Okie Inspired

New Old House

Mary Grauerholz

01 April 2009

Archer & Buchanan looks to early-twentieth-century architect R. Brognard Okie for the design of a Pennsylvania country house.  

The main hall of Canary Cottage, dappled with morning sun, is a feast for the eyes. Beginning with a pool of light resting on a honey-colored farmer's table in the kitchen niche, the view lead to the flower-filled dining room and, finally, to a bay of windows overlooking a vista of daffodils on the rolling green lawn. 

The interior view is one of Betsy Grace's favorite places in the Wayne, Pennsylvania home she shares with her husband, Charlie. "I love standing in Charlie's library, looking straight down the main hall through the butler's pantry to the sunlight peeking through the windows in the family room," she says "It's amazing to watch this interplay of light." The expansive view also has the imprint of trio of architects responsible for fulfilling the Grace's family's vision for their new home: Peter Archer and Richard Buchanan, of Archer & Buchanan Architecture, and R. Brognard Okie, an early-twentieth-century visionary best known for reinterpreting the Pennsylvania farmhouse as a blend of historic restoration and modern comforts.

"We're great admirers of Okie," Peter Archer says of himself and his partners. When Archer began developing plans for the Graces' new home several years ago, he found himself in an architect's most enviable position: clients who not only shared his love for Okie's work but had experienced his style firsthand. Charlie Grace has lived in three Okie designs, and the Graces were living in an Okie home in Chester County, Pennsylvania, when they hired Archer & Buchanan to create a house that would put them closer to Philadelphia, where Charlie works as an investment banker. Betsy Grace has loved the influence of country design since her childhood in Chagrin Falls, Ohio; in fact, the memories of an inn in her town were so meaningful that she named her current home after it: Canary Cottage. So it's no wonder that the Graces wanted a home imbued with the best of Okie's principles.

Okie's hallmarks - with touches and modern amenities incorporated by Archer and Buchanan - run subtly through the farmhouse: headboard walls, wide-board details, quartersawn oak floors. And then there is the stone, gorgeous local fieldstone that gives the structure's exterior its Pennsylvania farmhouse identity. "The stone," says Archer, is much more than a material; it reflects the area's people and its roots. This house carries on a history, the development of the Pennsylvania farmhouse," Archer continues. "You don't see these attributes in New York or North Carolina. It's what makes a local tradition. This house speaks very much of the region."

Archer captured another Okie detail, the soft transition from outdoors to inside, with a courtyard placed in the front of the house. "I created the courtyard approach and entrance to express the history of so many wonderful American historical homes surrounded by vistas," Archer explains. "The courtyard is the beginning of the experience of the home." 

The overall feeling is one of expansive space. "Upon walking in the front door, the first thing you experience is the openness. It is the true welcoming of the home." Sweeping stairs to the left, the library to the right, and a wide cased opening lead to a view of the living room fireplace. The traditional raised-panel woodwork and furnishings (many of them are inherited antiques; other pieces were found by Diana Bittel of Philadelphia) bolster the comforting, elegant mood. The living room and library have what Archer calls "lots of ins and outs": snug little inglenooks, built-in seating, bookcases, and alcoves.

The easy way the house has of accommodating both solitude and group settings is one of Betsy's favorite aspects, especially considering the entertaining she and Charlie love to do. The couple has eight children between them, as well as grandchildren and many friends. "It's very comfortable," she says. "It moves very easily with different groups of people." The arrangement of the alcoves, inglenooks, corners, and cubbies' was literally Betsy's dream. An architectural conceptual designer, she recounts a creative dream that spawned one of the most beautiful of the cozy spaces: the inglenook with a comfortable antique chair placed next to the living room fireplace. "I was dreaming about this inglenook one night, and when I woke up, I drew it; I knew I wanted it as an appendage to the living room," she explains. The inglenook's floor of irregular Bryn Mawr stone echoes the exterior's stonework.

Much of the first floor's beauty lies in the mood created by details: chairs upholstered in sumptuous English fabric, antique furniture with the sheen of centuries of living, and four generations of family portraits, including many by artist Mary Whyte  of Charleston, South Carolina.

Enveloping every floor of the three-story home is an abundance of millwork-headboard walls, casings, mantels, paneling, cabinetry-building the home's historic identity, warming the house as only wood can, and reflecting, as Archer says, "all those things we love about old homes." The millwork was done by several local craftspeople, including David Thorngate, a Delaware cabinetmaker who recently returned from Iraq, and David Dougan, a cabinetmaker from Edgemont, Pennsylvania. Archer says the general contractor, Griffiths Consutruction Inc. in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, instilled the house with "heart and soul."

There is another critical force running through this lovely home's identity: Betsy Grace herself. Archer gives her much of the credit for the design's success. "She had a very clear vision of what she wanted," Archer states. "She needed an architect to make it a reality." Archer recalls Betsy's "almost apologetic call" to him asking for his help. "She said, 'I've been practicing drawing houses on shirt cardboard from my grandfather's dry cleaning since I was a little girl.' "Archer says the result was a lovely collection of sketches of her and Charlie's dream home. She didn't need a draftsman; she needed an interpreter. So the Graces, along with Archer and another Archer & Buchanan architect, Michele Thackrah, began talking and poring over books, many from the firm's library. Archer himself lives in an 1816 Pennsylvania farmhouse, so he also drew on personal experience. The basic task before the architectural team became obvious right away, says Archer: "To get to the essence and create a beautiful home, with all the qualities of the houses that the Graces had lived in." 

