“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning.”
—T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
It may be the end of the beginning for the owners of “The End of the Beginning,” but fortunately for you, they are giving you the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write the beginning of Chapter Two.
If you choose to take them up on the offer, you will assume stewardship — “ownership” isn’t quite the right term — of a truly unique ensemble of buildings that will make you feel better for living in them and sharing their bounty with your family, friends and guests.
For this estate, whose name is taken from the T.S. Eliot passage above, represents the marriage of an architect with a unique design philosophy and owners with an appreciation for both nature and art.
Architect Helena van Vliet’s creation not only belongs in the same league with Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater”; in many ways, it goes that justly famous home one better.
Van Vliet describes what she does as “biophilic architecture.” This is design that aims to improve your physical and mental health by working with and through nature, blurring the boundary between the inside and the outside, the natural and the man-made.
“My interest is reconnecting people with nature through the built environment,” she says. “Biophilic architecture is about designing neurologically restorative experiences.”
A blank canvas fashioned by nature
The blank canvas the owners presented van Vliet was a 2.7-acre sloping plot of ground in Malvern that was thick with oak trees and had a stream running through it.
“One of our priorities was not to lose any of the oak trees that were there,” says van Vliet. “Oak trees are very sensitive to disruption, so we were very thoughtful about not interfering with them.”
Her solution was to insert a long ark-like structure into the middle of the grove. “The shape of the initial house is long and compact, like a ship that’s sailing into the forest,” she says. And from that ship’s curved prow, one takes in a 180-degree view of thick forest, either from the porch that wraps around the living room or from inside the room thanks to its generous expanse of windows.
This stunning home, a work of art in itself, is enhanced by original artwork throughout and around it. Much of that art will remain with the property after it is sold, including Greg Leavitt’s hand-forged steel-and-copper trees at the front entrance, the stone sculptures on the grounds, the guest house bed designed by the owners’ interior-designer son and the Warren Mueller-designed light sculptures in several of the rooms, each one intimately related to the space it enhances.
One such light is suspended from the second floor through a glass-railed opening to the kitchen below. This was actually a practical design element, says Van Vliet: “I initially opened these floors to each other when the [owners’] children were little so that when they were doing their homework, they could be in voice contact with their mother downstairs.”
Base station for space exploration
This main home has served as the base station for 28 years’ worth of space exploration. Additions to the property include a garage extension with an eyebrow window that the owners dubbed “the Teahouse of Round Eye” because of its Japanese tea house feel, a series of outdoor rooms connected by garden pathways through the site and between the structures, and a guest house added in 2008 and anchored to its slope by a dramatic sweeping chimney that appears to grow naturally from the boulders at its base.
The primary challenge with the guest house, van Vliet says, was “to have it disappear into the woodland and to make it such that it becomes a sculpture because it’s in a sculpture garden.” She gave the home a trellised entrance path to give it the needed camouflage when viewed from the main residence, and that tree-like chimney gave it the sculptural element it needed.
Van Vliet describes the bequest of the art on the property to its new owner as “an act of generosity on the part of the owners,” who are noted art patrons and artists themselves (there’s a door in the base of that guest house chimney that leads to a space that had served as a studio in the past).
“The place invites exploration and discovery,” she says. “I want my projects to have a sanctuary feel. I hear from a lot of people who have visited this place that they feel they are on vacation, and that’s a great compliment to me. It’s very relaxing.”
Those in search of a year-round vacation sanctuary like no other would do well to give this property a thorough going-over. The photos you see here don’t do this place justice — you really need to see it for yourself.
THE FINE PRINT
BATHS: 4 full, 2 half
SQUARE FEET: 9,503
SALE PRICE: $2,750,000
OTHER STUFF: A total of 33 pieces of artwork are included with the property, which has garage parking for four cars (two of the spaces climate-controlled). If you must learn about the appliances in the kitchen or the finishes in the bathrooms, please read the property description on the broker’s site below; somehow, these seem an afterthought in light of the place that contains them.
25 Mountain Laurel Rd., Malvern, Pa. 19355 [Laura Caterson, Dana Zdancewicz and Pat Rowley | BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors]