County Lines Magazine
Thursday, 24 August 2017 23:41

On Warwick Furnace Road

A Federal-style estate set in the heart of the French Creek Valley

 

1351 Warwick Furnace RoadAs the 77th Chester County Day Tour explores the County’s northwest quadrant this year, there are several reasons to include a stop at 1351 Warwick Furnace Road. To start, there are three homes on the Tour along this historic road, deep in French Creek Valley: a barn converted into a contemporary home, a 1978 home lovingly built in Colonial style, and this month’s featured home—an estate dating back to the 18th century, with a period-perfect 20th-century addition.

Another reason your route should swing north to Warwick Furnace Road is to drive scenic country roads to visit this pristine countryside in one of our area’s last unspoiled valleys. An area that’s also full of history, this is where General Washington brought his army after the Battle of the Brandywine and where the iron and steel industry started in Pennsylvania three hundred years ago.

 

Country Estate

Though the term nestled is overused when describing properties, a photo of this month’s featured home could be the dictionary definition. The idyllic 62-acre estate is a self-contained private retreat—with four-bedroom Federal-style main house, two-car garage, separate two-bedroom carriage house, back-up generator, five-stall barn, four pastures and spring-fed, fresh-water pond with spring house. And it’s surrounded by lush landscape framing breath-taking preserved views along French Creek.

Because some of the parcels making up the property are under conservation easement with French & Pickering Creek Conservation Trust, in addition to other conserved neighboring parcels, this enviable viewscape—from hilltop to hilltop—will be preserved.

 

Main House

The original part of the fieldstone home, built in the late 1700s for a Quaker family, was expanded and restored to its Federal-style glory by the current owners. Taking it from a major HGTV-caliber reno (snakes in the basement!) to Chester-County-Day-worthy was the owners’ passion project for 35 years.

Inspired by the Thomas Bull House on the National Register of Historic Places—Bull was a Revolutionary Army officer and manager of  Warwick Furnace—the restoration and addition boast historically accurate millwork, hardware and design features embodying the balance and symmetry of Federal style. Expert craftsmanship created a seamless transition to the 20th-century fieldstone addition with its random-width red oak floors and other period details—the only clues being higher ceilings and larger windows.

The home’s first floor includes a spacious eat-in country kitchen highlighted by custom book-matched walnut cabinetry, large slate island and views of the pond—home to kingfishers, herons and ducklings. Sliding doors lead to the pond-view brick patio, perfect for entertaining. A large living room, formal dining room and sunny study—each with wood-burning fireplaces—along with powder room and formal entry, with skylight above, complete this floor.

On the second floor, you’ll find two large bedrooms both with custom shelves, one with a window seat, plus full bath. At the other end is the master suite with fireplace, built-ins, walk-in closet, and master bath with shower and Jacuzzi tub.

The L-shaped guest suite on the top floor has a full bath and shares this floor with an abundance of storage space. And the walk-out basement has a workshop, large laundry room with working laundry chute to upper floors, and a spacious unfinished room currently used for storage but with many future possibilities.

Outdoor living spaces include porches, decks and brick patios to take in the views in every direction—of the pond, stream, pastures and valley. Old growth trees, along with evergreens, a giant magnolia, beech and weeping redbud trees, create a lush environment for every season. A mature herb garden is accented by an espaliered apple tree on the stone wall, while the brick formal perennial garden is a picture-perfect site for entertaining.

 

1351 Warwick Furnace RoadCarriage House

Past the main house’s large two-car garage, with loft storage, is the charming two-bedroom, two-bath carriage house—perfect for in-laws, guests or rental. Impeccably renovated in the same style and quality as the main house, it features an open floor plan for the greatroom (kitchen/dining/sitting area with fireplace), plus separate living room with fireplace, mudroom, laundry room, and its own garage. Other special features include the front porch overlooking the valley and stream and rear porch looking up the hill.

 

Details

Entrance to the property is across a picturesque bridge as you wend your way up the paved drive past four post-and-rail fenced pasture to the iconic red barn. This historic structure was erected by the owners through Recycle the Barn Builder’s “Barn Again” program, which took down unwanted barns and found them new homes. Now updated, the barn has five stalls, wash stall, heated tack room bedecked with prize ribbons, plus drive-up loft and hay drops. A red chicken coop adds a country touch.

