Arts & Crafts Inspiration

County Lines

Laura Muzzi Brennan

01 February 2010

Mere blueprints and square footage can't begin to capture the spirit of this Arts and Crafts-inspired residence in Berwyn. Only philosophy can. As historian Wendy Hitchmough explains, American practitioners of Arts & Crafts style - architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Henry Greene among them - believed "a house must belong to a place and its people, and that it should be built of local materials using time-honored methods passed down through generations of builders." 

That explains why the Arts and Crafts umbrella shelters the bungalows of Pasadena, California; the mission-style dwellings of the American Southwest; and Wright's own Prairie Style homes in Oak Park, Illinois. Guided by that philosophy, architect Peter Archer and the Berwyn homeowners set about designing a family home that harmonizes with the Chester County landscape and showcases the talents of local craftspeople. In an eight-page letter to Archer, the homeowners talked more about their family - four active daughters, two doting grandparents, one mellow dog - than any specific directives regarding floor tiles and kitchen islands. Their desire to create an heirloom was clear, not the kind swaddled in bubble wrap and tucked away for someday but a work of art to be lived in and loved today.

Approach the Butterfly

Winding up the nearly quarter mile drive, you see the house grow naturally out of its twelve acre surroundings, achieving Archer's vision that one "cannot imagine anything else being there." In fact, the original 1912 house had sunk into disrepair and was torn down before construction began in 2003. Archer designed the almost 9,000 sf home to mimic a butterfly's shape - a body and two wings that look as if they embrace the landscape - so even a person standing inside can look out and take in the architecture.

This house may be a butterfly, but it is no ethereal creature. The clay tile roof is built to last a hundred years, and underneath the pebbledash stucco exterior, the 2 x 6 wood frame is supported by 8-inch concrete walls and a 16-inch concrete foundation. (In comparison, most foundations are 8 to 12 inches deep). Accenting the home are mahogany and copperclad windows surrounded by Kasota stone, the same yellow stone used for The Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

The home's main entrance faces north into the woods where Anna Anisko, the botanical artist who illustrated Plants of Pennsylvania: An Illustrated Manual, replaced invasive plant species with indigenous ones. From the woods, amble down a few steps into the Pennsylvania bluestone courtyard lit at night by cast bronze, bouquet-shaped torches. The real eye catcher of the entrance, however, is a river-and-woods scene art glass door created by stained glass glazier Emily Selvin. 

Once you've gone over the river and through the woods, find yourself in the stair hall with lots of paths to follow: walk forward into the main living space; left into the master suite or up the grand staircase to the "lantern" and the suites beyond.

Living Space

Like a greeter welcoming you to the home's main living space, the Art Nouveau-inspired glass cabinet promises an extraordinary experience awaits. An artistic flight of fancy, the built-in cabinet by wood artisan Fab Dubrunfaut showcases stemware on one side and rotates to reveal a fully stocked bar on the other. Just beyond the bar is the main living area where every room opens onto at least two others. On one side of the living room, two leather chairs cozy up to a walk-in fireplace, a nod to that beloved feature of the Chester County farmhouse. The walls surrounding the fireplace look as if they are upholstered in leather, but the illusion is merely the artistry of mother-and-son decorative painters, Nancy and Holland Evers.

The living room's main conversation area - a sofa flanked by two chairs, all richly upholstered in fabric reminiscent of a William Morris design - faces a wall of French doors and offers a spectacular south-facing view of the swimming pool, terrace and meadows. On the other side of the living room is a smaller fireplace with a casual dining area in front of it. Just beyond that fireplace, a pair of art glass doors usher you into an indoor/outdoor room complete with a Viking grill, ample seating and a dining area. During hot weather, glass panels surrounding the room are removed to expose screens and let the fresh air in. Directly behind the main conversation area of the living room is the formal dining room. The two rooms are separated by another Emily Selvin creation: a glass wall of bottle-green roundels. The dining room's two-story bay window, accented with panes of purple and pale yellow, alludes to another Philadelphia landmark, the Vesper Boat Club to which one owner belongs. Nestled into the window's curve sits a gleaming walnut and mahogany banquette, crafted by David Dougan, who did much of the home's fine woodwork.

