. Because, unlike the images on those televised remodeling shows—where kitchens and bathrooms are redone in a few days and fixer-uppers are transformed in short order—owning a home is work!
That’s why you’ll want to be sure you’re ready and prepared for the challenge.
How Do You Know?
Buying a home is as much an emotional decision as a financial one. “You’ll know you’re ready to buy because you’ll feel it,” says Jennifer Daywalt of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. “You’ll want to make your home décor Pinterest boards a reality, and you’ll begin envisioning what your home will look like and how you’ll decorate.”
You’ll more likely feel ready when you’re at a stable point in your life and taking that next step seems a perfectly logical choice. “If you plan to move in the next year or so, it might not be the best time to buy,” notes Brett Jones of Sotheby’s Brandywine Fine Properties. Only you know if the time is right. And as Jones advises, “The most important thing is making your first home a place to be happy.”
Of course, you’ll want to make sure your finances are in order. Yes, you’ll need money for the down payment and monthly mortgage payments. But you also have to plan for things like property insurance, taxes, regular maintenance and higher utility bills (some renters don’t pay utilities, like heating) as part of your homeowner budget. (More about getting your first mortgage in the “Worth Knowing” column in this issue.)
Savvy homeowners also set money aside for unforeseen expenses—that rainy day fund—as well as other things that make them happy so they don’t feel house poor.
What To Look For?
A key consideration in your decision is your lifestyle. “Do you want to live downtown, where you can walk out your door to local shops and restaurants?” asks Jennifer Daywalt. “Or, do you prefer a smaller neighborhood with more open space and nature right outside your front door?” These lifestyle cues will help you decide where to start looking.
Other considerations include proximity to work, family and friends. Some people may feel a fresh start in a totally new location is just what they need, while others won’t want to give up the close relationships and familiarity with towns in their current neighborhood. The trend among millennials favors community-style condos and townhouses, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
And remember, although your first home is likely not your ultimate dream home or the only one you’ll ever buy, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for the future.
“Many first-time buyers make the mistake of being too conservative,” notes Holly Gross of The Gross Realty Group. “They’ll pick the bare minimum they can afford and outgrow their home too quickly.” For example, if you buy as a single person or couple and then decide to start a family, your needs and wants may well change with your lifestyle. “It’s better to leave yourself room to grow than have to move again before you’re ready,” says Gross.
Best Time To Buy?
Traditionally, springtime was thought to be the best time for buying a home. But times have changed. Many realtors now say there’s no best or right time. In fact, waiting until spring may prove more stressful for first-time buyers as they compete in the busy market.
It’s best to start looking as soon as you know you’re ready. “Although the old adage has been to list in the spring, buyers shouldn’t limit their timeframe to start their search,” says Georgianna Stapleton of Country Properties. She admits the springtime will generally have more houses available, but it doesn’t prevent the rest of the year from having great properties for sale. “The need to purchase, not seasons, should be the buyer’s motivator!” she says.
Do You Need A Realtor?
The resounding answer to this is … yes, you absolutely need a realtor! Specifically a local one. And especially as a new buyer.
Navigating the real estate market through websites like Realtor.com may seem like the way to go, but you could cause yourself more stress and the potential for a costly mistake.
An experienced realtor who knows the area’s ins and outs is your best guide, one who can tell you about the neighborhood, school district, things to do, local businesses and more. “We’re there to guide you through the process and look out for you,” notes Holly Gross. Gross stresses the importance of interviewing several realtors and choosing one who understands your needs and makes you comfortable asking difficult questions. And as a first-time buyer, you’re likely to have a lot of questions.
Realtors want you to be satisfied. “The last thing we want is our clients to experience buyer’s remorse,” notes Brett Jones. “Having a realtor there throughout the process of inspection, making offers and signing contracts helps lessen the chance of making the wrong choice.” And a happy homeowner makes a great reference and a repeat customer.
So if 2016 is your year to buy a home, there’s no time like the present to get started!
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, 202 Bridge St., Phoenixville; 610-933-1919
Brandywine Fine Properties, Sotheby's International Realty, 5701 Kennett Pike, Centreville, DE; 610-474-6520
Country Properties, Berkshire Hathaway/Fox & Roach, Routes 82 & 162, Unionville; 610-347-2065
The Gross Realty Group, Berkshire Hathaway/Fox & Roach, 484-678-0367
Rustic and refined, inspired by nature yet clearly modern, full of both character and comfort--these are just a few distinctive qualities of this timber frame home.