Equestrians will also enjoy trail riding and fox hunting, both of which are accessible from the farm. And there’s room for additional pastures on the property.

Near the pond, a charming springhouse, with storage above, awaits a new purpose—studio, wine cellar or favorite hideaway for enjoying the view.

 

For more information about this unique 62-acre property (including a 25-acre buildable parcel) in the East Nantmeal area, offered at $2.6 million, contact Rachel Street, The Street Group at Space & Company, 215-625-3650 (office), 267-357-1334 (cell) and visit the property’s website, 1351WarwickFurnace.com.

 

Published in Home of the Month
Thursday, 24 August 2017 23:09

Flippin’ Down the Street

We talked to Rachel Street of the HGTV pilot, “Philly Street Flippin’.”

 

Brick city houseFlip or Flop, Flip the House, Flipping Out, Flipping Vegas, Flip or Flop Atlanta, Flipping Boston. It was only a matter of time before our area joined the flippin’ frenzy as the setting for a television show dedicated to the dream of flipping houses for fun and profit.

In late July, HGTV previewed “Philly Street Flippin’” featuring Chester County local, Rachel Street, who did just that and starred in the TV pilot about it.

We talked to her about how she got to be in a show named after herself and featuring her passion.

 

First question, of course, is how did you get this great TV gig?

The producers found me on social media—I’d been posting about my projects—and then came to Philly for a meeting. They filmed a short video, following me working as a realtor and contractor. After a few months, we were lucky enough to do the pilot for “Philly Street Flippin’.”

 

Before working in Philly, you lived in Chester County. What’s your connection to our area?

Well, Chester County is where I was born, raised and went to school—at Westtown School.

Just after I was born, my parents bought a dilapidated, old farmhouse in Chester County, which is also where my father grew up. They restored the original house, expanding it, sourcing historically accurate materials from local shops and antique dealers, and researching other historic homes.*

Later they added a big vegetable garden and barn, along with horses, chickens, dogs, cats and rabbits. On weekends we got up early to take care of the crops and animals, helped out around the farm, put up fences, drove tractors. Living in the country meant we built hay forts, rode bareback through the hills of East Nantmeal and with the Pickering Pony Club, and played in swimming holes in French Creek.

My dad and I rode dirt bikes together, made furniture and built forts. Before dinner, my sister and I cut fresh asparagus while my mom made pies from the strawberries we picked.

There’s nothing like farm life to teach kids about hard, physical work! For girls, it’s really important to feel confident and strong in their own skin. I loved it!

 

KitchenCan you tell us about your background—leaving the farm and becoming a realtor, general contractor and designer? How did that evolve?

It’s a round-about path, starting in a very different place—literally and figuratively.

I loved music and studied opera in college, then moved to Italy to work as an opera singer. But it was hard to make a living in music, so I moved back to the States.

When I returned to Chester County and worked with my father—a commercial mortgage broker—I got my real estate license and studied to be an appraiser. That’s when I started buying houses on the side to rent them out—mostly houses that needed work, since I couldn’t afford renovated properties.

Growing up on the farm and having been a tomboy, I was used to working with my hands and with different tools, so I did most of the work myself or with friends. And because I loved design, I’d experiment with different ideas in my projects. People got really excited seeing something that wasn’t a plain white box!

Meanwhile, my father fell ill and into a coma. My life changed overnight. Suddenly I was responsible for the family business. When he passed away on Christmas Eve, I’d lost my father and my career. The short version is that I grew from someone nervous about answering the phone to negotiating deals, and eventually closing out his business.

The silver lining was that I sold the property I’d worked on and made a good profit. My new business idea was born!

I was ready for a change, so I began working with Space & Company in Center City, a boutique woman-owned real estate firm. A few months later, I opened my own construction company, Hestia Construction, LLC.

Now I work as a realtor and contractor, choosing a few interesting properties to renovate and sell.

