History Remade

A couple’s passion for the past brings new life to an old home.

White marble tops the oversized island in a kitchen that features bold colors, a black iron range hood and large diamond-paned windows.John and Doris Rudibaugh aren’t your typical empty nesters. While most of their friends were downsizing, they wanted a house even bigger than the one where they’d raised their four daughters.

As it turns out, the Rudibaughs prefer a full nest. So their new home had to accommodate visits from their daughters, sons-in-law and 11 grandchildren. It was a lifelong dream of John’s that led the couple to the well-known Edgewood estate in West Chester. “He always wanted to renovate a historic home,” says Doris. “At this point in our lives, we had the time and resources to do it.”

The Rudibaughs were in awe of the Victorian Gothic mansion high up on the hill. Then the one-of-a-kind property went on the market. “Never did we imagine that one day we’d own it,” says Doris.

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Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Edgewood is on the site where, in 1777, patriots faced British troops in the American Revolution. In 1845, Charles Sharpless built Edgewood using local serpentine stone, giving the house its unique marbled, green exterior. The home changed hands once more before it was sold to the famed Biddle family in 1873.

The Biddles were responsible for adding Edgewood’s distinctive tower in 1889, presumably to provide a back staircase for servants. Its top lasted more than 80 years before it and the fourth floor were removed due to deterioration.

The interior of the home had many distinct features, including diamond-paned windows throughout; wide-plank pine floors in the living room and dining room; 12-foot-high ceilings; a walk-in safe room in the basement (said to be where the Biddle women kept their jewelry); and a hidden section of the basement thought to once be part of the Underground Railroad. A key feature in the living room remains the push-up windows with waist-high pine doors underneath that open to create easy walk-through access to the serpentine stone patio outside.

Though the Rudibaughs had renovated other homes, they weren’t quite prepared for the magnitude of the job ahead of them at Edgewood. “Even though this house was in poor condition, I immediately fell in love with it,” says Doris. “I thought it was an amazing house even before we did anything.”

Still, says John, “Everything had to be reworked, except the exterior walls.”

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The Rudibaughs’ to-do list included installing new electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems, plus restoring six of the seven fireplaces and all original hardware. Old windows were repaired; woodwork was removed, refinished and reinstalled; missing plaster moldings were cast and installed to match what was there; and doorways were tripled in size to allow more light into rooms.

Another major undertaking: returning the tower to its original four stories, with the addition of a decorative mansard roof, a corbelled chimney and large modillion brackets at the eaves. John plans on moving his home office to the fourth floor of the tower. “It’s neat being that high up,” he says.

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And if he feels the need for fresh air, a metal ladder in the room leads out to the roof, which affords gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside.

“Basically, what we wanted to do was end up with a home that is very livable in today’s world,” says Doris. “To keep the integrity of the house, but to have all the modern conveniences.”

Knowing that proper renovation of Edgewood would require a reliable team of master craftsman, the Rudibaughs went with who they knew. “I don’t think we would’ve taken on this project without knowing we had a contractor and a designer who were so good,” says Doris.

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West Chester’s Pine Street Carpenters were responsible for preserving the old while seamlessly introducing the new. The firm had worked on two other homes for the couple.

“A project like this doesn’t come along every day,” says Pine Street’s Bill Dolan. “Edgewood’s unique architecture and history made it an exciting, challenging and rewarding project. We’re thrilled to be part of the history of this grand old house.”

Also crucial was Unionville interior designer Ronal Fenstermacher. “I met Ron more than 30 years ago when we first moved to the area,” says Doris. “He worked on our first house, and every house since. He is invaluable. He thinks of all the small details. We couldn’t have done it without him.”

In working with the Rudibaughs, Fenstermacher knew they leaned toward a cleaner, contemporary aesthetic. He also knew the design had to be child friendly.

“We didn’t want this house to be a museum,” says Doris. “We wanted to be able to use and live in every part of it.”

That livable philosophy carries over to the interior furnishings, which don’t adhere to a traditional or period aesthetic. Even so, “when you’re creating the design for a home with this much history, you walk a fine line in keeping with the home’s integrity,” says John. “Ron never crossed that line.”

In every room, Fenstermacher added some design element that, in its own unassuming way, was a signature statement from the new owners. Examples include the dramatic limestone-and-concrete tremeau fireplace surround in the living room, and the dining room’s original Michael Reilly tray chandelier topped with cream-colored candles. “I wasn’t sure about [the chandelier] at first when Ron suggested it,” says Doris. “But once I saw it, I knew it worked perfectly for the room.”

Decorative painter Vicki Vinton gave the dining room walls a sophisticated guilded-linen finish—one that incorporates plaster in an antique golden-burlap shade. The walnut coffered ceiling and decorative ceramic fireplace surround are unique features from the original home.

Fenstermacher had a custom dining table made that comfortably seats 12. The surrounding high-back chairs are upholstered in a forgiving neutral fabric.

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The couple inherited a small kitchen with dark-green cabinets. The plan was to expand the space and make it feel more open and bright. Renowned kitchen designer Joanne Hudson was more than up to the task.

“The Rudibaughs are colorful people, so the color of the room fit them quite well,” says Hudson. “The house also has a dark exterior, so it works that we were able to bring the cheerfulness and happiness of the color yellow. It was refreshing to work with a couple who were willing to do something different.”

Doris, for one, felt a white kitchen was too pristine. “I was at Joanne’s showroom, and I saw the yellow cabinets,” she says.

White marble lines the oversized island, which Doris uses as a buffet serving station when she entertains. A large black iron hood over the range contrasts nicely with the airiness of the white and yellow throughout the room. An open breakfront set against one wall provides easy access to dishes, serving platters and an extensive cookbook collection. The cushioned window seat is another nice touch—designed to give grandchildren a front-row seat while Grandmom bakes.

Fenstermacher added even more color to the space by painting the diamond-paned windows a fresh lime green. “We love it,” says Doris. “Every time I walk in the kitchen it makes me happy.”

After a year and a half of renovations, the Rudibaughs finally moved into Edgewood this past summer. “Once we bought the house, we felt like it took on a life of its own,” says Doris. “And it’s funny because I never felt like that about a house before.”

The Rudibaughs aren’t the only fans of their new home. “Our grandchildren love to come and visit,” says Doris. “It’s the ultimate hide-and-go-seek house.”

Architecture: James Bradberry Architects, 843 W. Lancaster Ave., Suite 200, Bryn Mawr; (610) 526-9875, jamesbradberry.com
Decorative Painting: Vicki Vinton, 805 Owls Nest Road, Centreville, Del.; (610) 368-4757
General Contractor: Pine Street Carpenters, 901 S. Bolmar St., Suite N, West Chester; (610) 430-3333, pinestreetcarpenters.com
Interior Design: Ronal Fenstermacher, Unionville, (610) 793-3722
Kitchen Design: Joanne Hudson Associates, Marketplace Design Center, 2400 Market St., Suite 310, Philadelphia; (215) 568-5501, joannehudson.com

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