A photo capturing homeowner Dan Cooney pounding in the first peg of his dream home is in the thick album that chronicles the construction of this unique hilltop timber frame and log home with commanding views of Pickering Valley. A bit of evidence of Cooney’s involvement and attention to every phase of creating a well-designed, high-quality home as beautiful as it is structurally sound on a prime 5.65-acre parcel at the top of Valley Lane.
There’s further evidence in Log and Timber Frame Homes, Tina Skinner’s 2002 book from Schiffer Publishing, featuring Cooney’s home on the cover. Plus a June 2003 article in Timber Homes Illustrated, along with—full disclosure—another profile in the May 2000 issue of County Lines describing details of the construction.
A dream house designed, built and enjoyed for 15 years is now ready for new owners.
A Sense of Place – A Tribute to Early America
With its exterior paying homage to local red-roofed barns with iconic silos and the interior creating soaring spaces to house modern amenities, this is a home that honors the surrounding countryside while providing room for 21st-century living. In three-plus levels, this four-bedroom, four-and-a-half bath home mixes craftsmanship with technology and was custom designed to maximize the beauty of the site while providing a private, low maintenance retreat.
A short walk to the historic Mill at Anselma, Pickering Creek and a working farm yet just minutes from Conestoga Road and the PA Turnpike, this Valley Lane neighborhood has much to recommend it. There’s even a private pond shared by the homeowners association, suitable for rowboats and kayaks and brimming with bass, sunfish and bluegill.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the special character of Cooney’s creation—actually a hybrid of timber frame, log cabin and more conventional “stick-built” sections—is to watch the online virtual tour as a drone-mounted camera soars above showing the distinct parts of the home and panoramic views of Pickering Valley.
The virtual tour continues inside, through the bright sunroom, with its western exposure, pickled paneling and radiant-heat tiled floor. Then prepare for the stunning sight of the great room—truly worthy of the name. As Cooney explains, “One thing a timber frame home allows you to do is to create designed volume.”
And is there volume! Three stories of vertical space, with massive white pine posts and beams interlocked by visible mortise and tenon joinery and wood pegs. Glimpse the main post and beam—the king post truss—which serves as the architectural focal point in the space, complemented by a soaring three-story fieldstone fireplace and cozy bar in the curved silo space.
The open flow is evident as the camera moves to the spacious, but right-sized, modern kitchen, designed by Paradise Custom Kitchens, with warm cabinetry, large granite island and beamed ceiling and post details.
Next, we glide through the adjacent dining room and glimpse the home office set off behind French doors for privacy.
Then on to the first-floor master suite, housed in the log section, which Cooney describes as “historically accurate Appalachian square logs, with dovetail joinery and a two-inch modern chinking space.” The interior log walls, cathedral ceiling, stone fireplace and half-moon window are just some of the details. (Off camera, there’s a walk-in closet and oversized master bath, with skylight, Jacuzzi and access to the deck.)
Upstairs and Downstairs
The tour up the Douglas fir stairs begins through the open gallery walkway looking down on the great room and leading to the cozy reading nook on the second level of the silo space. Two large bedrooms—one with en suite bath, the other with a balcony overlooking the great room—and a third-floor bonus room for a playroom or office, fill the timber frame space.
On to the stick-built section housing a three-car garage at ground level. The second floor includes a large home office with cathedral ceiling and a second master suite, with private entrance, perfect for in-laws or guests.
The walk-out lower level—approximately 1700 square feet of finished space—houses a fully wired media room set off by sliding barn doors. The adjacent, light and bright den with full bath, boasts a wet bar, jukebox, pool table and gas fireplace. (Off camera is the mechanical room, with convenient access through the garage, plus plenty of storage space, including dedicated space for wine storage.)
The tour ends, fittingly, by returning outside. Views from the first-floor porch remind you of the beauty of Pickering Valley. The deck, with hot tub, is another reminder of the pleasure of this private property. Then a final view of the pond before ending the tour.
The only better way to experience the property is in person. See for yourself.
For more information or to arrange a tour of this custom-built home on 5.65 acres in Chester Springs, offered at $1,495,000, contact Karen Nader at Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, 484-888-5597; BFPSIR.com.
Watch the Virtual Tour on Youtube.
