A Piece of Italy in Chester County

A Phoenixville couple created a home reminiscent of the European countryside.

An upstairs bedroom mirrors the lower level’s rustic charms//Photos by Betsy Barron

Whenever Marie Barth and Brian Forcine go on vacation, they always seem to wind up in Italy. “We might think about going someplace else, but we don’t,” says Marie.

The couple had developed such an appreciation for Italy, in fact, that they decided years ago to some day bring a bit of their favorite country to Chester County. For years, Marie collected piece after piece on her trips overseas, knowing that one day she’d find perfect spots for each in her dream home. 

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Their golden opportunity came in the form of a 46-acre plot of land set high on a hill in Phoenixville. “We didn’t want it to be too offensive,” says Marie. “Up here on this hill, we can be among the Chester County farmhouses and not stand out too much.”

Of course, it helped that Brian owns a commercial building business, and that Marie—though not formally trained—has an innate talent for interior design. “It’s been a lot of fun,” says Marie of the three years since they first drew up plans for the house. “We’ve loved the whole process.”

 The great room’s coffee table is a modified piece from Anthropologie

Authentic design

“A lot of people do this style out West, but it’s not very common here,” says Marie. “We joked that it was either going to be a bad pizza-parlor remake or authentic.”

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That in mind, the couple’s main priority was making sure the design for their new home was definitely the latter, hiring the most skilled subcontractors to achieve that goal. One of the best compliments Marie received came toward the end of the project, when a subcontractor, seeing the house for the first time, asked, “What part of it is the original?” 

Marie quickly became an expert at sourcing furniture, accessories and supplies on the Internet, with a few purchases coming from as far away as the Netherlands. “I had the whole world at my fingertips when I was buying for this house,” she says. 

Some of the finds came locally. Many of the interior doors, for example, are made of wood from old barns in Chester County. Marie’s husband also joined the search. “We hit a lot of building-supply and salvage yards in Italy,” says Brian. “That’s where a lot of this stuff came from, too.” 

Simplicity is key in European design. In the great room on the first floor, travertine tiles in various sizes cover the floor. The stone fireplace is from Italy, while the mirror above it has French origins. 

Marie seamlessly combined her international finds with contemporary furnishings—like a leather sofa and chairs from Restoration Hardware and a vast leather-topped coffee table from Anthropologie. The latter piece was originally dining-table height; Marie simply cut the legs. 

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The kitchen island began with a 200-year-old butcher block from France, which was then expanded by woodworkers.

Space is the place

The kitchen exudes rustic charm, from the reclaimed terra-cotta floors to the exposed beams on the ceiling. Above the stove is an antique bull’s head that’s more than 200 years old. It was once part of a sign that hung outside a butcher shop in France. “I centered the entire kitchen around it,” says Marie. 

The stove hood appears to be tin, but Marie actually had it painted and plastered to look that way. “It was certainly much more affordable than buying one,” she says. 

A 200-year-old antique butcher block was repurposed for an island. The original piece would’ve been lost in the wide-open area, so Marie commissioned a woodworker to create a second piece to set against the original. 

A pantry room frees up space in the kitchen

A pantry room eliminated the need for too many cabinets, freeing up more kitchen space. For the storage that was needed, cabinet-maker Kevin Ritter chose chestnut re-sawn from antique beams. A flattened wire screen gives the upper cabinets their casual look. “At first, I didn’t get Marie’s idea for the cabinets, because it was so simple,” says Ritter. “She was asking for these things that were very basic, and I was intimidated by the concept.”

Not really formal dinner-party types, the couple decided to forgo a dining room, adding an area to accommodate a large farmhouse table that’s another Anthropologie gem. “I envisioned all of my family and friends sitting around that table when we entertained,” Marie says. 

Though the main living areas are done, Marie and Brian still have a wish list, including a wine cellar on the lower level and an outdoor sleeping porch off their son’s bedroom. Right now, they’re taking it one project at a time while enjoying every moment of their evolving version of Italian bliss.

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