 

What’s your approach for a renovation project?

My business is more about quality than quantity. I try to offer something different from what’s on the market by doing design-driven renovations that preserve some history of the homes.

Growing up in a historic home with parents passionate about design and quality, I came to love homes with a story. So I preserve the interesting original details and mix them with modern elements to create unique spaces for people to enjoy.

The project in the TV pilot, on Tasker Street, is in my own neighborhood. I met the family who lived there for many years, and wanted to do a quality renovation that would honor their history and make the new owners (who’d be my neighbors!) happy.

So I restored the old door, made here in South Philadelphia, and kept the original façade. The original floor plan didn’t work for a modern home—too many small rooms—so we opened it up and exposed the brick to bring in some Philly row-home character.

Each home I work on is a labor of love, so I try to come up with new designs, thinking how each room can be used, and adding fun features for the new owners—like unusual design elements and hiding spots. In fact, at closing on one of my properties I told the owners where the secret hiding spot was in their new home!

 

On the pilot episode, we saw a unique way you keep yourself occupied while you work. Care to share?

Yes, I sing while I work. With my opera background—my first career—and performing all over Italy and Spain for three years, singing is still part of me. Now I mostly sing for the people who work with me, whether they enjoy it or not! Mostly they just make fun of me, as you saw on the show.

 

What’s your best advice for armchair flippers?

My advice is just get started! The sooner you get into real estate, the better! Philadelphia is one of the cheapest big cities, so there’s still room to grow. Plus there’s so much information online and lots of classes about using tools or learning about real estate.

The biggest challenge is finding the courage to start. From there it’s all about building your team. You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you do need to know where to turn for help.

 

What’s next for you?

Of course I’m hoping the show becomes a series, so we can bring you more episodes of “Philly Street Flippin’.” Otherwise, I’m busy finding and renovating properties—looking for new challenges and interesting projects.

And I also started a team—The Street Group—at my real estate company. That keeps me busy training my realtors in both construction and real estate, to offer a well-informed approach to our clients. We help people buying, selling and investing in Philadelphia and the western suburbs—from the hills of East Nantmeal to the Main Line!

Here’s hoping we get to see more of Rachel and “Philly Street Flippin’”!

 

Contact Rachel Street at The Street Group at Space & Company, 215-625-3650; SpaceAndCompany.com.

*Editor’s Note: Rachel’s home is featured in “Home of the Month” in this issue.

Published in At Home
Sunday, 25 June 2017 18:28

Hailand Farm

Paradise on a 118-acre family compound in a pastoral corner of Malvern. “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go …”

 

Hailand FarmThat’s what third-generation children sang as they headed to the family compound at Hailand Farm for yet another family reunion joining 40-plus guests for Thanksgiving dinner. The lyrics to the classic “New England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day” were literally true for the lucky grandchildren who lived on an adjacent property and grew up exploring the rolling, picture-perfect landscape—a bit of paradise in northern Chester County.

Hailand Farm—a play on the Hebrew word “hai” meaning life and pronounced like Highland Avenue, their former address—has been transformed over the 40-plus years the property was owned by the same family. The original 1836 stately manor house built by the Young family was expanded in the 1970s and ‘80s with sun-lit spaces providing modern amenities, including a glass-walled great room and convenient first-floor master suite, both designed by notable Philadelphia architect Vincent Kling (of Penn Center, Love Park and Lankenau Hospital fame).

 

Private Retreat

Surrounded by conserved properties that protect the serenity of this open space area, Hailand Farm is comprised of two tax parcels (49 and 69 acres) with subdivision possibilities, and is yet to reap the benefits of being placed in conservancy. The property includes significant outbuildings—a three-bedroom, two-bath caretakers cottage; separate office building with potential as a guest cottage; 12-stall barn with tack room and storage; three-car garage with heated machine shop; additional storage garage; plus a springhouse, pool cabana and greenhouse.

But what makes this such a singular property is the land itself and panoramic views from large windows, wooden decks and brick patios—of lush, gently rolling hills with acres of open green space where horses graze contentedly in their paddocks.

