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A Newtown Square Home with German Inspiration

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Exterior venetian blinds control sun exposure//All photos by Tom Crane.

Perched unassumingly atop a hill on a street lined with the expected suburban Colonials sits a contemporary Newtown Square jewel. The stucco façade of the three-bedroom home doesn’t command attention, but it doesn’t take more than a glance or two to realize that this place isn’t like the others. 

Near the front door, a leaning timber bracket props up a prefinished steel roof, and a floor-to-ceiling window frames a view of the open steel staircase inside. Frosted-pane garage doors offer privacy and an unusual visual appeal. At night, the lights within create a warm glow. 

“Our approach to the design was to create something that, from the road, didn’t feel so wildly out of place that the neighbors would feel offended,” says Richard Buchanan, partner of Archer & Buchanan Architecture in West Chester. “It has a Zen-like quality.”

A young couple from Germany, the clients relocated to be close to their family business’ U.S. headquarters in Chester County. “They approached us initially about a collapsed roof on their previous home,” says Buchanan. 

But as the conversation progressed, the clients decided to start fresh. “They wanted the sort of quiet, comfortable home they would find in Germany,” says Buchanan. “And they wanted it to be built for the ages.” 

From Left: an infinity-edge hot tub adds an element of year-round fun to the patio; A fireplace extends the use of the outdoor living area to all four seasons.

Comforts of home

In keeping with a German aesthetic, the couple envisioned exposed timber, steel and concrete. 

“They brought a palette of interesting things that all worked together from the outset, and it became our job to compose those ideas and thoughts,” says the project’s architect, Matthew Forsythe. “They gave us the latitude to create a house that was German in design and spirit, but could also live comfortably on a street in suburban Pennsylvania.” 

Such assimilation was crucial, says Forsythe. “If you built a truly German house, it might look very strange,” he says. “I thought they were very respectful of their context, since they built something so unusual.”

Forsythe explains the Arcadian-type design: “The house is designed around a series of internal arcades that allows the person to migrate through the house.”

The unique use of exposed timbers in the design prompted the name “Leaning Timber Haus.” “The timbers were used conventionally in an unconventional way,” Forsythe says. “Instead of going up and down, some of the timbers are leaning in various directions.” 

Concrete makes its way into the flooring on the first level. Framed in steel with a metal deck, it has radiant-heat tubing, which is common in Germany. “In the summer, the flooring is cool to the touch, and in the winter, it’s warm,” says Buchanan. 

From Left: Floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding-glass doors allow for views of the outdoor living space; an open steel staircase provides access to all three levels and acts as a sculptural focal point.

Built to last

The home is a shining example of efficient building technologies and high-quality details that require minimal maintenance and energy consumption. 

“Their idea of green is to build with longevity in mind,” says Buchanan. “We created a house that’s very durable and appropriate in terms of both renewability and sustainability.” 

The back of the home features floor-to-ceiling windows and multiple sliding-glass doors. “By using 3-D modeling, we were able to identify what the sunlight pattern would be throughout the year,” says Buchanan. 

The architects incorporated deep overhangs into the design so the solar gain is carefully managed. They also used exterior venetian blinds to control sun exposure on the southwest side of the house. “It’s very European,” Buchanan says. “We needed to stop the sun before it even passes through the glass and heats up anything on the interior. It’s very effective. We’re also seeing this application a lot in the Middle East.”

At the owners’ request, the ultra-modern kitchen was kept relatively small by American standards.   

Efficiency in mind

The kitchen, dining area and great room share one space—a common characteristic of German homes. Each area is distinguished by ceiling volume, with the great room accented by timber framing above.

“We tried to keep the square footage of the house down, which was another sustainable effort on the owners’ part,” says Buchanan. “Their interest wasn’t in having a big house—their interest was in having a special house.” 

The small kitchen mirrors that philosophy. A large pantry in the rear eliminates the need for too many cabinets. Much of the space is reserved for high-end appliances, and the color scheme is white with Douglas-fir trim. Sliding-glass doors lead to a spacious outdoor patio, with a covered living area and fireplace, plus a hot tub with an infinity edge. 

“We had the benefit of learning from our clients—and their cultural basis for what makes a house a home,” Buchanan says of the project. “Every house should be an expression of the people who live there.” 

Resources 

Architect: Archer & Buchanan Architecture, 125 W. Miner St., West Chester, (610) 692-9112.