Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe Blends History and Modernity in Yellow Springs

Yellow Springs is home to an abundance of history. Life's Patina Mercantile & Cafe aims to extend that legacy into the 21st century.

Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe doesn’t claim to be anything more than it appears from its exterior: a colonial era farmhouse that molded to suit the surrounding quiet landscape. Even so, this unassuming building has seen more history than its quaint atmosphere lets on.

Today, Meg Veno’s cafe and shop serves up lunches, tasty pastries, antiques, furniture and home goods to the peaceful town of Yellow Springs. Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe sits among a row of buildings with histories and pasts equally unique and fascinating. Over the years, the tight-knit community has played host to generals George Washington and Alexander Hamilton during the Revolutionary War and to some of the biggest celebrities of the 19th century, like Jenny Lind.

Life's Patina owner and proprietor Meg Veno.
Life’s Patina owner and proprietor Meg Veno.

A Look Into the Past

Back when long-distance travel was less common, the town was home to numerous spas. It became the destination for colonial-era Philadelphians looking for the rejuvenating waters of local hot springs. The spas were so popular, in fact, that rival hotels would compete for business and create small-scale battles. Stagecoach drivers ferrying passengers raced back and forth from city to countryside, shooting at each other with small arms in an attempt to drive the other out of business. (What a wonderful way to decompress on the way to a spa vacation!)

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Eventually, with modernity encroaching upon the small town, “they formed a truce at some point and the stagecoach drivers no longer shot at each other,” Veno explains.

Despite a fierce, ongoing rivalry between the competing hotels, Philadelphians and high-class patrons still clamored vociferously for the healing waters of Yellow Springs. In 1853, Yellow Springs’ reputation brought the opera singer Jenny Lind, the Swedish Neightingale, to town. Though her name no longer carries the weight it once did, she was the Taylor Swift of her era, perhaps the biggest celebrity of the mid-1800s. After her visit, the building in which she stayed from then on carried her moniker.

Though the Jenny Lind House never again welcomed a superstar of the same status, there’s a certain memory that the building has carried forever after. There’s a dignity to the wood flooring and eccentric wall murals, a gravitas that exudes from the hanging chandeliers and the pillared front porch that screams, “I shall not be forgotten!”

Despite the former granduer of the Jenny Lind House, it had fallen into disrepair and needed to be entirely gutted.
Despite the former grandeur of the Jenny Lind House, it had fallen into disrepair and needed to be entirely gutted during renovations.

Restoring the Property

That sentiment, however, could not stop Father Time. When Meg and her husband Chris purchased the building in 2018, it was in a tremendous state of disrepair after undergoing foreclosure during the previous owner’s tenure.

“It was a restaurant before we bought it, but it had been vacant for three years,” Veno shares. “[We] started construction in 2019, worked for a year on it and then COVID hit and everything came to a halt. There were a lot of permitting issues, a lot of structural issues with the building. It was in really bad shape, like really bad shape. We basically gutted it and redid it.”

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Five years of strenuous and costly renovations ensued before Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe could open its doors to the public. Veno blogged almost all of it with updates every few months on the Life’s Patina website.

Much was discovered in the bowels of the Jenny Lind House, formerly Yellow Springs Inn, that was buried by time. Double fireplaces were uncovered in the kitchen, indicating that it was once a cookhouse for many guests, perhaps Washington’s troops when he visited during the Revolution. The old restaurateur had covered the walls in 1980s Victorian wallpaper which concealed a massive amount of black mold. A newer wall was knocked down at one point during renovations which, when removed, revealed murals believed to have been painted in the 1920s by professors from Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

The murals which had been painted during the 1920s were restored during renovations and now sit above fireplaces in the cafe.
The murals, which had been painted during the 1920s, were restored during renovations and now sit above fireplaces in the cafe.

Veno continued to modernize the nearly decrepit building, widening doorways, fixing mantels, repairing the sun porch and removing and adding windows to make the building habitable again.

Renovations weren’t supposed to take five years, Veno still had her other Life’s Patina storefront to run at Willowbrook Farm in Malvern. Naturally COVID changed things, prolonging the renovation and turning a two- to three-year project into one that spanned nearly half a decade.

A Grand Debut for Life’s Patina

Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe soft-launched in November 2023 and opened in full force on December 8. To say it’s been a success would be an understatement. Packed with hungry diners, even on weekday afternoons, the space is a popular one that allows Veno and her new chef Michael Dorris to constantly update the menu and add fun specials.

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Life's Patina Mercantile and Cafe bustles with life, specials are updated daily.
Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe bustles with life, specials are updated regularly.

Despite early success, there’s still work to do and pressure on Veno to keep revenue up and continue expanding. She spent quite a bit of money renovating the building for all those years, counting on future profit. Nobody had any idea just how expensive the project would be or how long it would take.

“It keeps me up at night,” Veno admits. “I mean, the renovation was way more than we anticipated.”

It’s what makes the other side of the cafe so important. Life’s Patina also sells antiques and home goods, hence where the “Mercantile” portion of the name comes from. Known for annual barn sales in Malvern that brings in hundreds of shoppers from around the country every year, the Yellow Springs location sells homemade sauces, local honey, furniture, home decor and more daily.

Looking Ahead

In the coming months, Veno plans to turn the upstairs rooms into an inn.

“We’re really intent on creating different revenue streams and not being reliant on one [thing]. So we’ve got our retail sales, we have the food aspect of things, we are known for being at the Barn, an experiential place to go. We are a destination,” Veno says.

Life’s Patina hopes to open up the AirBNB aspect in late 2024. With Yellow Springs a hot commodity wedding destination, Veno hopes to organize rehearsal dinners downstairs in the cafe and host guests upstairs in one of six classically decorated rooms. She’ll have two large suites on the second floor and four single rooms on the third floor.

Centuries later, Life’s Patina brings high-end service back to Yellow Springs. Though the spot is not expecting the next Washington, Hamilton or Lind, that doesn’t make Veno’s plans any less important. 

There's a certain rustic charm to Yellow Springs that Life's Patina captures so exquisitely.
There’s a certain rustic charm to Yellow Springs that Life’s Patina captures so exquisitely.

Today, you don’t need to be one of the world’s richest or most successful to visit what was once a destination getaway. Life’s Patina and Yellow Springs are for the people. There’s a scent in the breeze in this part of the suburbs that belies a cleanliness not often found so close to a big city. It smells of running water, clean air and history, a blending of the old and new on the line that Life’s Patina toes so carefully.

“I would like people to realize that old things can be beautiful; they don’t have to be discarded or thrown away. [It’s about] the mentality to appreciate life in its many forms, in its worn phase, because all these pieces are worn before they tell a story,” Veno says. “I think what I’d like people to realize with Life’s Patina is adaptive reuse and the appreciation of the old. They can be blended with new and still have relevance in your home, in your life experiences. [We’re] celebrating the simplistic things in life, but elevating the everyday.”

Life’s Patina Mercantile & Cafe
1657 Art School Rd., Chester Springs

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