Meg and Chris Veno's Eclectic Charm at Willowbrook Farm

A former Vassar Show House revels in its quirky, historic past.

The great room features five sets of French doors, all with views of the expansive property. (Photo by John Lewis)

Carpentry: PA Lumber and Wood Products, Rocky and Roger Stone, Elverson, (610) 662-4651.  
Contractor: Simple Smart Solutions, Bill Gondy, Glenmoore, (610) 310-7928.  
Decorative painting: Jennifer Tipka Decorative Painting and Design, West Chester, (610) 716-3851.  
Interior design: Life’s Patina, Meg Veno, Malvern, (610) 952-2254,

A hand-painted mural on the wall leading up the staircase is one of the few remaining reminders that Willowbrook Farm was once a Vassar Show House. Actually, the Malvern home was twice selected to host the perennial Main Line fundraiser to benefit Vassar College.

For 40 years, the month-long event attracted thousands of design enthusiasts. But Willowbrook’s second appearance in 2006 would be Vassar’s swan song, due to declining volunteer support and rising costs. It was later that year that Meg Veno and her husband, Chris, purchased the historic property.

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Meg was a Show House regular, but she’d missed the final event. No matter. The idyllic 15-acre property ended their five-year search after a single showing.  “I grew up on a farm, and I wanted my children to have the same experience,” says Meg, who has four sons and a daughter. “We wanted land and we wanted a space for the children to play.”

A former working dairy farm that dates back to 1710, Willowbrook boasts the sort of expansive grounds that were once common in the area. A grand allée stretches 1,200 feet to the main home. Several outbuildings include a smokehouse, a springhouse, a two-story stone barn, a horse barn with riding ring, and a pool house. The meandering Valley Creek runs through the back of the property. An ewe, a goat and a few swans call the property home, as well.

“So many funky, little spots.”

Willowbrook’s previous owners were Philadelphia Inquirer critic and reporter David Hiltbrand and his wife, Mary, who
left the residence in ideal condition. The Venos personalized the 10-bedroom home’s grand formal rooms on the first floor with antiques and reproduction pieces. In the dining room, a massive three-piece hutch filled with blue-and-white china and glassware commands an entire wall. Another wall features a pair of original, arched built-ins. A large farmhouse table from Restoration Hardware accommodates up to 12. A French side table and a simple wood buffet from western Pennsylvania round out the room. All of it reflects Meg’s preference for different styles. “If it’s all formal, it’s too over-the-top,” she says. “I like an eclectic style.”

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Easily the dining room’s most unique feature is a rectangular fishpond lined with Mercer tiles. Back in the 1920s, fishponds near windows in a formal area were in vogue. The idea was to hang orchids above and use the humidity to make them grow.
And while Meg doesn’t have orchids, she loves the character the piece brings to the room. “This is what really sold us on the house—that it has so many funky little spots,” she says. “It’s a quirky house, but that’s why we love it.”

“We do use all of it.”

With its grand size and high ceilings lined with formal crown molding, the great room might have been used as a ballroom space at one time. Five sets of original French doors allow for gorgeous views of expansive outdoor vistas. While the room is popular with guests, other spaces for entertaining include a library, a bar room and a formal living room. “We host a lot of charity fundraisers and parties,” says Meg. “Although the house is large, we do use all of it.”

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The home’s galley-style kitchen has a main prep area and an original butler’s pantry. To provide definition, the Venos lined the floors of the main kitchen area with limestone and kept the original hardwood flooring in the butler’s pantry, with its custom-painted cabinets. Elsewhere, custom tiles line the backsplash behind the second sink. A breezeway off the kitchen leads to a former smokehouse Meg uses as her art studio. “That’s my creating space,” she says.

As if there wasn’t enough space in the main house, the Venos converted the lower area of the two-story, stone barn into additional entertaining space. “We have a large extended family, and we wanted an area for parties,” says Meg.

The rustic-chic space, with its exposed beams, has an open layout featuring a catering kitchen, a full bathroom and a large seating area, plus room for a pool table. Chris transformed the adjacent horse stalls into a wine cellar. A door to a vintage dairy cooler (another of Meg’s finds) keeps the area sealed off and helps maintain a proper temperature.

An old newspaper account reports that a “vagabond” burned down the barn in 1854. The current structure was likely built soon after. “When we moved in, it was filled with old shutters, doors and windows,” Meg says. “I started using some of the items for projects in the house.”

Once the barn was structurally sound, Meg decided to use it for her new business, Life’s Patina. Four times a year, she hosts a sale on its first floor, filling it with her many antique, reproduction or repurposed finds and donating a portion of the proceeds to a local charity. Her concept has even morphed into a small interior design business. “I wanted to do something I was passionate about but didn’t take away a lot of time from my family,” says Meg. “This fulfills that want.”

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