A Malvern farmhouse recaptures its 18th-century splendor.
When you wish for something to happen someday, you never know when that day may come. A Malvern homeowner mentioned to a realtor that he’d always wanted to live on a horse farm. It just so happened the realtor had the perfect property for him and his family.
Malvern’s Alliquippa Farm is a quintessential Chester County farm, with more than 60 acres of undisturbed land that seems to roll on endlessly. A marker on the chimney of the five-bay, stone colonial farmhouse dates it 1730.
Returning the farmhouse to its original splendor would require much work. Since it had been operating as a rental property with three apartments—none of them properly maintained—a majority of the house had to be gutted. The new owners entrusted the restoration to two of Chester County’s most reputable craftsmen: architect Warren Claytor and builder Franny Abbott of Spencer-Abbott Builders.
The latter designs and builds new homes and home additions. Abbott had already done work at the Alliquippa Farm property, renovating an existing garage to include a second-floor apartment. Spencer-Abbott also specializes in historical restorations, Claytor’s architectural speciality.
“This project formed a great team of the builder, the architect and the client,” says Claytor. “And that’s the formula for all successful projects: You need to have a good combination of a homeowner who cares, a builder who is capable and an architect who listens to the client.”
Claytor was fortunate to have a history of the house documented in Acres of Quakers: An Architectural & Cultural History of Willistown Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, From First Settlement Through 1900. Compiled by area historians John Charles Nagy and Penny Teaf Goulding, the book offers a comprehensive look at all structures included in the Breou Farm Atlas of 1883. Though a number of them are no longer standing, Alliquippa Farm is among the survivors.
“We had a lot to go from,” says Claytor. “So we were blessed by having all that knowledge and all that historical information that was very accurate.”
First and foremost, the homeowners’ wanted the renovation to retain the old home’s charm and character. “We let the ideas evolve,” says Claytor.
Even so, obvious improvements had to be made to improve the flow of the interior layout, and more windows were needed for increased natural light and better views of the gorgeous pond (pictured above) and several out buildings.
“The views out were crucial to this project,” says Abbott. “In this type of project, it’s imperative to be able to turn around and look away from the house and see the vistas.”
Once the initial plans were finalized, Claytor met with the Sugartown Historical Architectural Review Board for its input. The response was more than favorable. “They loved the plans and how we were maintaining the integrity of the old 1730s structure,” says Claytor. “We’re so lucky to have such great colonial farmhouses in this area. It’s a pleasure for me to be able to help preserve them.”
The efforts to retain the farmhouse’s historical charm began with the limited use of materials on the exterior. The goal was to make the house look like it had evolved over the centuries.
“By maintaining the purity and integrity of the indigenous material, we were able to complement the architecture that’s here,” says Claytor. “And unless you knew the house from before, you may not be able to tell what is new and what was here before.”
The stone used on the house’s exterior (locals call it “Willistown Brown”) was both quarried on site and brought in from other sources. A new cedar shake roof tops things off.
A persistent challenge throughout the project was maintaining the integrity of the old structural systems while making sure they met today’s building codes. One example is the double-hung windows used in the house. Current Willistown Township ordinances require that every bedroom have windows that open out instead of up. So as not to disrupt the home’s exterior aesthetic, Claytor used a casement window that matched the double-hung style.
ONE OF THE MORE unique architectural aspects of Alliquippa Farm is the sun room, its three walls of windows and French doors flooding the attached living room with light. The fourth wall was saved from the old farmhouse, original entry door and all. “We thought it would be a three-season room—it’s become a four-season room,” says the home’s owner. “It’s one of the largest living room spaces in the house—and it’s very comfortable.”
From doorknobs to trim colors, the owner’s wife made all the interior design choices throughout the house. She wanted the sun room to have a more natural feel compared to the rest of the house, which is primarily colonial. So she chose wicker furniture and rattan roll-up blinds on all the windows. A rattan ceiling fan keeps the space cool when it gets too warm in the sun.
In the front receiving room (pictured above), exposed joists make up the ceiling. Abbott crafted a new front door in the old Dutch style with antique strap hinges. He painted it a red brick color on the outside and a colonial Woodfred green on the inside to match the trim on the windows and fireplace mantle. Reminders of horse country are apparent in homey details such as the pair of riding boots by the front door and a cream rug bordered with horses. Distressed, random-width, oak wood lines the floor.
The dining room’s furniture set is an antique passed down from the homeowner’s parents. A pedestal table is surrounded by chairs hand needle-pointed by the homeowner’s mother. Whimsical, red wallpaper patterned with images of monkeys and giraffes brings an element of surprise to the otherwise traditional room. “I saw that wallpaper years ago and I knew I wanted to use it in my home,” says the owner.
Forest green silk drapes hang over the dining room’s window and French doors, the latter offering access to the flagstone patio (pictured above). “In this house, there’s a lot of living that occurs outdoors, so the connection between the old inside and the new outside is important,” says Claytor.
Indeed, the owner has hosted several parties on the patio and reports that guests have had little problem moving from one space to the next. The home’s original smokehouse sits off to the side of the patio, and most guests can’t resist taking a peek inside at the rafters where meat was once hung.
French doors are used twice in the kitchen. The curved island faces the double set of doors, supplying an amazing view outside for anyone cooking or entertaining guests. The L-shaped room has plenty of cabinetry, providing much-needed storage space for the family. Green granite enhances the cream cabinetry.
The kitchen’s generous size allows for a seating area—that in addition to an island that can accommodate three people. An antique, 18th-century hutch sits between the sets of doors, serving as a reminder of the home’s rich past.
Just off the kitchen is a mudroom—something not found in most colonial homes but an essential addition for these homeowners. One wall in the room reveals the original stone. “Exposed stone exudes the character of Chester County,” says Claytor.
The mudroom’s flagstone floor can withstand the elements—plus, it’s heated. A corner dog shower ensures the owners’ pooch will never dirty the carpets.
While change is good, there were many things at Alliquippa Farm the owners were unwilling to part with, including the walk-in fireplace accented with a window in the den. In the end, though, the 1730s box staircase in the original kitchen was something they didn’t mind donating to the Sugartown Historical Society. A steep winder that went from the first floor to the second, the staircase looked like a cabinet from the outside; the lower portion offered storage space for kitchen supplies and the like.
Back in the day, residents would open the door and negotiate the perilous steps. And while it had its place in its day, a box staircase is impractical for modern living. Nonetheless, it was worth saving. “It was such an amazing thing to have one in existence that was in such great condition,” says Claytor. “The owners wanted to make sure the relic was preserved—and the historical society was thrilled to receive it.”
All said and done, the owners are utterly content with life on Alliquippa Farm. With its changing colors, fall is a favorite season. “It’s amazing,” says the owner. “Every time you look out the window, you see a different scene. We’re so glad we found the farm.”
Thankfully for them, that someday came much sooner than later.
Architect: Warren Claytor, Warren Claytor Architects 108 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, (610) 688-1744
Builder: Franny Abbott, Spencer-Abbott Builders Edgmont, (610) 353-9700, spencer-abbott.com
Kitchen: Coventry Kitchens 490 Lancaster Ave., Frazer, (610) 644-2773
Painting: Zebby Sulecki 3547 Rhoades Ave., Newtown Square, (610) 359-6350
Wallpaper: Newtown Square Wallpaper and Design 13 Saint Albans Circle, Newtown Square, (610) 356-5583
Window Ttreatments and Fabrics: Blind Sense 825 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, (610) 520-9608