Remaking History

Suburban Life

Sharon A. Shaw

01 March 2012

Local firm E.C. Trethewey specializes in saving historic structures and, in the process, making its clients' dreams come true.

Did you grow up in a barn?” is a question often meant to reprimand someone’s manners, but for Johanna Walters the answer is, “Yes — a very nice barn.” Walters has ridden horses all her life, and when she got the opportunity to purchase the historic barn where she had boarded and ridden her horses since high school, it was a dream come true.

“You know, I think we could make this into something,” Walters recalls telling her husband, Brian Sweeney, after showing him a scene from the beginning of the movie “Sense and Sensibility,” which was set in an old English barn. That inspiration, though, was far from the reality of their new purchase, a 19th century structure in disrepair, so the couple contacted a friend and fellow rider, Richard Buchanan, an architect and partner in the firm Archer & Buchanan, to design a unique home for their horses—and themselves.

“Johanna shared right from the beginning an abiding passion for horses and the barn,” Buchanan says. He explains the goal of the design as a “school-girl fantasy of walking out in your ‘jammies’ to kiss your pony goodnight.” The house is flanked by the attached stables, with two rooms upstairs and two down; Buchanan describes it as having “simple elegance.” “The project was a very nice opportunity to integrate the character of an old barn,” he says, “but not lose the unusual scale.”

“This wasn’t your basic everyday barn. We renovated the entire existing building: barn, living area and storage,” says Ted Trethewey of E.C. Trethewey III Building Contractors, to whom Buchanan referred the clients after designing the home. “Ted and Dave are terrific, thoughtful and solution oriented, exactly what you need when converting a 19th century building,” says Buchanan.

E.C. Trethewey receives the majority of its projects from architect and client referrals.

“I have a passion for taking rough historic structures and converting them into the projects they become,” says Trethewey. He and business partner Dave Lignore, a Williamson Free Trade School graduate, specialize in the construction and renovation of historically accurate homes. “We are very customer oriented,” Trethewey says, “[Seeing properties like this] prompts us to want to have the job — properties that are old and beat up — but we see a vision and know our abilities. We tell the customer, ‘Just you wait, the end product will be spectacular.’”

It certainly required a strong sense of vision to see how they would transform the Walters-Sweeney property from a decrepit barn to a decent stable—let alone an elegant home. According to Lignore, the barn was “full of cobwebs and birds’ nests and had doors nailed over holes. Where the fireplace is was an office with a non-functioning bathroom and furnace.” Although the condition was “disgusting,” the structural aspects were sound and the barn was filled with unique details.

“We love to salvage everything in a demolition,” says Trethewey, “to inventory it and when the time comes, to use it, No.1, for cost savings and, No.2, the architecture just makes people say ‘wow.’” Lignore agrees, noting how these items “give authentic history to the place.” He references the fireplace mantel that was found hidden in the ceiling and stall posts that were used as columns for the main staircase railing. “Little details that are not part of the architects’ plan and are a nice surprise for the client,” he says. Other salvaged items included antique brick, hardware, windows and cabinetry—even the doors used to cover holes in the wall, which now disguise a utility closet.

E.C. Trethewey handles all portions of the project, from the demolition to helping the homeowner select paint colors. “We are very hands on with the customer during the decision process,” Trethewey says, “because we are experienced in making them.” Walters appreciates this kind of close working relationship. “Being a newbie at it I admit I bit off a lot,” she says, explaining the difficulty a client faces while managing his or her own career, making decisions and communicating with the parties involved in construction of their new home. “Dave [Lignore] is a task master; he keeps people on target,” she says.

“Being that way is in a customer’s benefit,” Trethewey explains. “The longer we are on site, the more it costs. We must hold the customer’s hand and drive them to make selections to stay on target. It benefits everyone to have a timeline.” Indeed, this dedication to the task paid off, as the entire renovation was completed in one year—well ahead of the expected schedule.

It is also the things people don’t see that are so important, Walters suggests. “Any time we came on site, it was organized,” she says. “Tools and cords were not everywhere.” This was especially important because she continued to board her horses on the property during construction. “The barn is my favorite part—the stalls. The tack room is stunning,” says Walters, who now shares a roof with her beloved horses. “I never envisioned it would look so great.”

“We pride ourselves on the attention to detail in every job,” Lignore says. “A $10,000 check to some people is as important as $100,000 is to another. We [do] smaller projects with the same philosophy we bring to big projects.”

Now Trethewey and Lignore are each in the midst of renovating their own historic homes, which they do even after work. “It’s a sickness—renovation—but it is also very rewarding to see what you and your team have created at the end of the day,” says Trethewey. “Our finished products inspire us for the next one... We love what we do.”

EC Trethewey III Building Contractors Inc.
1220 Horseshoe Pike
Downingtown, PA 19335
Phone: 484-593-0334

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