From the dining room, you can either go back for another look at the rotating cabinet or explore the butler's pantry. Its lacewood and walnut burl cabinets are enhanced by seed glass doors and display, among other treasures, the owners' collection of French enamel and Spade pottery. On the other side of the butler's pantry, the kitchen features cabinets of quarter sawn oak, and windows topped by more of Selvin's art glass that look north to the woods. The kitchen opens to the living room and a mudroom with a back staircase leading to the second floor. 

Master Suite

Stained glass doors depicting trees above a verdant forest floor hint at the views to come in the master bedroom suite. Facing south, the suite's floor to ceiling windows present yet another view of the pool, the terrace and the meadow. In the suite's sitting room, blonde-hued, quarter sawn English sycamore walls, travertine-tiled floor and a circular-shaped fireplace give the room a contemporary feel. A narrow hallway connects the sitting room to his and her bathrooms, dressing areas, and the master bedroom itself. A shower joining the two bathrooms recalls a waterfall: a slab of teal marble forms a high-backed bench for sitting while water cascades down your shoulders. Painted to mimic English sycamore, the barreled ceiling above the bed frames a lovely view of oaks and maples on the property's eastern sector.

Staircase, Lantern and Suites

An oak and Hawaiian koa staircase by David Dougan leads to what Peter Archer fondly refers to as "the lantern." This turret-like landing space boasts a gold-leafed domed ceiling, its periphery inlaid with ebony in a scallop design. The day I visited, a Tiffany-inspired chandelier, two years in the making, was being installed. Archer and the owners could hardly wait to see the light shine through the blue and emerald panes, illuminating the lantern and the courtyard below. Beyond the lantern, the staircase carries you to three bedrooms, three baths and a shared study/playroom enjoyed by the owners' daughters. Then comes a bridge linking the main part of the home to a fourth bedroom and an exercise room. An enclosed stairway connects the exercise room to the in-law cottage, an 1,800 sf residence complete with bedroom, study and kitchen where the wife's parents live.

Hidden Gems and Future Plans

Tucked away on the lower level are several hidden gems. There you'll find a spacious playroom as well as a storage room large enough to hold the owners' rowing sculls. But the best reason to visit the lower level is its wine cellar. A vineyard scene rendered in art glass welcomes oenophiles, while curved shelving cradles rare vintages.

Throughout my tour of the home, I was struck not only by the easy rapport of architect and owners but by the way they talked about future projects with starry-eyed anticipation. No sooner was the new chandelier installed than they began dreaming aloud of a hand-carved bench in the lantern and an expansion of the wine cellar. So when Peter Archer calls this residence the "Great American House," I see why. It's not simply that native plants flourish in its woods or that Pennsylvania bluestone paves its courtyard, or even that so many American artisans contributed their talents to its creation. The name sticks because the owners and architect share that most American of qualities: a passionate desire to keep moving forward.

Houzz Pro Spotlight: How Rural Regulations Can Enrich Your Country Estate

A West Chester architect shares ways to turn land and building restrictions into design opportunities - 27 March 2017

