Kathryn Sharp and Justin Nicholson Update Brandybend's Stone Farmhouse

The West Chester-based first-time homebuyers blend modern touches with the structure’s rustic appeal.


Interior design: Danziger Design, Wendy Danziger, 7212 Taveshire Way, Bethesda, Md., (301) 365-3300, danzigerdesign.com.

“Party barn” was the first thing that came to mind when Kathryn Sharp spied the listing for the 11-acre Brandybend Farm in West Chester. Having a separate two-story structure for entertaining just steps away from the property’s 1780 stone farmhouse struck a chord with Sharp and her fiancé, Justin Nicholson, both first-time homebuyers in their mid-20s. A little more than a year since taking the plunge, they couldn’t be happier. 

Though she was born in Philadelphia, Sharp grew up in a “really old house” on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, so she had a natural affinity for homes with a history. Nicholson, however, was raised in Manhattan. “It’s been a bit of an adjustment, but I’ve loved the transition,” he says.

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And that’s a good thing, since the couple moved to be closer to his family’s racehorse business. “We have a barn in Elkton, Md., so the commute from West Chester is a lot easier than the commute from where we were living in Washington, D.C.,” he says.

The two considered only one newer home during their search. “All the modern touches were there, but there was nothing for us to do with it,” says Nicholson. “It would’ve just been a house. We wanted a little bit of a project.”

Even so, the work involved wasn’t as daunting as it could’ve been for a house of its age. Thirty years prior, the previous owners had done a major renovation to what was once a one-room schoolhouse. Fresh paint, new furniture and some professional guidance went a long way toward making the place feel like home. “We were basically starting from scratch because we had college furniture,” says Kathryn. “And everything we had was for a modern apartment.”

And though they were living in an older home, they were going for a more transitional feel. The deep colors, hardwood floors and ceiling beams made the rooms a little too dreary for their taste. “I wanted our changes to fit the house,” says Sharp. “I wanted to be true to it, but have it still be us.”

Maryland-based interior designer Wendy Danziger was tasked with the makeover. “They were willing to take chances,” she says. “They didn’t want it to look like a dark, dated country farmhouse.”

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On the first floor of the home, what was once a sitting room is now Sharp’s office. “I don’t know who uses a sitting room anymore,” says Sharp.

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A cream-and-white color scheme gives the room an “edgy romantic” vibe, says Sharp. A boldly feminine, pale-gray writing desk sits in front of the fireplace, with two plum velvet armchairs facing it. Even the fireplace is painted white, and a crystal chandelier above the desk accentuates the sophisticated feel. “I wanted the room to be comfortable, so guests could enjoy the space, too,” she says.

Across from Sharp’s “lady office,” the living room used to be the schoolhouse. With no overhead lighting, the previous owners used floor lamps and table lamps. Danziger opted to install two rows of adjustable track lighting alongside the exposed beams. Eggplant-colored walls provide a welcome contrast to the traditional white woodwork and fireplace. A coffeetable made from the cross-section of a tree provides a natural element, as do landscape portraits by Alice Pritchard from Haverford’s Merritt Gallery.

In this unique farmhouse, the kitchen and dining room are on the lower level. Stairs from the front entry hall lead down to an updated kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. There are also an adjacent sunroom and an outdoor eating area.

Danziger called on Maryland’s Billet Collins to work its decorative painting magic in the kitchen and throughout the home. “They helped me with the total transformation of the spaces from dark and dank to light and airy,” she says.

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Cherry cabinets were repainted a distressed off-white. The ceiling beams were lightened with a gray-and-white glaze finish. Suddenly, spaces were not only brighter—they felt larger.

The same glaze used on the kitchen was applied to the dining room beams, and dark accents were lightened with white or cream paint. Here, eight red leather chairs surround the large cherry farm table. “I love every piece of furniture we bought,” says Sharp. “It wasn’t about filling rooms; every piece was chosen because we loved it.”

As for that so-called party barn that originally enticed Sharp, it’s in the midst of a complete renovation. “That’s where we’re getting married next month,” says Sharp. “We’ll have our wedding and reception there.” 

And after the big day, her fiancé has something else in mind for one section of the barn: a man cave. 

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