A Newtown Square Family Transforms Millworker’s Home Into an Old World Haven

The McIsaac family transformed the 200-year-old Darby Creek quarters into a cozy abode.



One of the home’s fireplaces, reconditioned to be historically accurate

Though a great job opportunity resulted in a temporary relocation to Scottsdale, Ariz., Chris and Linda McIsaac anxiously awaited their move back to the Main Line with their four children. They’d previously called Malvern home, so that’s where their second search began. “We were looking for something with a lot of character and history, but also something that we could put our own stamp on,” says Linda. “We didn’t want something that we couldn’t infuse our own personality into.”

Their search led them to a 200-year-old former millworker’s home along Darby Creek in Newtown Square. Despite the need for a complete renovation, the McIsaacs were immediately drawn to it. “It encompassed all the characteristics we were looking for,” Linda says. “We love the location right next to the creek and being able to hear water all the time.”  

From left: Before... and after.

Past and Present 

Before undergoing a transformation into a single home in the early 1900s, the original structure had been divided into one-room units for multiple families. Throughout the years, the house saw countless renovations—and some were far from historically accurate. “I wanted to get rid of the bad updates from the 1980s,” says Linda. 

After a few years in the home, the owners were ready for an updated layout, enlisting the expertise of Archer & Buchanan Architecture and Rittenhouse Builders. The family opted to live in the home during the process. “We always had a room blocked off that we couldn’t go into,” says Linda. “But it all worked out in the end.” 

Instead of adding space, the owners decided to work within the existing footprint. “We wanted every room to remain cozy and comfortable,” Linda says. 

The goal was to maximize the space they had. “The project was all about making an older home work without ruining the architectural details that were there,” says Rittenhouse Builders’ George Metzler, “and bringing some details back that had been lost in previous renovations.” 

Working on such an old home posed some unique challenges. At the top of the list: a chimney that had been built on the outside of the house in the 1960s. “There was no architectural reason for the chimney to be on the exterior of the house,” says Metzler. “So we took the chimney off and rebuilt it inside the house where it belonged. Building a chimney inside a house that’s occupied by a family with children is no small task, either.” 

Another major project was the tedious job of removing stucco to reveal the original  stonework hidden beneath. “Surprisingly, the stonework was in great condition,” says Metzler. 

From left: A sunroom acts as an extension of the kitchen;  the owners went with trendy, white Viking appliances in the kitchen.

Light and Airy

A bump-out in the kitchen accommodated an essential farmhouse table to seat the family of six—and it provided another benefit: “We needed to brighten up the space,” says Linda.  

Soft-gray custom cabinetry also helped with that. “The original brass pulls were really tarnished, but I loved the aged patina, so we just reused them [throughout],” she says. 

A subway-tile backsplash, beadboard on the ceiling, and a custom plaster hood above the range—all white—went well with the gray cabinets. The owners also chose trendy, white appliances from Viking. To match the countertops, they opted for a farmhouse sink in preworn soapstone. Heated wood floors eliminate the need for radiators. 

Off the kitchen, a sunroom offers more gathering space. German lap siding covers three of the walls, while the fourth is filled with windows, and French doors lead to the garden. A large, covered porch faces the area.

From left: a cozy powder room; the family-room fireplace is a true showpiece.

History Remade

Spurred by an antique mantel the owner found, the family-room fireplace was redone to be historically accurate—plastered with a brick hearth. It’s surrounded by custom arched cabinetry, brush-painted in a cream milk paint to make it appear like it’s an original part of the home. 

The master bathroom has a purposeful Old World feel, with slate tile lining the floors, a pair of washstands, and a claw-foot tub. “It’s a new piece from Waterworks that’s a replica of tubs from that time period,” says Linda. 

An antique linen press fits perfectly into the space. “In order to get that room to feel old yet elegant and new, I wanted to bring in an antique piece,” she says, adding, “I feel we did the millworker’s house justice.” 

Resources 

Architect: Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd., 125 W. Miner St., West Chester, (610) 692-9112.  
Builder: Rittenhouse Builders, 1240 W. Lincoln Highway, Coatesville, (610) 380-9570.  
Custom Millwork and Cabinetry: Christiana Cabinetry, (610) 593-7500.

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