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

A West Chester architect shares design opportunities

Houzz

27 March 2017

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

 

Who: Michele Thackrah of Archer & Buchanan Architecture
Where: West Chester, Pennsylvania
In her own words: “We believe buildings should continue to gain character, beauty and value as the years pass and history is created.”

The Philadelphia countryside, with its rolling hills and bucolic scenery, is a beautiful setting for a home. However, rural property owners looking to build or remodel a house can face zoning ordinances and conservation easements, leaving them feeling adrift. 

“Fortunately, the guidelines and constraints placed on eased property can actually set the stage for a much more thoughtful and satisfying outcome,” says Michele Thackrah, a principal at Archer & Buchanan Architecture in West Chester.

Links to the land. The firm, founded by Peter Archer and Richard Buchanan in 1996, draws much inspiration from turn-of-the-20th-century designs by local architects, including Richardson Brognard Okie and Wilson Eyre. “We have a strong appreciation for the rich tradition and history of Philadelphia, its historic suburbs and rural surroundings,” says Thackrah, who works closely with fellow principal Daniel Russoniello.

Pirouetting into a career. As a young girl, Thackrah had the opportunity to dance at the Roberson Mansion in upstate New York almost every week. “Although I hung up my dancing shoes ages ago, my fascination with stately homes has never waned,” she says. “My work as an architect is built around the idea that there’s a rich cultural resource in our local historical fabric to draw from, both to create new homes and to alter existing ones to become more resonant and beautiful.”

Ready to get a masterpiece to call home? Read Thackrah’s tips to take advantage of land and building regulations’ silver lining.

  1. Prioritize Quality Over Size 

    While a sprawling residence can be a tempting idea, easements may force you to build a better rather than a bigger home. “Size limitations demand creative solutions to double up functions that otherwise would have had dedicated spaces,” Thackrah says. For example, consider combining areas such as the living room and dining room or the study and guest room.

    The Archer & Buchanan team designed a hillside home with four 1,000-square-foot floors for a Unionville client. He originally wanted a spacious hilltop house, but the previous owner had placed tight size and location restrictions on the property to preserve open farmland. The limitations allowed the client to invest in luxe details such as an antique Lancaster corner cupboard, adding a warm richness to the dining room seen here. 

  1. Look Past the Expected

    Work with your architect to find creative solutions to compromised situations. “Don’t allow regulations to limit your imagination,” Thackrah says. For example, the team designed a “sculpture” of Cor-Ten steel blades for a Berwyn client, as township restrictions prohibited a typical deer fence.

    “The serpentine layout of the fence is deliberate; it weaves through the front yard, opening and closing around existing trees and straightening out only when crossing the drive,” Thackrah says. It deters deer and cleverly mimics the curvilinear aspects of the house and its natural setting. 

  1. Extend Your Living Space Outdoors

    Expand your living area onto decks, porches or terraces if the building’s square footage is regulated. “A climate that allows for three-season living provides a multitude of options to create a dynamic play of indoor and outdoor spaces,” Thackrah says. 

    Designed as a family gathering destination in Avalon, New Jersey, the beach house seen here features numerous outdoor porches and balconies. The town’s lots allow a maximum of 4,300 square feet with height restrictions, so the outside areas extend the space while respecting regulations. 

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