Agents: Liz Fondren, Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, (610) 585-4595, lizfondren.com; Lisa Weber Yakulis, Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, (610) 517-8445, lisaweberyakulis.com.
Architect: Lyman Perry Architects, Berwyn, (610) 889-9966, lparchitects.com.
Builder: Pinemar Building Company, 7 W. Athens Ave., Ardmore, (610) 649-5075, pinemar.net.
Landscape designer: Gale Nurseries, 1716 School House Road, Gwynedd, (215) 699-4714, galenurseries.com.
Those elaborate wooden gates are the first major hint that Albermarle is a Main Line listing like no other. Designed to heighten suspense, the main driveway winds down and around in a dramatic arc through the 17-acre estate, bringing potential buyers ever closer to a reality that is nothing short of spectacular.
Set on the storied 750-acre Ardrossan Farm in Villanova, Albermarle debuted on the market last summer for a stunning $25 million. It’s one of the priciest Main Line properties ever, and there have been no reductions so far. “It’s a livable compound,” says the home’s listing agent, Lisa Weber Yakulis. “There’s nothing that’s ever compared to this in such a comprehensive way. This is something you run into more in the New York area.”
Indeed, the grandeur of Albermarle’s picturesque grounds does little to downplay the property’s equally impressive stone structures. The main residence was once the stables where Ardrossan’s grand dame, Hope Montgomery Scott, boarded her horses. Along with a three-story clock tower and a renovated guesthouse (once living quarters for Ardrossan staff), you’ll find a barn, a tennis court and a pool area. It’s tough to discern between old and new, which is exactly what the owners intended when they began work on the place more than a decade ago.
With its fully operational 1917 Seth Thomas clock, the tower was converted into a three-story home office with meeting rooms and a kitchen. “My wife and I pulled into the property for the first time, and the clock tower was the first thing I saw,” says the seller. “It was magnificent.”
The owners both grew up in the Philadelphia area, so the opportunity to set down fresh roots on the Ardrossan estate was one they didn’t want to pass up. “We were living in other cities for 30 years,” says the seller. “I was leaving the company I founded in Washington, and we were coming back here.”
And while the complexity of the renovations was unlike anything they’d ever taken on, they embraced the massive upside. “Ardrossan is just such a great part of Main Line history,” says the seller. “We saw the property’s potential if it was planned and developed correctly.”
Architect Lyman Perry also saw the potential—and he knew that projects like Albermarle don’t come around often. “Even if you’re not from the area, everyone seems to know Ardrossan because of the The Philadelphia Story,” says Perry. “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute something.”
Though he lives in Newtown Square, it’s on the tony Massachusetts island of Nantucket that Perry has truly made his mark, amassing a portfolio of countless homes, including one for Albermarle’s owners. “The best thing about architecture is you’re giving birth to an idea to start with—then you build that idea and it stays there as a legacy,” says Perry.
To bring Albermarle to its current state of glory, Perry joined landscape designer Chuck Gale and Pinemar Building Company’s Joe Ottaviano to craft an ambitious vision. The main residence offers spacious living areas, a wine cellar, a library and a gourmet kitchen with a brick floor warmed by radiant heat. Every room offers panoramic views of the property. “When I approach a project like this, I always tell the client it’s the site they bought that’s the most important thing,” says Perry. “I consider the architecture of the site to be just as imperative as the architecture of the buildings.”
That’s where Gale’s award-winning expertise came in. The Main Line fixture transformed the rolling farmland with a multitude of plantings, from formal gardens and decorative ivy to meadows of ornamental grasses and a grove of dawn redwoods. Gale even asked to see samples of the fabrics chosen for the main living areas so his work would complement the home’s interior.
Other outdoor additions include a watering trough Gale designed to look as if it had been once used by animals on the farm. Water from the trough flows into a small pond filled with koi. A wisteria-covered, post-and-beam pergola extends 160 feet from the house to a sunset tower—a perfect after-dinner retreat in warmer months. A path leads from the tower to a recently constructed two-story barn designed for both entertaining guests and working out.
The Albermarle estate is technically 17 acres, but it’s surrounded by land that can never be developed. “The way our neighbors are set up with us, and the restrictions under the conservancy, the views are set in stone forever, and they really represent 40-plus acres,” says the seller. “We look at these rolling acres of open land and we feel like we’re in the middle of the Midwest.”
The overall goal of the project was always to capture the essence of Ardrossan. So it was a real thrill for the owners when someone recounted working at the barn so many years ago, not realizing that it was the only thing the owners built from scratch. “I didn’t want to break it to him that it was a new structure,” says the seller. “We took great pride in making sure the design was consistent with other barns on the grounds and surrounding properties.”
As for the estate’s whopping price tag, the owners are confident the perfect buyer will come along. “It’s the people from the area who least appreciate what a magnificent place the Main Line is,” says the seller. “I just think it’s the most spectacular suburb of any place around.”
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