The north view is punctuated by a pristine, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-designed spring-fed pond, with dock and center island, topped by a tree that’s illuminated at night. Other mature trees dot the property, including towering evergreens, regal cedars, a spectacular weeping beech, plus apple and other fruit trees in a small orchard.

 

Hailand FarmThe Main House

Although mere minutes from the PA Turnpike, the main house is set off a quiet stretch of Charlestown Road and reached by a long curving driveway, past the barn, riding ring and garages. Full of old-world charm befitting its 19th-century origins as evidenced by a datestone, the home boasts a grand center, front-to-back hallway flanked by formal living room (also front-to-back and with two fireplaces) and dining room (with built-ins and fireplace), both with original random-width oak floors.

Tucked in a quiet corner, a book-lover’s dream library has custom built-in shelves on every wall. And a spacious walk-in coat closet—as big as the coatroom at some restaurants—demonstrates that this home is also party-ready.

A large gourmet kitchen, with Viking stove, center cooktop island, built-in refrigerator, triple basin sink and cabinets galore, is accented by an exposed wooden beam and herring-bone patterned floor. The adjacent breakfast area, with stairs to the second floor, opens through a wall of sliding doors to the landscaped brick patio. Views to the pond and almost-Olympic-length swimming pool make this a perfect spot to linger over morning coffee.

Modern additions to the first floor are a master suite and great room. The convenient and airy first-floor master suite’s vaulted ceiling and views of the pond and gardens create a private haven. An updated luxurious bath completes the space.

Perhaps the most spectacular feature of this unique home is the stunning 32-by-25-foot great room with beamed cathedral ceiling. A massive fireplace, separate copper-topped bar, several seating areas and two walls of windows with 180-degree views make this a gathering spot for groups both big and small. Towering plants, currently including a tall ficus and a ten-foot bougainvillea, bring the outside in, even during the coldest months. The landscaped decks beckon you outside to enjoy the pond and pool views and sounds from the tennis court.

 

Upper Floors

The second master suite sits above the formal living room and enjoys double fireplaces, sitting area, walk-in closet, cedar closet, custom moldings and cabinets, and sunlight through windows on three sides of the large bedroom. The spacious, two-part master bath has a seated vanity, endless mirrors and storage, plus soaking tub beneath a beautiful stained glass window. A secret hide-away room—with lounging area, skylight and fridge—is a perfect retreat for insomniacs or visiting grandchildren. Three additional bedrooms and two baths complete the second floor, while two more bedrooms and full bath round out the third floor.

This extraordinary retreat is ready to host its next generations of family gatherings.

For more information about this unique property on 118 acres in Malvern, offered at $8,000,000, contact Karen Nader, 484-888-5597, or Laird Bunch, 302-275-0869, at Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty; BFPSIR.com.

 

Published in Home of the Month
Tuesday, 25 April 2017 04:26

Huntview Farm

A cozy “hunting box” in Radnor Hunt Country, perfect for lifelong riders and even those who aren’t riders … yet.

 

Huntview FarmIf location-location-location stills holds true, then Huntview Farm gets a blue ribbon. Set in Radnor Hunt Country and custom crafted by its only owner, a Master of Fox Hunting and teacher of Foxhunting 101, the farm is the perfect starting point for equestrian adventures. Take a short ride with your kids to Radnor Hunt Pony Club, have a staging area for foxhunting with friends, or use it as home base for trail riding on one of the best trail systems in Chester County.

And the property offers additional welcome amenities. The level four-plus-acre lot with fenced pastures provides ample space for building a jumping or dressage ring for future Devon stars. The charming house has hosted more than its share of hunt brunches for hungry returning riders—whether victorious from the hunt (or more accurately, the chase, since the fox is run to ground) or merely invigorated by the adventure. And the proximity to the 55-acre Ashbridge Preserve, just across the road, means endless entertainment on miles of trails there and on the many nearby conserved properties that allow riders to roam.

The main residence at Huntview Farm is a cozy, functional home for owners who are more likely outside riding the many trails in Willistown Township than spending time indoors—essentially a “hunting box” for shelter. And even if you’re not the sort to spend most waking hours with horses, that may just be because you’re not a rider … yet.

