A Natural Fit

Take a rural Chester County landscape, throw in a few curves, and a modern home blends right in

Standing at the highest point of a rolling hayfield in Chester Springs is a house that could have been built just to capture the view, a sweeping tapestry of lush green hills and endless blue skies. And while the home does justice to the scenery that inspired it, it looks nothing like the traditional Chester County farmhouses that dot this sprawling

Standing at the highest point of a rolling hayfield in Chester Springs is a house that could have been built just to capture the view, a sweeping tapestry of lush green hills and endless blue skies. And while the home does justice to the scenery that inspired it, it looks nothing like the traditional Chester County farmhouses that dot this sprawling countryside.

The difference is entirely intentional. The Philadelphia couple who built the home were drawn to the natural country setting, but they didn’t want a country home. They wanted a modern house, one that embodied the sophistication of city living without spoiling the natural beauty of the Chester County landscape they fell in love with. | They found the balance they sought in the land itself, and let its natural curves and views guide the spaces and surfaces of the home they built there. Working with a small team of architects and artisans, the homeowners took special care to make the home flow naturally into the long open stretches of undulating hills, and to allow nature to reign inside as well as out.

At more than 7,500 square feet, the house is large enough to get lost in. To give it the welcoming, intimate appearance their clients requested, Pinard Architects worked with the landscape. “They wanted the home to be nestled into the setting,” says Marc Pinard, owner of the Philadelphia architecture firm. “They didn’t want it to appear ‘perched’ on a hill or have a commanding presence.”

Visitors approaching from the meandering driveway are immersed in the landscape until the house gradually reveals itself beyond a curtain of trees. And there’s no traditional street-side facade. “Any side could be considered the front,” says Pinard.

Because the homeowners wanted to maintain the spirit of a Chester County farmhouse without building one, they threaded traditional materials, such as stone and wood, with patches of yellow stucco walls and expanses of soaring windows. The shaker roof that caps the home is complemented by bold metal gables. “We used traditional materials — stone, wood, copper and metal — throughout the home, but we used them in different ways that make the home modern and comfortable,” says the homeowner.

Curves, which lend both a modern feel and a natural one, echoing the surrounding hills, became an integral part of the home’s design. The house’s footprint and flow was designed around a single curved wall that separates the formal dining room from the kitchen and continues up through the heart of the home. Other curved walls in the foyer, master bedroom and basement accentuate the sweeping, open floor plan that was designed to accommodate frequent entertaining. Walls, ceilings, windows, furnishings and even landscaping follow suit with rounded details, bends and arches, and columns. “There is such beauty in a curve,” says the homeowner, who was inspired by architecture she saw while traveling through California and Arizona.

The sweeping design also contributes to the interior flow, linking spaces without shutting them off. “We really love the openness of the home and how the different rooms live together,” says the homeowner. “The floor plan is so wide open, but you don’t feel like you’re living in a cavern of a home.”

A warm color scheme of reds, oranges and yellows keeps rooms friendly despite their large square footage. The homeowners did most of the interior design themselves, mining ideas for fixtures and finishes from favorite vacation spots: Napa Valley, San Francisco, San Diego, New Orleans and Scottsdale, Arizona.

They enlisted conceptual artist Jeff Thomas, owner of Jeff Thomas Art in Philadelphia, for the Venetian-plaster finish they used on the walls of the foyer, dining room and living room. The veneer plaster is applied with trowels, sealed with latex and then polished with wax. The effect looks like suede and feels silky smooth. “I love the depth of Venetian plaster and the surprise of the touch,” says the homeowner.

Like the home’s exterior, the inside uses traditional materials in not-so-traditional ways. Metalworker Ron Lessard, who co-owns Princeton’s Casson Lessard with his wife, Mary, made the copper balcony railings and did other custom work in the home, including a steel and copper fireplace and a “floating” cherry front door that pivots on a semicircular axis using hollowed-out wood and a copper lock system. “The door is more like a moving wall than a door,” says Lessard. For the master bedroom, he sculpted a metal sleigh bed, a design similar to those he has made for Elton John and Gianni Versace.

“The metalwork is one of my favorite features of the home,” says the homeowner, who discovered Lessard’s talents in a magazine article. The homeowners also commissioned the custom woodwork of Charles Ginty, a Unionville furniture maker. Ginty tailored an 18th-century reproduction of an English settle to fit the foyer wall alongside the front door, and he made the vanities in three bathrooms.

Pinard designed a see-through second-story catwalk that shares the light — and life — of the living areas below. Walls of windows, most bare of curtains, fill the house with light and reconnect it to the landscape. Through them, the lush hills are a constantly changing backdrop that rivals paintings by regional artists including David Fertig and Randall Exon, a Swarthmore College professor.

“The house takes cues from the countryside, so we took the interior features outside on a grand scale,” says Charles E. Hess Jr., a registered landscape architect and owner of a landscape architecture company of the same name in Harleysville. Curved interior walls resonate in semicircular slices of meadowy gardens, curved stone walls and rows of orchard trees. “As you walk through the landscape, the effect is subtle,” he says, “but the long vistas from the windows provide some bold-statement views.”

The homeowners worked with Hess to handpick native plantings that would continue the warm colors and textures of the interior design outside. They also introduced influences from Napa and San Diego to the Chester County countryside with a columned alfresco dining area, partially covered balconies trimmed with copper railings, and a vanishing-edge pool that drifts over a cliff.

While the homeowners are as in love with the finished project as they were with the property when they first saw it, they find it hard to accept full credit for the results. In their mind, it’s as much what they’ve left undone in the natural surroundings as what they have changed that makes the home a natural success.

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