Architect and interior designer: Matthew Moger, Moger/Mehrhof Architects, 100 E. Lancaster Ave., Suite 301, Wayne, (484) 580-6521, mmarch.net.
Landscape architect: Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects, Wayne, (610) 341-9925, jonathanalderson.com.
Builder: Mark W. Thompson Builders, West Chester, (610) 793-1343.
Sustainable consultants: Sustainable Solutions Corporation, 155 Railroad Plaza, Suite 203, Royersford, (610) 569-1047, sustainablesolutionscorporation.com.
As a kid, Barney Leonard spent summers at a camp in Maine, where he bedded down in an old cabin. He’s now reliving that experience on a daily basis in his new sustainable home perched atop a hill on a secluded, wooded lot in West Chester’s Pocopson Township.
For Leonard and his wife, Nancy Roberts, it was a matter of knowing what they didn’t want. After more than 20 years in Wynnewood, they were ready to forgo their traditional center-hall Colonial-style home for something truly different—and different is exactly what they got.
After a two-year search for the right house, the couple made the decision to buy a piece of land and build their own. “We wanted to do something that really celebrated the environment of living in the woods,” says Leonard, who shared his wife’s vision of a casual, open floor plan bathed in natural light.
And seeing as they were starting from scratch, an energy-efficient, green home just “seemed to be the right thing to do,” says Leonard.
For Leonard, sustainability meant using recycled materials whenever possible and, most importantly, building a structure that was durable. “I didn’t want to build a home I’d have to put in a landfill in 50 years,” he says. “I wanted it to last more than 200 years.”
After touring a number of sustainable homes, the couple met the architect behind a few of the projects, Matthew Moger of Moger/Mehrhof Architects in Wayne. “Matthew really listened to us,” Leonard says. “And that’s a dying art.”
Moger introduced the couple to the concept of “integrated project delivery.” Recognized by the American Institute of Architects, the process utilizes a team approach. Moger’s team included landscape designer Jonathan Alderson, Sustainable Solutions Corporation’s Tad Radzinski and other professionals, all of who were in on the project from the get-go. “The idea is to get the key players involved very early so they’re empowered to participate in the critical design elements of the building while it’s still in the developmental stage,” says Leonard. “It results in a smarter design, lower costs and faster, more efficient progress.”
“The heater in this house is the size of a suitcase.”
Once he listened to his clients, the second step for the architect was listening to what the land had to say. “I understood that Barney and Nancy didn’t want something that already existed,” says Moger. “And that was very exciting.”
Moger camped out on the 10-acre home site with his then-10-year-old daughter to get a feel for what type of house would work best with the landscape. “A thunderstorm rolled in, and we felt very frail on the site, because it’s not a suburban existence—this is out in the woods,” he says. “It ultimately provided me with the inspiration for the design.”
The home’s exterior features whole sections covered in glass, cypress wood and corrugated metal of the same red hue found in a traditional Chester County bank barn. “In a way, it’s almost like a modern interpretation of what should’ve been here anyway,” says Leonard.
The home’s scale also mirrors that of a barn, with doorways that measure 10 to 12 feet in height to aid with circulation. In fact, the entire house relies on passive venting and air movement. Concrete lines the super-insulated, 12-inch walls. Other features include geothermal heating and cooling, high-efficiency windows, and cisterns that collect rainwater for irrigation.
In the central corridor, a cupola can be opened electronically, acting as a heat chimney, releasing hot air in the summer. During colder months, the air is re-circulated through the home, drastically reducing heating bills. Proper placement of overhangs allows for maximum sun in the winter and shade in the summer. “The heater in this house is the size of a suitcase,” says Leonard. “It’s a quarter of the energy cost of our home in Wynnewood—and that house was half the size and we only used about half the rooms.”
The owners did keep a piece of their old Main Line residence. The interior steps of their new home are made out of wood from an oak tree on the property that had to be cut down. That’s not the only repurposed wood in the home. On the current lot, about 80 trees had to eliminated to make room for construction—hence, the origins of the black walnut countertop in the mudroom and the sliding wooden barn doors that replaced traditional ones throughout the house.
An open gourmet kitchen leads to an eating area and a family room. Next to the kitchen, two sliding barn doors open to a glass sunroom with brick floors and radiant heat.
In essence, the entire home acts as an enticing bridge, connecting the owners and guests alike to the glorious natural landscape surrounding it. “They get to live perched between the two,” Moger says. “You enter through the front of the house in the meadow, and once you’re inside the home, there’s a two-story glass wall in the back that provides views to the forest.”
With his background in furniture design, Moger also helped with the home’s interior, creating built-ins, light fixtures, and the base of the vanity in the master bathroom. “I enjoy contributing to the interior design. That way, you can come up with a singular idea and carry it throughout the entire house,” he says. “The interiors are part of the overall theme and are never divorced from the big idea—which is a warm, modern barn.”
One of Moger’s designs, a chestnut table in the kitchen, came to him when he saw three fallen trees in the woods. “Everything is themed. Don’t struggle over the design—just spend time on the site,” he advises.
While most of the empty-nesters they know chose condos in Center City, Leonard and Roberts took the road less traveled. “This home and this location isn’t for everyone,” says Leonard. “And that’s OK. It’s what we envisioned and what we wanted.”
A maternal/fetal medicine specialist with Main Line Health, Roberts used to have a 10-minute commute to Lankenau Hospital. But she’s not sweating the extra 50-or-so minutes. “At the end of the day, when she’s here, she feels so much better,” says Leonard. “It’s a quality-of-life change that I would say is immeasurably better. We wanted to change our lives—and that’s exactly what we did.”