Images by Anne Gummerson
When a young family moved out of the townhouse in eastern Pennsylvania in 1997 and cast their lot on a rectangular, center-hall, two-story contemporary they were more smitten with the site than the house. “We love the neighborhood, and love the property which is right in the heart of Chester County,” says the homeowner.
The house is located on a four acre site that backs up to the Valley Forge National Park. The natural beauty is made more appealing as the location is a short drive from the charms of Center City, Philadelphia. But a growing family caused the space to shrink. “We had remodeling intentions when we bought the house. As the kids grew and we had more kids, eventually the living space wasn’t working for us,” says the homeowner.
Four children, three dogs and three cats was putting a strain on the living space as the home’s major systems started to fail. “It got to the point where nothing in the kitchen worked,” says the homeowner, “I was cooking in a toaster oven.”
Despite the challenges of daily life, the driving force of the major renovation was actually, a transitional space. “I told the designers I wanted a mud room to die for,” says the homeowner. “I wanted every child to have their own place to put their stuff with plugs for I Pods and cell phones,” she says.
The family already knew a builder, an interior designer and architect, Cee Jay Frederick, principal at Cee Jay Frederick Associates in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “They had outgrown the house which had already undergone a renovation to expand the kitchen. We ended up ripping off the addition and re-doing the whole western portion of the house which included the kitchen and the spaces above it,” says Frederick.
Besides designing the requested killer mud room, Frederick was tasked with adding a three car garage, a master suite, and a dining room large enough to accommodate the family of six plus relatives. For design inspiration, Frederick observed the surrounding landscape and came up with a concept. “I call it modified Chester County eclectic,” says the architect. “We were looking at sheds, barns and farm houses in the area.”
Although Frederick’s firm leans towards modern design, the architect lives in a farmhouse that dates from 1802. To get the extra space needed for the home’s expanded living area and dining room, he produced a set of plans that called for cantilevered bump-outs resting on exposed conical columns.
“We drew on vernacular straw sheds in the area with feed lots or calving lots located below the shed,” says Frederick. Lining the southern walls of the new rooms with windows allowed the design team to roll in elements of passive solar while offering priceless views of the adjoining parkland. New exteriors were clad in stone contrasted with wood siding, giving the house the look of being added onto over the years. Handsome stone archways and knee walls reflect the indigenous architecture of the surrounding area.
To work-out the interiors of the rooms, the homeowners leaned on another friend of the family, John Andersson of Coppermine Terrace Interiors in Parkton, Maryland. “We were basically working with an adaptation of a Pennsylvania-Dutch bank barn,” says Andersson. “So for the drop-dead mud room we played with the idea of horse stalls to create cubbies for the kids. They are good-sized, roughly two feet by three feet, with hooks for coats, drop-in storage and electricity.”
The sturdy, rustic look of the mud room was tracked into the kitchen in the form of distressed cabinetry outfitted with bin pulls. “The idea in the kitchen was to make it look like the cabinets were developed from old furniture,” says builder Mark Langerhans, of Current Works Construction in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Farm sinks, soapstone countertops, white tile backsplashes, riverstone floors and oil-rubbed bronze hardware helps carry the room on a buggy ride to the old days.
To pull the rustic theme through the rest of the house, load-bearing beams were left exposed in the great room, dining room and the master suite which created construction challenges along the way. “The beams, steel hangers, and plates all had to be drilled very precisely, because you’re seeing things that are generally covered over with drywall,” says Langerhans.
The scheme in the master suite skews towards the dramatic while remaining true to simple forms and shapes. Colors and textures reach back to past while keeping the design simple and straight-forward. Beadboard and reclaimed wood floors make appearances, along with a legged bathroom vanity. A bathtub was sacrificed in exchange for two separate water closets and a generous sized shower.
Special touches that cinches the look together include a custom-built hutch in the dining room that holds a china collection that belonged to the homeowner’s great grandmother. “Up until the renovation it had stayed packed for thirty years,” says the homeowner, “it was designed around the collection.”
Wallpaper and traditional furnishings echo Pennsylvania-Dutch themes. A massive stone wall defines the driveway leading to the three car garage tucked away behind the porte cochere. A media room was carved underneath the new spaces. The design team even figured out a way to get balcony off the master bedroom with a porch tucked below.
The overall effect of the project was good feelings all around. “We all had a blast on this job,” says Andersson. The builder finished his end of the project by presenting the happy owners with a renovated house warming gift – a nine foot kitchen table big enough for the kids and the grandparents.
The architect was satisfied with successfully blending modern lifestyles with a house design that’s rooted in days gone by. “I’m happy we were able to marry the lifestyle of how people actually live to the architecture,” says Frederick, “in many cases, as a society were heading towards more barn-like architecture. On this job, the scale is more compatible.” The homeowner lists her favorite parts of the project as the bathroom and the kitchen. But the mud room is her all time favorite space in the house.
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Story and images originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Chesapeake Home magazine.