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Presidential Digs

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Palladian-style architecture—inspired by the stately buildings of ancient Rome—first came into vogue in Colonial America around 1715, and it has never gone out of style. That tradition of beauty and timelessness appealed to Dr. James Fox IV and his wife, Kathleen, when they decided to build a home in Gladwyne. “Architecture is my hobby, and I wanted a classical Palladian home,” says the plastic surgeon.

Based on the designs of Italian architect and theorist Andrea Palladio, the style is characterized by columns, pediments and balance on the exterior, and opulent finishes and furnishings on the interior.

To cover a wish list that included elaborate plaster moldings, refined wood carvings, and the graceful arches that are a hallmark of this style, the Foxes turned to E.B. Mahoney Builders in Bryn Mawr. “The devil is in the details,” says Edwin Mahoney. “And, in this house, there are many details.” 

Jeffersonian tradition

An architect and a statesman, Thomas Jefferson referred to Palladio’s I Quattro Libri Dell’Architettura (Four Books of Architecture) as his bible. Perhaps not surprisingly, Fox isan admirer of Monticello, the iconic home that the third U.S. president designed for himself in Charlottesville, Va.

Fox chose a setting Jefferson would’ve appreciated: a vast property in a lovely, verdant setting, overlooking the back nine holes of a manicured golf course. The location was just right for a large house that family and friends could enjoy—not to mention the gardens to come.

Handmade bricks were hauled in from Virginia and set in a distinctive English running-bond pattern. For this look, stretchers (the long side of the bricks) are alternated with headers (the short side), and headers are centered over the midpoint of the stretchers. 

The house is crowned with a Vermont slate roof, featuring bronzed snow guards. The pediment over the entry is accented with applied moldings. Towering limestone pilasters were imported from France. “They arrived in pieces, each one numbered,” Mahoney says. “We put them together like a jigsaw puzzle.” 

One of a kind

In keeping with the symmetrical aesthetic, two pavilions with copper roofs frame the central portion of the house. There are four lofty chimneys with terra-cotta chimney pots, each accommodating a wood-burning fireplace.

Inside, every fireplace is a one-of-a-kind piece. The ornately carved mantel in the dining room is an antique, salvaged from a stately home. The fireplace in the family room was crafted from Indiana limestone. The formal living room’s fireplace was sculpted from milky, gray-veined Italian marble. In the study, a mahogany mantel and surround are embellished with a hand-carved fox—a nod to the homeowners.

Such unique details require meticulous craftsmanship. To coax the banister on the sweeping staircase into a graceful curve required multiple laminations. The result is a seamless swoosh of gleaming mahogany. “A wall was built, and the handrail was actually fitted around it,” says Mahoney.

The owners’ wish list was expansive and detailed, from the entry piers and cobblestone-edged driveway to the parquet floor in the foyer. A spacious, restful master suite includes glamorous his-and- hers marble bathrooms. A pair of garages can accommodate six cars. Limestone balustrades line open-air terraces. “They were engaged with every aspect of the project and always available to make decisions, which makes the process more efficient and pleasant,” the builder says of the owners. 

A formal invitation

The dining room is among the owners’ favorite spaces. Fluted pilasters and moldings are painted white, offering a crisp contrast to the crimson walls. Pedestals and illuminated niches are installed above the doors to display decorative urns. Over-head, there’s a sparkling crystal chandelier and a dramatic ceiling embellished with wood moldings.

A clubby, masculine study is paneled in mahogany, with bookcases for vintage volumes. Sunlight pours through Kolbe divided-light windows with brass chain-and-weight assemblies that allow them to open and close with ease. “There’s not a dark spot in the house,” says Mahoney. “Every square foot is bright and inviting.”

In the formal living room, the ceilings are defined with plaster egg-and-dart moldings, a classic pattern that dates back to ancient Greece. Columns frame the entrance from the foyer, and even the furniture reflects a Palladian symmetry. A pair of sofas flanks the fireplace; two brass sconces do the same on either side of the oval Adams mirror above the mantel.

A plank ceiling and trusses, made from Douglas fir by Lancaster County artisans, give the family room a feeling of relaxed grandeur. The floor is stained in a checkerboard pattern. A large Palladian window, with its signature arch, provides a view of the grounds.

Adjacent to the family room, the kitchen’s wide portal, framed by half walls and columns, maintains a formal sensibility as it promotes flow. Cherry cabinets are accented with rope-style moldings, and an expansive center island is topped with a single slab of granite, 10 feet long by six feet wide. The extra detail that makes all the difference: a double-ogee edge.

Elsewhere, a walkout lower level is devoted to less formal spaces. There’s a climate-controlled wine cellar, a home theater, a workout room, and a multipurpose area for the grandchildren. “It’s a little more casual but still has the wonderful finishes of the other floors,” says Mahoney. “Every detail matters.”

Resources: Builder: E.B. Mahoney Builders, 718 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, (610) 527-6584. Architect: F.L. Bissinger, 1502 Old Gulph Road, Villanova, (610) 525-6438. Decorative Moldings: Felber Ornamental Plastering Corp., 1000 W. Washington St., Norristown, (610) 275-4713.

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