Resurrecting a tumbledown house is more complicated than building from the ground up, but there are distinct advantages. You can preserve the charm and character of an older home. Even better, you can make it your own. Witness Monkey Farm, situated in a sleepy pocket of Chester County. Even though the house was barely standing, the buyers were smitten by the peaceful surroundings. “We’d looked at a ton of places, and when we found this one, we just loved the location—how it sat up on the hill and how it looked when you drove up the drive,” the wife says.
The interior was uninhabitable. But the rustic stone façade—a blend of time-honored materials, building techniques and creative contemporary elements—had tons of potential. “It was so rundown, the realtor didn’t even want to take anybody inside,” the owner recalls. “We loved that it was an old stone farmhouse and cool-looking from the outside. We wanted to preserve as much as we could.”
Wayne’s JTA Associates came up with a design that retained a large central fireplace and harnessed timber-frame construction to create an open-concept floorplan that invites gathering. To translate the blueprints into a sound and functional home, the couple turned to B&D Builders of Lancaster County. “Timber homes are designed for longevity and strength, and they become an heirloom asset,” says B&D co-founder Daniel Glick. “They’re built to be passed down from generation to generation.”
Before building began, the crew removed an unsound roof and everything else that presented a hazard, leaving just the exterior walls and fireplace. “The intention was to have it minimalist on the interior but leave the exterior as close to the original as possible,” says Glick.
The aesthetic launchpad for the interior was a dramatic entryway with large, contemporary windows and crowned with a standing-seam metal roof. The builder used Pennsylvania fieldstone to create the base for columns that match the original façade. “We couldn’t shift the stone walls. But once we had the entryway figured out, we were able to make the timber frame and add glass inserts with wood frames to keep the windows minimalist in style,” Glick says.
Because the house was built into a hillside, achieving the inviting light-filled interior the owners envisioned required removing tons of earth and adding a large skylight and French doors in the living and dining areas. “When you walked into the main living area, it was like walking into the basement because the rear of the house was underground,” the owner says.
The excavation revealed extensive damage to the stonework, which was bolstered with new natural materials indistinguishable from the rest. Digging out the back of the house turned out to be a serendipitous choice, creating a unique outdoor living space defined by a wall of boulders. “The patio is down low, so it’s private back there and surrounded on all sides by stone,” the owner says.
Using natural materials with a tie to the land was a priority. The patio is Pennsylvania bluestone, and the massive trusses are crafted from barn wood. The stone fireplace was modified into a two-way structure that serves both the family room and the adjoining kitchen. Mantels crafted from reclaimed beams were added on both sides.
The interior layout was shifted to accommodate the chimney, which is slightly off-center for the space. “We couldn’t shift the stone walls and had to work with the walls and chimney exactly as they were,” Glick says.
With a small bar and tailored, comfy seating, the family room is a cozy place conducive to conversation. Throughout the house, the feeling is laid-back and informal. Surfaces are tactile—sturdy rather than sleek. To create a statement staircase with an industrial vibe, the builder fabricated a minimalist steel structure with heavy, reclaimed wood treads. Because there was no space between the wood and the roof, all the ductwork was exposed on the ceilings. The ducts were painted black as a contemporary counterpoint to traditional wood and stone.
The result is a Chester County farmhouse in tune with the 21st century. “Even though they were wood, the floating stairs were still more modern-looking and have metal for the handrails,” the owner says. “I love that farmhouse look with modern details.”