My friend Dave and his wife Susan (and their soft-coated Wheaten Terriers, Tristram and Sally) live on the outskirts of Philadelphia in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I’ve known Dave for about ten years now, and, to date, he’s the only person I know who can outdo me when it comes to general anguish over lack of perfection. I think he may own more chairs than I do, too.
Dave, an architect, has been renovating his house for over a decade now. He’s done so in a way that is not only respectful to the original design of the house, but to the land that surrounds it and to the furnishings within. I asked him if he’d be willing to do a little visual tour, and he generously agreed.
With no further ado, here’s Dave’s long-winded, overwrought narrative (he told me to say that!).
Modern in the Country
Had someone told me it would be almost twelve years to get 1800 sq. ft. and just under 2 acres almost just the way I want it I would have told them they were crazy! Well it is just about as finished as it ever will be so with some friendly persuasion from Anna, I have been convinced to post this progress report for the kind readers of her amazing blog.
I think I can remember the days when we first moved in that I still had about half the energy of Anna and Evan, those were the days when a lot more seemed to get accomplished in a weekend than it does now and the sun setting had little or no affect on your considering stopping a half completed project. Despite this spiraling work slowdown over the years, more than our share of unexpected disasters and the reality of everything taking seven times as long as you intend and costing a minimum of five times as much, here is a tour of the black house in the country.
The house was built in the early 1950’s by New Hope, PA, abstract artist Adolphe Blondheim as his studio and home. Its flat roof, abundance of glass and low-slung profile must have looked quite out of place in such a rural location in the early 1950’s. Originally, the house was designed as a two bedroom, one bath house with a large, 12-foot ceiling, north-facing painting studio. Over the years, and through the work of several subsequent owners, the house has been modified and added to. Unfortunately, from evidence we have uncovered, a majority of the original details have been lost, such as the studio plan, the earliest kitchen layout and most of the steel sash windows. It has through all of its transformations managed to maintain the overall feel and basic character it must have had when it was first built. Like the prior owners, including half of a 1960’s British pop duo, we have completed several updates, all as much as possible in keeping with the character of the original house. Paint color is BM #2135-10 with a custom color for the trim to match the roof coping.
What continues to strike me even after a dozen years in this house is how you are affected by the strength of the relationship between the exterior and the interior and the natural light. What it does do without you thinking about it is put a lot more emphasis on the condition and care of the landscape than you ever had imagined. You spend quite a bit more time tending to the upkeep of the yard and the plantings that are visible and therefore right in your living room year round. As you enter at the front door, the mass of the stacked bond full-wall, inside/outside fireplace anchors the living room and a wall of glass extends the space into the site. By highlighting the planes the walls create with a strong color palette, defining spaces with area rugs and by adding a wall of maple, panelized to mirror the proportions of the six windows opposite we have both given emphasis to the spaces crisp modern edges and warmed up the space. We have been careful with our furnishing selections throughout the house to include a few traditional and antique pieces such as the leather Chesterfield and 18th century oak captain’s box end table to act as counterpoints to emphasize the modern classics like the Chippendale chair by Robert Venturi, four Knoll Hat Trick chairs and a Knoll Face Off table by Frank Gehry. Yellow Bubble club chairs by Philippe Starck and a Frank Gehry Torque table are on the patio.
When we bought this house, we knew immediately there would be a dining room addition sometime in our future. There existed an awkward neither/nor space just barely large enough for a small table and an odd butcher block counter that extended half into the living room. These two areas were the only spaces to entertain or to sit have a meal. When the addition was added, the goal was to blend it as invisibly as we could with the house by using as many existing proportions, materials and elements as possible. We were limited to the size room we could add by the courtyard on the east, the existing kitchen window on the west and by a 60 year old, 20 inch diameter white pine tree on the north that we had no intentions of cutting down. Here we also incorporated glass, maple and strong planes of color to strengthen the visual connection of this space to the rest of the house. The table is a Le Corbusier LC-6 surrounded by six Philippe Starck Costes Chairs. Walls are BM #HC 105 (as is 90% of all of the trim in the house) BM #2131-30 and BM #HC-26.
We currently have the house arranged as two bedrooms and the third bedroom being used as a television room and den. The original painting studio was renovated by the previous owners to be a master bedroom with addition of a master bath and a large walk-in closet. The 12 ft. ceiling give enough space for both monumental pieces of art as well as making room for hanging art stacked. The large amount of glass makes the placement of pieces a real challenge. As a result, large blank wall in the walk in closet has even been pressed into duty as a place to put a collection of smaller special pieces. The 12 ft tall built-in shelves also created a challenge but in the end make for a great place for my larger-than-it-should-be collection of character toys. The high windows eliminate the need for any window treatments and since they are north facing maximizes the light they provide. We are fortunate to live near a well-known auction gallery that twice a year features a outstanding mid-century modern auction and have acquired several pieces there over the years. The travertine-topped walnut dresser and bed stands are Paul McCobb and were purchased there. The bent wood chairs, four in all, were also found at a local auction and all four were a mere $14! Nowhere near the deals Anna regularly gets but not bad! Wall color is BM #OC-57.
We currently use what was originally the second bedroom as a den/TV room although you will not see a black box! I really dislike a television taking over a room (a TV mounted over a fireplace especially sends me to the mat with apologies in advance to anyone reading this that may have such an arrangement!) and we were fortunate enough to have millwork to hide one already in this room. This room has natural cedar wainscoting that has become an art ledge of a series of block print cards from an artist friend of ours that we have been fortunate enough to receive each Christmas for the past 15 or so years. The Knoll Power Play chair and ottoman are by Frank Gehry. The walls are BM #1585.
All photographs are © Matt Wargo. Please do not reproduce without permission.