Archer began by making frequent trips to the spacious property, with spectacular sunlight, foliage, and topography that worked together like a song. "I visited the property several times during the day so that I could see where the light is. If I have the luxury, I like to visit properties several times a year, to see what speaks." Although the Graces wanted Okie style to define their new home, they needed some tweaks to add interest. "At one point," Archer recalls, "Charlie said, 'I've lived in Okie houses all my life; I want this one to be a little different.'" Archer responded by adding secondary and tertiary portions of the exterior in cedar shingles rather than the usual Okie-style clapboard. "We used a palette of materials, all natural, so they age gracefully and last a long time," Archer adds.

Charlie also knew he wanted some of the features of new construction. Canary Cottage has a wealth of modern amenities, such as a media system, heated floors, a sophisticated kitchen, and a combination exercise-sitting room on the second floor, with its modernity tempered by reclaimed wood floors, burnished millwork, and traditional furnishings. The four second-story bedrooms are arranged off a central area, with an entry such as an alcove leading to each room to provide a gentle transition from public to private space. The third floor will become a bunk room for the Graces' grandchildren.

A carriage house that includes Betsy's studio is also on the property. "Michele and Peter really had fun making a hideaway where I can draw," Betsy says. It's no surprise that Archer and Thackrah knew how to craft a space for Betsy's creative work. "Peter and Michele could finish my thoughts," Betsy explains. "They just make things come alive."

Pennsylvania Fieldstone

"The goal was to replicate the look of an 18th century fieldstone house for Canary Cottage," says Peter Archer of Archer & Buchanan. The architectural firm studied the stone used in historical buildings in the area. Archer not only studied the type of stone used in the past but also took note of how the stone was layered (horizontally or vertically), what size stones were used, and what type of pointing was applied. "This particular pointing style we used is called crown pointing," explains Archer. "The walls are 8"-thick field stone, a mix of gneiss and quartzitic sandstone, and are backed up by a 2 by 6 wood frame. Historically, the walls would have been 18" to 22" thick with a coat of plaster on the interior. Today builders incorporate the framing to allow for insulation. Stone masonry has become a real art form again," says Archer. "There are a handful of masons in the region doing beautiful work." And the stonework on Canary Cottage is the cream of the crop.

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

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

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

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

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

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 24 September 2015

Arts & Crafts and Automobiles

Fine Homebuilding Magazine - 1 March 2017

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

4 Hobbit Houses Bring Charm to the Landscape

Houzz.com - 1 December 2012

Fall in Love with Lacquer

Houzz.com - 7 January 2016

Renovation Detail: The Transom Window

Houzz.com - 3 May 2012

Groom your Rooms with Kentucky Derby Decor

Houzz.com - 29 April 2012

Staircase Landings Worth a Linger

Houzz.com - 10 November 2012

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

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

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

A Newtown Square Home with German Inspiration

Main Line Today - 5 February 2016

Country Living

Main Line Today - 25 January 2011

Handmade Marvel

Main Line Today - 1 December 2006

Homage to Okie

Main Line Today - 14 January 2009

Artsy Elegance

Main Line Today - 1 June 2008

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

Small Comfort

Period Homes - 1 July 2007

Built to Last

Period Homes - 1 January 2007

Pure and Simple

Period Homes - 1 November 2009

Fluid Forms

Period Homes - 1 September 2006

Equestrian Lifestyle

Period Homes - 1 May 2013

Palladio Through the Years

Period Homes - 1 January 2011

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

Cool Rooms

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 October 2003

Safe Harbor

Philadelphia Home & Garden 
 - 1 June 2006

A Newfangled, Old-Fashioned Mash Up

Philadelphia Inquirer - 6 July 2013

Come Along To See Their Party Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 May 2014

Decorator unleashes the potential of her own home

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 July 2011

Born to Love Barns

Philadelphia Inquirer - 24 June 2011

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 Bring on New Principal

Press Release - 1 June 2012

Archer & Buchanan Receives 2014 Palladio Award

Press Release - 10 March 2014

New Life for Water Works Building

Press Release - 1 November 2011

Architectural Portfolio "Outstanding Designs"

Press Release - 1 November 2008

Christian Activities Building

Press Release - 1 May 2009

Archer & Buchanan’s Land Preserve Wins Design Award

Press Release - 23 September 2013

Wister Center Wins GOLD

Press Release - 1 November 2010

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

Archer & Buchanan Receives Best of Houzz 2014 Award

Press Release - 4 February 2014

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

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

Hillandale Farm Provides an Oasis for Empty Nesters

The Hunt Magazine - 12 August 2016

Lenfest Center Opens at the ChesLen Preserve

The Hunt Magazine - 22 July 2013

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

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...