The stately house at Fernbank Farm was built in 1846 as a summer home in West Chester for Philadelphia physician James Cheston Morris, whose prescription for a cool country retreat included an icehouse. With the advent of refrigeration, the icehouse fell into disrepair, becoming a stone oddity nestled into the hillside beside the main house.
A manual dumbwaiter transports wine between the lower storage cellar and the upper tasting area.
Fernbank’s current owners had a new vision for the icehouse: an Old World-style wine cellar inspired by their years in Europe. Archer & Buchanan Architecture came up with a way to repurpose the icehouse and seamlessly integrate access to the home. “Our first step with the project was to disassemble the roof and use a crane to lift the huge water tank out, just to see what we had down there to work with,” says founding partner Richard Buchanan.
After the tank was removed, the roof was reconstructed. New connecting stairs now link the outbuilding to the adjacent kitchen in the main house. Structural support for the roof load is provided by a custom spiral staircase from Compass Ironworks in Gap, Pennsylvania. “The treads are cut from antique timber used in the reconstruction of the space,” Buchanan says.
An arched tasting niche, wine racks and a millstone found on the property were integrated into the cellar’s existing stone walls. On the upper floor, there’s a large table and bar for entertaining. A manual dumbwaiter—another nod to European tradition—transports wine between the lower storage cellar and the upper tasting area. A 1928 poster depicts a comely blonde embracing a massive bottle of Persan, a Persian elixir from France.
An arched tasting niche, wine racks and a millstone found on the property were integrated into the cellar’s existing stone walls.
Extending 19 feet below ground, the icehouse has a new life, offering climate-controlled wine storage at a naturally maintained temperature of 58 degrees. “One of the delights of the opportunity to use this deep foundation is its passive thermal performance,” says Buchanan.
Archer & Buchaan Architecture
125 W. Miner St., West Chester, (610) 692-9112, archerbuchanan.com
129 Center Mill Road, Chadds Ford, (302) 530-6011, porterconstructionllc.com