Stable Grounds

A million-dollar renovation transforms a Haverford carriage house with a history.

Horses once inhabited the Haverford house that Mac Brand now calls home. They were the finest equine stock, mind you, drawing carriages for the wealthy Cassatt family. 

Cheswold was the estate of Alexander Johnston Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who built his Victorian Gothic mansion on 54 acres in Haverford in 1872. He was the brother of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt and a champion of her work. His daughter, Eliza, and her husband, J. Plunkett Stewart, built a sprawling bungalow on the grounds in 1902, completing the stable and carriage house two years later.

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The carriage house’s dramatic exterior, with its walled courtyard, red-slate roof, and single-room tower

rustic historical detail, an exterior view from the courtyard

Gallop forward 110 years …

The mansion has long been gone, severely damaged by fire in 1935. Its ruins and the bungalow were both demolished by a developer in the 1950s. The carriage house, however, survives in a tranquil, sylvan enclave just two blocks from Merion Cricket Club. 

“There are three courses of bricks in the walls, so it couldn’t burn,” Brand says. “That also makes insurance companies very happy.” 

Brand has been buying, renovating and selling houses since 1972, when she was fresh out of graduate school at Lehigh University, where she studied English. “I bought my first place for $10,000, put $8,000 into it, and sold it for $32,000,” she recalls. Since then, she’s lived in more than 25 of her projects. “We have a mover on retainer,” she quips. 

But the carriage house is the first home she’s ever considered staying in for the long haul. She was smitten by its intimate, walled courtyard, dramatic red- slate roof, one-room tower, and arched, divided-light windows. “This is the most intriguing property I have ever lived in,” she says. 

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the spacious kitchen is perfect for entertaining (note the wine fridge)

Modern family

When Mac and her husband, Craig, bought the property in January of last year, the 8,100-square-foot carriage house retained its charming Tudor-inspired architecture and idyllic setting beside a stream and pond. Another bonus was the expensive, high-end steam-heat system installed by the previous owners. 

Even so, the home’s choppy interior was unsuited to contemporary needs. “Today, you must have a family room that is open to the kitchen,” Brand says. “So we came up with a new layout that lets us enjoy every room on the first floor.”

The couple poured more than $1 million into the restoration, living amid the dust and debris as workers relocated a staircase, took down walls, reinforced openings with steel, and replaced drafty windows with energy-efficient custom models that perfectly replicate the 1904 look.

The new kitchen is outfitted for entertaining, with a large island that features a wine fridge, a Sub-Zero refrigerator, and a Wolf range with double ovens. An adjoining family room and the other spaces on the ground floor all have nice views of the courtyard and garden.

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the family room

The sprawling formal living room required only a fresh coat of paint. Its ornately carved Italian-marble fireplace has been converted to gas. 

With painted white-paneled walls, the study, once the tack room, is airy and light. A mirror-backed bar is tucked behind the arched doors of the built-in cabinetry. 

The original sunroom has been repurposed as a formal dining room, with easy access to the courtyard for large-scale entertaining. “At night, this room is magical, with the lights from the courtyard glowing through the windows,” Brand says.

the formal dining room was once a sunroom

On the second floor, the Brands invested in luxurious his-and-hers baths, which flank the master bedroom. “We each have our own walk-in closet,” she says. “I love that mine has a window with a lovely view of the grounds.”

The former hayloft—now a spacious guest room and sitting area—combines modern technology with vintage charm. Tucked between the original rafters, the skylights are powered by remote control. 

Throughout the house, the Brands filled the rooms with traditional furniture and floor coverings—wing chairs, sofas upholstered in damask, Oriental rugs—accented by the couple’s whimsical collection of canine portraits.

The large Art Nouveau bronze of Cupid and Psyche, handed down from Brand’s father, is displayed on a pedestal in the foyer. “I hung a mirror behind it so you can see Cupid’s wings,” she says. 

The second-floor balcony

Crowning glory

Outdoors, an enclosed stable yard has been transformed into a mannered courtyard, with bluestone pavers, formal boxwood hedges, and an espaliered canopy of wisteria. The ornate latticework on one wall was there when the Brands bought the place. They added the newly milled columns that replicate the originals on the opposite wall.

The Vermont-slate roof needed fixing. Most of it remained in place, though its crowning glory—a griffin weather vane perched atop a wrought-iron base on the central tower—was missing. The Brands commissioned West Coast Weather Vanes to recreate a griffin with unfurled wings and outstretched talons, all done in copper with gold accents. “The griffin is good for at least another 150 years,” says Brand. “And so is the house.”

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!