Not a Rider … Yet

Even if the equestrian life is not in your history or DNA, Huntview Farm may change that. The easy access to some of the most appealing riding trails and hunting clubs may tempt even the most reluctant tenderfoot. And the three-stall barn begs to have horses—your own or horses that board in exchange for riding lessons. Or choose fox following—to assist the riders—rather than fox hunting as your new country pastime.

Of course there’s always the option of transforming the three-stall barn—with tack room, hayloft, tractor space and center aisle—into a party barn, guest cottage or she shed (the feminine equivalent of a man cave). Or perhaps an art studio or home office?

Proximity to Ashbridge Preserve holds further opportunities to enjoy the lifestyle of Willistown Township—where you’ll see bumper stickers saying “Slow Down in Willistown.” Home to a branch of Ridley Creek, with miles of nature trails, plus woodlands, wetlands and wildflower meadows, the preserve is a birder’s paradise and nature lover’s nirvana. The peaceful splendor of Ashbridge Preserve is your other yard.

The Main House

Huntview Farm Living Room - image of a fireplace.Flanked by towering holly trees and marked with a brass horse-head knocker and kickplate, the 1970s Colonial-style stone and old school stucco home’s entrance leads to a grand two-story foyer with curved hardwood staircase and a Palladian window.

The formal living and dining rooms are to the left and right, both right-sized for carefree living. Large windows grace both rooms—a bay window in the dining room and windows on three sides in the living room, catching the sunrise and reflecting off the dentil molding. Throughout the day the sun fills the most-used rooms—great room, breakfast room and master bedroom—with their southern exposures.

Anchored by a stone fireplace with wood mantle and raised hearth, the inviting great room boasts several built-ins, currently displaying silver cups and horse show ribbons. Doors to the fenced pool and brick patio and a cozy wet bar at the far end of the great room invite two different forms of entertainment.

Another favorite space is the updated kitchen, with stainless steel appliances, cherry cabinets and granite countertops, plus center island. Truly the heart of the home, the kitchen runs from the front to the back of the house, with a sunny breakfast room overlooking the pool and pastures.

A laundry room, mechanical room and renovated powder room—with more cherry cabinets, granite counters, plus foxhunting motif wallpaper—round out the indoor space. An open-air breezeway porch, complete with swing, leads to the oversized two-car garage, with workbench.

Upstairs includes four bedrooms and two baths. The sunny master suite—with two closets and updated en suite bath—is enhanced by a private, south-facing balcony overlooking the property, perfect for morning coffee or sunset cocktails. The remaining bedrooms and a new bath line the hallway.

A comfortable second home during the foxhunting and equestrian seasons or the core residence prime for further expansion, Huntview Farm offers options to its next owners.

This four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home, with pool, garage and barn, on four-plus acres in Radnor Hunt County is close to West Chester and the Main Line. Offered for $880,000 with financing options available. For more information, contact Missy Schwartz at Fox & Roach / BHHS /Luxury Homes /Devon, 610-651-2700; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 330WyllpenDrive.com.

 

Published in Home of the Month
Friday, 24 March 2017 04:41

Pine Creek Mills

A heavenly slice of history is the site of a family compound in Chester Springs.

 

Pine Creek Mills - Property InteriorWith 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.

 

The Residences

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.

 

Pine Creek Mills - Property Bridge and StreamThe Outbuildings

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.

 

In Sum

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.

 

 

Published in Home of the Month
Tuesday, 31 January 2017 02:16

A Home to be Discovered

Chadds Ford Architect John Milner Creates a Provencal Dream House on the Pickering Creek

 

Geoffrey Gross PhotographyIt 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.

 

Geoffrey Gross Photography

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.

 

Geoffrey Gross PhotographyGetting 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.”

Geoffrey Gross Photography

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.

 

Resources

  • 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

 

 

Published in Fine Homes
Tuesday, 27 September 2016 18:41

An English Manor Home

A dream house and bit of Britain in northern Chester County’s rolling hills

 

Chester Springs English Manor Home - Living RoomAny 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.