Home to happy dogs, happy horses and happy families.
After 25 idyllic years living in Cheshire Hunt Country and adjacent to The Laurels Preserve, the owners of Swingtail Farm are planning their retirement and move south—hoping to recreate the pleasures of their life here. Named after a chance remark about their happy dogs, Swingtail Farm has housed similarly contented horses and a young family that’s now grown.
The 33+-acre East Fallowfield equestrian estate includes a five-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath main house with mature gardens and landscaped pool, an eight-stall barn plus paddocks and pastures, a one-bedroom apartment above the two-car garage, a separate machine shed, plus rolling woodlands—all set amidst 30 thousand acres of conserved land. In short, a perfect compound for the right family.
Years of Planning
Pass neighboring horse farms as you enter the winding drive up the hill to the picturesque setting of Swingtail Farm and take in the stunning country views that wowed the owners on their first visit.
Wanting to capitalize on the natural beauty of their property and The Laurels Preserve beyond, the owners took five years before building. The final design by local architect Peter Luquier, later expanded by Richard Buchanan, captured the picture-perfect southern exposure throughout their home.
The home’s unique stone and stucco style has been called transitional and a modern twist on a Chester County farmhouse, with its distinctive central stone tower and peaked roof housing the grand three-story staircase. More stone elements, peaked rooflines and architectural columns unify the main house and outbuildings to create a cohesive grouping around the circular drive.
The Main House
Expectations of a traditional interior vanish upon entering the grand double-height foyer, foreshadowing the open, light-filled design of this home. Your gaze is immediately drawn to a wall of south-facing windows and glass doors framing the view of the pastures and woodlands from the living room—the view that sold the property.
Flanking the living room, with its wood-burning fireplace and raised-panel hearth, are the sun-filled music room, complete with cozy sitting nook, and formal dining room, also with a southern exposure and all with random-width oak floors. An inviting built-in cherry wet-bar off the foyer is but one detail showing this home is perfect for entertaining.
Set in the home’s center, with views to the pastures and the barn, is the gorgeous, open gourmet kitchen. Recently redone to incorporate every convenience, the kitchen boasts top-of-the-line appliances, Madurai granite counters, knotty alder wood custom cabinets and ceramic tile floors. Designed by owners who do indeed love to cook and entertain, the kitchen is positioned to draw both family and guest from the adjacent television room and great room.
Beyond the breakfast area, the other hub of the home is the great room, with vaulted, wood-paneled ceiling, exposed beams, built-ins, a wall of south-facing windows and two-story stone fireplace. This much-used room was added to extend the open family space from the kitchen. A back staircase winds its way up to the master suite.
A rear foyer, mudroom, storage closets, walk-in pantry, large laundry room, full bath and powder room complete the first floor.
The partially finished lower level has a spacious, carpeted game room with wood wainscoting, and is currently home to the family pool table. Additional space, which could easily be converted to any number of uses, houses two utility/storage rooms for the mechanical systems and emergency generator.
The second level is home to three bedrooms (one with en suite bath), hall bath, linen closet and the private master suite at the end of the hall.
Like the other grand spaces, the master bedroom has a vaulted ceiling and south-facing windows, with an atrium door to a balcony. Built-ins, a walk-in closet and make-up area adjoin the master bath, with its cherry cabinets, Corian counters, glass block shower and separate water closet. The highlight is the whirlpool tub, set to take in the woodland views.
A private study off the master bedroom, with two walls of bookcases, can serve as a refuge or home office.
On the third level is a large carpeted space—bedroom number five, plus a playroom, suitable for rainy-day play or big sleep-overs.
A covered walkway from the main house takes you to the two-bay garage and charming second-floor apartment, complete with living room, kitchen, bedroom and modern tiled bathroom. Perfect for guests, in-laws or an office, this space has a balcony and views of the landscaped pool area. An outdoor shower, rose gardens, pergola and flagstone terrace for enjoying the view are just a few more amenities.
For horse-lovers, there’s another gem—the wood and stone, eight-stall, center-aisle barn, with wash stall, full tack room and hayloft. Two small paddocks, four large pastures, and a natural spring complete the pastoral scene.
All ready for the next happy family.
Located in East Fallowfield Township, Swingtail Farm is offered at $2,450,000. For more information, please contact The Gross Realty Group, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, 484-678-0367; GrossRealtyGroup.com.