Archer & Buchanan Projects Win National Awards

AIA Philadelphia - 25 November 2013

50 Years of Stuckeman Works

Archer & Buchanan Architecture Feature - 1 May 2013

AIA Small Projects Structure Winner

Architectural Products
 - 1 July 2008

Please Vote for ABA's Cor-Ten Cattails

Architizer - 3 March 2015

Far from the Shire, a Hobbit House in PA

Associated Press - 12 December 2012

Far from the Shire, a Hobbit house in PA Country

Associated Press Video - 12 December 2012

Digital Underground

Bucks Life - 1 September 2013

On the drawing board

Building Design + Construction - 1 July 2013

Estates of Excellence

Chester County Town & Country Living - 1 October 2001

Bucolic Beauty, Classic Charm

Chester County Town & Country Living
 - 1 June 2005

Preserving Land and History

Chester County Town & Country Living
 - 1 April 2005

An Epic in the Making

Chester County Town & Country 
Living - 23 October 2008

Unique Homes - A House fit for a Hobbit

CNN Money - 28 November 2011

Vision Becomes Reality for Tolkien Collector

Collector’s News - 1 October 2006

Fit for a Hobbit

Cottages & Bungalows - 1 February 2009

73rd Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2013

Kimberton Sanctuary

County Lines - 1 September 2012

72nd Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2012

Arts & Crafts Inspiration

County Lines - 1 February 2010

71st Tour of Tours

County Lines - 1 September 2011

Home of the Month

County Lines - 1 March 2013

All Around Farm

County Lines - 1 February 2013

Preserving & Celebrating History

County Lines Magazine - 31 January 2017

Mercer Hill Farm

Covertside - 1 December 2007

Ground broken for Lenfest Center

Daily Local News - 24 May 2012

The return of an old favorite is brewing in Greenville

Delaware Community News - 16 August 2009

Lenfest Center at the ChesLen Preserve dedication planned

Delaware County News Network - 1 June 2013

Archer & Buchanan's Cattail Fence Wins Design Award

Dexigner.com - 20 September 2012

Soundproof Theater Fits Country Lifestyle

Electronic House
 - 1 May 2008

Adirondack, Shingle Style

Fine Homebuilding - 1 April 2005

Sounds as Good as it Looks

Fine Homebuilding - 1 March 2005

A cottage fit for a hobbit

Fine Homebuilding - 1 May 2007

Arts & Crafts and Automobiles

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 1 March 2017

Mud Room's the Name, Organizing's the Aim

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 24 September 2015

Swarthmore's New Greenhouse

Garden Design - 24 February 2010

On the Fence

Gardening Australia Magazine - 1 June 2015

Scott's new Wister Center receives Green Building of America Award

Greater Philadelphia Gardens - 20 August 2009

Old-fashioned Entertainment

HD Living - 1 January 2008

"Home Sweet Home" in a Barn

HGTV - 23 February 2017

5 Houses Where You Can Pretend to Be a Hobbit

HGTV Front Door - 9 December 2013

Can't go wrong with...

HGTV Magazine - 1 April 2013

Converting an Old Horse Barn in Pennsylvania

Hooked on Houses - 5 September 2013

15 Dream Closets to Admire

Houzz - 23 January 2017

14 Gardens Straight out of Fairy Tales

Houzz.com - 31 January 2015

8 Fireplaces to Feed Your Kitchen's Style

Houzz.com - 21 January 2013

Sample Bright Color in the Kitchen

Houzz.com - 27 February 2012

9 Ways to Boost Winter Curb Appeal

Houzz.com - 28 November 2013

Beauty Goes Beyond the Eye of the Beholder

Houzz.com - 28 August 2013

25 Most Bookmarked Houzz Tours of 2012

Houzz.com - 1 January 2013

25 Dream Homes to Satisfy Your Soul

Houzz.com - 17 June 2012

Help Your Stair Landing Take Off

Houzz.com - 6 June 2012

4 Hobbit Houses Bring Charm to the Landscape

Houzz.com - 1 December 2012

Renovation Detail: The Transom Window

Houzz.com - 3 May 2012

Fall in Love with Lacquer

Houzz.com - 7 January 2016

Groom your Rooms with Kentucky Derby Decor

Houzz.com - 29 April 2012

Staircase Landings Worth a Linger

Houzz.com - 10 November 2012

Academy Attic Hearth Uncovered

Lower Merion Historical Society Milestones - 1 April 2009

Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd.

