From Tired Farmhouse to Showplace of Grand Country Living
When in 1998 it came time to purchase a new house—a new project, really—David Guilmet and his business partner Patrick Bell, owners of the Bucks County-based design firm Bell-Guilmet Associates, went big: Restoring a sweeping country estate that had fallen into disrepair and, even worse for any gay man, bad taste. With historic structures covered in vinyl siding and grounds ignored for decades, “every ounce” of the circa-1930 property needed major TLC, Guilmet says. So he developed a 10-year plan to take the house back in time—before the 1960s kitchen and horrid ’70s paint colors—to its Colonial glory.
Named Peaceable Farm, after Bucks County artist Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom paintings, the Solebury property features a main house and several outbuildings, including an office for Guilmet and a barn for sheep and other livestock. It was designed by Devon native R. Brognard Okie, whose Colonial Revival style—a mix of Federal and Georgian—made him a popular architect from the Main Line to Virginia during the ’30s and ’40s.
Long a fan of Okie’s work (Okie restored Tullytown’s Pennsbury Manor and the Betsy Ross House), Guilmet stripped the house down to its all-original bones. He wanted everything—from the sofa to the wall decorations—to be period-accurate, and used his impressive collection of period décor to adorn the tidy, eight-room house. Though that, too, is always changing: “Nothing ever stays the same,” Guilmet laughs.
The home’s poplar wood framing wasn’t meant to be displayed with its natural finish—Okie originally covered it in white paint—but Guilmet created a milk-paint stain to treat the wood, letting a warm chestnut color shine through. Each room boasts a similar color palette—warm creams, browns and reds—so the transition from living room to dining room to kitchen isn’t jarring. Though the home isn’t especially bright, the sunlight streaming through the original windows’ warped glass nevertheless illuminates the decor, like an “uncomfortable” curved-back English chair by the kitchen window, a circa-1850s cutting board (“It’s mammoth—something two people would have to handle”), and an Oriental Caucasian nomadic rug.
When Guilmet can’t find quite the perfect purchasable item, he DIYs it—like the painting hanging above the dining room fireplace (pictured, top) that he reinterpreted from a Colonial Williamsburg original.
With no great room (a must for many House Hunters-obsessed buyers) and a cozy, closed-concept layout, Guilmet acknowledges the house “wasn’t suited for a typical family,” but he loves its small rooms and simple architectural detailing. And there’s always space to throw the occasional benefit in the barn out back.