Making the commitment to renovate a historic home is not something that should be entered into lightly. Throughout his career, Richard Buchanan, principal of Archer & Buchanan Architecture in West Chester, has acted as a sort of relationship expert, helping clients navigate what’s often an arduous courtship between historic house and homeowner.
So when Buchanan was called upon to lead the renovation of a recently purchased early-1900s Tudor in Wayne, he knew the project would be a major undertaking. “For these older Main Line houses, the biggest change internally is the transition from being staff driven to owner driven,” says Buchanan. “Houses of this size would’ve had a staff of at least three. It’s simply not how people live anymore.”
The expansive mudroom.
Handing over the keys to the property, the previous owners passed on some advice about making the most out of living in the home. They regretted spending most of their time in the back rooms, where the kitchen was located, and not utilizing formal areas like the dining room and the main stair hall, which boasts a grand double staircase. “That drove us to think about how we could push the energy of the home into the main part,” says Buchanan.
The clients agreed. “They wanted to live in the house that they bought,” he adds.
So Buchanan moved the kitchen into what had been the formal dining room, the latter of which he relocated to the main stair hall. “By reshuffling the deck, so to speak, we were able to activate an old house to live the way we want new houses to live,” Buchanan says.
What was once the kitchen is now a large mudroom with a pantry, a sink, counter space, and plenty of cabinets. There’s also a powder room.
Reinterpreting a stair hall into a dining area required a deft touch. So the owners turned to Haverford-based interior designer Barbara Gisel. “We didn’t want it to feel necessarily like just a dining room,” says Gisel. “We wanted it to feel like you were walking into a front hall or a meeting parlor—or it could be a dining room, if it’s all set up.”
The richly detailed double staircase, stone fireplace and wainscoting were all existing architectural elements that Gisel happily worked her vision around. A custom-made walnut dining table is designed for dinner parties or as a place for the kids to do their homework. “We didn’t want it to be too formal,” says Gisel.
Instead of a traditional Oriental rug, which would’ve been too dark for the space, Gisel chose a large-patterned gold-and-blue area rug. The size ensures that enough of the original quarter-sawn white-oak hardwood floor is still visible. “The dining room is now in the heart of the home,” says Buchanan, adding that the staircase is “really part of their experience every day.”
The kitchen, which used to be a dining room.
A bonus of moving the kitchen into what had been the dining room is that the former now has a working gas fireplace, with two doorways on either side leading to the adjacent sun porch. Prior to renovation, they were tiny windows. “In an effort to create circular flow and encourage use of all the existing spaces, we cut through the stone wall and created new openings, so you get this nice sense of transparency and ease of movement, which is very different than the way these 19th-century formal homes used to be,” says Buchanan. “In the English style, rooms are always very discreet, and you’re closed off from every other aspect of the home. In contemporary American architecture, we’re looking for the reverse.”
Now, the owners can enjoy their morning coffee on the sun porch or seated at the large center island. A plush banquette with a round dining table in front provides another gathering spot. “I love adding banquette seating,” says Gisel. “It’s so cozy and friendly.”
Off-white cabinetry, a subway-tile backsplash and stainless-steel appliances can be found in the kitchen’s work area. A blue-green hutch brings a welcome splash of color to the otherwise neutral space. “I wanted it to feel like different pieces from different times had been
added,” Gisel says.
Upstairs, a former maid’s bedroom made for an ideal laundry room. A stenciled black-and-white checkerboard floor brings an element of fun to the utilitarian space. “The homeowner wanted a painted floor someplace within the home,” says Gisel. “This room is so bright, so we thought it would work well.”
Existing cabinets and built-in drawers provide much-needed storage. “Laundry rooms are a big deal nowadays,” says Buchanan. “People are looking for very big spaces and are quite specific about what they want.”
The home’s exterior.
The creativity of reconfiguring spaces didn’t end inside the house. A rebuilt three-car garage not only shelters cars but is also designed as a recreational area for the owners’ three children. “In a formal, old house like this, there are no spaces like a finished lower level or a finished attic for kids to enjoy,” says Buchanan. “Why not use the garage?”
Once cars are pulled out of the garage, the space can be used to throw around a football without fear of breaking something. Finished with a soaring two-story ceiling, exposed beams and light fixtures over each bay, it’s a garage space that kids would want to hang out in. “It’s
an overlapping of functions that’s often overlooked,” says Buchanan of the unconventional idea. “It’s something that we’ve done in a bunch of instances to create effect for our clients, and they’ve been very pleased with the garage taking on a dual function.”
With all renovations now complete, the relationship between the historic home and its owners appears to be a lasting one. “They wanted not only a historic home, but a comfortable, livable house for their family,” says Gisel. “They were able to get everything they wanted. It feels like a family house as soon as you walk in.”