 

Custom Design

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.

 

Other Floors

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.

Published in Home of the Month
Thursday, 25 August 2016 03:18

French Country-Style Home

Formal elegance and gracious country living in Chester Springs.

 

Living Room - Flowing Springs Road Property in Chester Springs, PAIn a secluded corner of northern Chester County, a short walk from famed Birchrunville Store Café, you’ll find seven meticulously landscaped acres that are home to, not yet another stone Colonial mansion, but instead a unique French Country-style farmhouse dating back to the 18th century and renovated to the highest standards.

A detached barn—with a sunny office above horse stalls plus space for a large studio, den or party space—a pool with spa and waterfall set among specimen plantings, an apple orchard and extensive gardens are all enclosed in a private pocket of space making this feel like a special piece of heaven.

 

The Details

The singular character of this home is revealed in the details—from priceless millwork added by a Winterthur curator, a wood railing designed and built by a protégé of Wharton Esherick, custom cabinets crafted by a woodworker on loan from the Smithsonian Museum, to a $12,000 Lacanche stove, a 300-year-old mantle from Provence, hand-painted floors in the laundry room and much more.

Surrounded on three sides by rebuilt stone walls, the landscape design displays the same attention to detail. See garden paths using original four-to-six-inch-thick flagstones, original millstones incorporated into the newer terraces, a stone courtyard with fountain, and rare cucumber magnolia and stunning copper beech trees. Over $400,000 was invested in enhancing the exterior since 2009.

 

The Evolution

The original 1769 core of the home remains, expanded in the early 1800s, then enlarged again in the 1940s, and again by architect Helena van Vliet and totally updated in 2000. Each stage in its evolution added to the unique feel of this extraordinary home.

Brimming with charm and period details, the original parts of the home—housing the entry, formal living and dining rooms, library, and some bedrooms—boast such features as beamed ceilings made by incorporating wood from an 18th-century French ship, random-width wood floors, deep-set windows, antique hardware, rare tombstone built-in cabinets, and antique slate and marble slab floors.

Later additions to this stuccoed fieldstone home were designed to preserve the centrality of the original home, keeping it as the main event of the composition.

Not surprisingly, this distinctive home was once owned by one of Winterthur’s curators, Arthur Sussell, who added priceless millwork—moldings, wainscoting, paneling and other details. Sussell built a fitting stage for his priceless antiques collection, later auctioned by Sotheby’s. Hardwood floors—chestnut, oak, hardwood pine, walnut—plaster walls, antique hardware and more details integral to the home make it a kind of antique itself. And all on display as the home is currently unoccupied.

 

Bird's eye view of the Flowing Springs Road property in Chester Springs, PAThe Final Addition

Although adding significant space in 2000 to what is now a four-bedroom home with three full and two partial baths and six fireplaces, the final addition was designed to appear small so as not to outshine the original structure—matching the original  in height, width and roof pitch. The construction used local and green materials and techniques (recycled wood and stone, low VOC paints, high efficiency heating, etc.).

Following a design philosophy that buildings should reconnect with the natural world, architect van Vliet added a large, gourmet country kitchen (while retaining the original as a prep kitchen), sunny family room with eating area overlooking the property, lower-level media room with French doors to the grounds, gentleman’s study, and a second-floor master bedroom suite with dressing rooms and baths to provide modern amenities.

The existing interior space was also updated and reorganized, adding a wine cellar (expanded in 2012 to store 500 bottles), laundry room and pantry. Meanwhile the exterior got new terraces and balconies, added to take advantage of the private viewscapes and providing more areas for sitting, eating and entertaining.

Practical details were not overlooked. Electrical and heating systems, water treatment systems, central air, radiant heat, a security system, driveway alarm and sound system were added or updated. Exterior work included a cedar shake roof, copper gutters and downspouts, new doors and windows, and in 2012, repainting and stuccoing.

With its pristine setting and extraordinary collection of site-specific details, this is the kind of unique home that could well be a highlight of Chester County Day when the tour returns to this area. And a gracious home any day of the year.