Luxury Home Quarterly - 1 April 2011

Mod Men

Main Line - 1 October 2009

A Celebration of Preservation

Main Line Suburban Life
 - 1 September 2010

Artsy Elegance

Main Line Today - 1 June 2008

Element of Surprise

Main Line Today - 22 January 2010

Going to The Whip

Main Line Today - 1 March 2008

Custom Cozy

Main Line Today - 1 December 2003

Peeling Back the Layers

Main Line Today - 1 December 2003

Country Living

Main Line Today - 25 January 2011

A Newtown Square Home with German Inspiration

Main Line Today - 5 February 2016

Handmade Marvel

Main Line Today - 1 December 2006

Homage to Okie

Main Line Today - 14 January 2009

101 Reasons to Love the Main Line and Western Suburbs

Main Line Today Magazine - 1 March 2015

Music Recording, Down on the Farm

Mix - 1 August 2002

The New Hampshire House

Montco Homes, Gardens, & Lifestyle - 1 November 2016

Take a Tour of the Lenfest Center…

Natural Lands Spring/Summer 2013 - 1 June 2013

Chester Co. Hobbit House Belongs to Lifelong Tolkien Fan

NBC 10 Philadelphia - 14 December 2012

Okie Inspired

New Old House - 1 April 2009

Starry Night Farm

New Old House - 1 January 2008

Fluid Forms

Period Homes - 1 September 2006

Equestrian Lifestyle

Period Homes - 1 May 2013

Palladio Through the Years

Period Homes - 1 January 2011

Small Comfort

Period Homes - 1 July 2007

Built to Last

Period Homes - 1 January 2007

Pure and Simple

Period Homes - 1 November 2009

A Place in the Sun

Period Homes
 - 1 March 2006


Stable R&R

Period Homes
 - 1 July 2005

Great Expectations

Philadelphia - 1 June 2009

Making New Look Old

Philadelphia Business Journal - 8 June 2007

Finding an Architect

Philadelphia Home & Garden - 1 January 2007

Safe Harbor

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 June 2006

Cool Rooms

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 October 2003

A Newfangled, Old-Fashioned Mash Up

Philadelphia Inquirer - 6 July 2013

Decorator unleashes the potential of her own home

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 July 2011

Born to Love Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 June 2011

Come Along To See Their Party Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 May 2014

The Stunning New Farmhouse on Historic Ardrossan Estate

PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE - 14 June 2017

Jawdropper of the Week: Nirvana in Devon for $8M

Philadelphia Magazine - 9 February 2017

Back to the barn

Philadelphia Style - 1 November 2007

Archer & Buchanan Projects Win National Awards

Press Release - 1 November 2013

Archer & Buchanan Student Activities Center Opens

Press Release - 1 October 2012

Archer & Buchanan Names New Senior Associate

Press Release - 1 August 2012

New Life for Water Works Building

Press Release - 1 November 2011

Archer & Buchanan Receives Best of Houzz 2014 Award

Press Release - 4 February 2014

Archer & Buchanan Bring on New Principal

Press Release - 1 June 2012

Archer & Buchanan Receives 2014 Palladio Award

Press Release - 10 March 2014

Architectural Portfolio "Outstanding Designs"

Press Release - 1 November 2008

Christian Activities Building

Press Release - 1 May 2009

Wister Center Wins GOLD

Press Release - 1 November 2010

Archer & Buchanan’s Land Preserve Wins Design Award

Press Release - 23 September 2013

Archer & Buchanan Architecture Wins First Outstanding Firm Award

Society of American Registered Architects, Pennsylvania Council honors firm and new project - 30 November 2015

Remaking History

Suburban Life - 1 March 2012

Big Building Projects at Grove City College

The Business Journal - 9 February 2011

Down on the Farm

The Hunt - 1 April 2008

The Custom Home - Five Trends to Watch

The Hunt - 1 December 2012

Modernizing an 18th Century Farmhouse

The Hunt Magazine - 20 June 2017

A Barn For all Reasons-- Especially Parties

The Hunt Magazine - 4 May 2016

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

Giving Antique Objects a Second Chance

The Hunt Magazine - 19 January 2017

The Custom Home: Five Trends to Watch

The Hunt Magazine - 1 December 2013

Lenfest Center Opens at the ChesLen Preserve

The Hunt Magazine - 22 July 2013

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

The Wister Education Center and Greenhouse

The Journal of Green Building - 1 April 2010

Pet Projects

The Philadelphia Inquirer - 11 December 2015

A 'modest proposal' could save Eastern's log cabin

The Suburban and Wayne Times - 13 March 2008

Stars Align to Spotlight Preserve’s Latest Addition

The Unionville Times - 18 June 2013

Complementing History

Traditional Building Magazine - 23 June 2014

Planting Ideas

Traditional Building
 - 1 October 2010

All-Around Adaption

Untacked Magazine - 4 May 2015

Happy Days

Veranda - 1 January 2013

Loading tweets...