 

This unique seven-acre Chester Springs property with barn, pool and residence (4 bedrooms, 3.2 baths, 6 fireplaces on four levels) is offered for $1.75 million. For details or to arrange a visit, contact Bill Cochrane, James A. Cochrane, Inc. 610-469-6100 or 610-476-4779; CochraneInc.com.

 

Published in Home of the Month
Sunday, 01 May 2016 14:06

Whitewall Farm

Turnkey equestrian estate with 27-stall barn, indoor and outdoor arenas on 33 acres in Honey Brook

 

Whitewall Farm - view from streetHorse 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.

 

Whitewall Farm - historic farmhouse - view from aboveHistoric Farmhouse

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.

 

Published in Home of the Month
Sunday, 28 February 2016 03:45

Property Loss Plan

Preparing a property inventory today will save you headaches and heartaches tomorrow.

 

A major headache that many of us may face is a property loss—from fire, theft or other catastrophe. To some, this kind of loss can be life altering. Even for smaller losses, you may find the process of submitting a claim to be onerous and time- consuming. Too many will find themselves unprepared for the process of dealing with their insurance company during a stressful time.

 

Dan W. WelchBurden Is on You

While most property owners are financially savvy about buying property insurance, most don’t realize they also need to be savvy in preparing for a loss—before it happens. Preparation will make a significant difference in the resolution of your property claim.

In presenting your property claim, the burden of proving losses rests solely on you. But, most of us are unsophisticated in handling claims and are at a disadvantage when negotiating with an insurance adjuster. Adjusters, on the other hand, are trained in the claims process and trained to protect the insurance company.

 

Prepare with a Call and an Inventory

If you’re unprepared, you’ll find it difficult to prove your loss. So, take a first step and evaluate your coverage with your insurance agent. Find out if you’re insured for replacement value, if there’s adequate coverage for all your personal property, and if items need to be specifically scheduled—expensive jewelry, art, antiques, etc.

Second, prepare a property inventory. An inventory accomplishes three important goals: it helps determine how much insurance you need, speeds up the claims process, and helps verify losses for income tax purposes.

Don’t put it off! If a loss occurs, you can run through your inventory to determine what’s missing. That’s especially helpful during stressful times after a loss when your memory may fail you.

 

Preparing a Property Inventory

There are plenty of ways to prepare your inventory—notebooks, spreadsheets, photos, videos. The best method is the one you’ll actually use and that you’ll update each year.

The Insurance Information Institute’s online inventory tool, “Know Your Stuff,” is free, easy to use, accessible from any computer, and even offers storage on secured servers. This spread-sheet-based software offers a system to enter information by room, then by item, with prompts to identify categories (e.g., art, antiques, jewelry), replacement costs and purchase date. You can add images, receipts, appraisals and even warranties for your records.

Other software—from Quicken, Home Inventory Pro, and others—has similar features and may offer bar-code scanners to help you track serial numbers, model numbers and the like.

A simple method you can do today with your phone is to take a video of your entire home (or business, but that’s a separate discussion) and all its contents.

The inventory, with your audio comments, should slowly pan each room—showing the floors, all four walls and ceilings. Focus in detail on the contents of each room—each item, stating when each was purchased, and giving the approximate value. Open closets, cabinets, drawers and doors to show the contents. Zoom in to show bar codes or important markers of value for antiques, jewelry, etc.

Ideally, upload the video to the cloud (you can store it privately on YouTube or Vimeo), store a copy in a fireproof safe, safe deposit box or give it to a friend to keep. Photos can also be stored on the cloud and on Flickr, Dropbox or e-mailed to yourself.

Update this inventory annually and amend it as needed by life changes, significant gifts and purchases, or changes in value of your property (such as collectibles that may appreciate).

Follow these suggestions and you should have the information needed to help you compile a complete and accurate list of property in the event of a loss. And that’s the best way to avoid headaches and delays processing your claims.

After doing your inventory, you may even be inspired to de-clutter your home!

Dan W. Welch is the president of Dan W. Welch, Inc., claims navigators and public adjustment firm located in West Chester. DWWImc.com; 800-881-3994.

 

Published in Worth Knowing
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