Bucks, with a touch of Italy

Renovations and a mural of Tuscan countryside perfect a house that had already won couple over.

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Michelle Rothstein and her golden retrievers Snickers and Darcie in their home in Furlong, Pa. The spiral staircase leads to a library/guest room. Michelle and her husband, David, moved into the house in 2006.

When love leads to marriage a second time around, less-than-romantic details can become important, such as whose house the couple will call home.

When Michelle and David Rothstein married, she moved into his late wife's home in Newtown, Bucks County, a sprawling 3,700-square-foot place where they continued raising children. Eventually, the nest emptied, and they looked for their little dream house.

While their friends were settling into over-55 communities, they settled for a 2,900-square-foot townhouse in New Hope. What they loved about it: the spontaneous dinner parties with new neighbors; the proximity to the artistic charms of their new town; and the sense of community.

Yet Michelle Rothstein still felt a pull to find something else. The search lasted longer than many marriages, 10 years.

"I gave up looking for that special, different home," she says. "I just thought my dream home was not going to come along in this lifetime."

But, as in a fairy tale, there would be a happy ending. When the couple saw an ad for a single-story house in Furlong, they hopped in the car to take a look.

In a county filled with stately stone homes, the Rothsteins happened upon a Mediterranean-style stucco house with a red roof, a gracious wraparound porch, and two acres.

When Michelle was standing with the Realtor in the open kitchen, David, an oral surgeon, knew from his wife's face that this was the place they would be buying.

"We both love Italy, and the style and house felt comfortable and welcoming," Michelle says.

The house is isolated, but ask any of the locals about Casa D'Oro (House of Gold) - a sign at the end of the driveway has a likeness of their two golden retrievers - and they will point you to it, sending greetings to their neighbors.

Though moving day was in July 2006, renovations had to be paced because all three of their children were getting married.

The couple started with improvements to the outside. A front walk made of railroad ties was replaced with E.P. Henry pavers. Front garden beds were carved out, and tall grasses were planted.

Inside, they replaced warped black laminate countertops with black marinace granite and added new appliances. The contemporary maple cabinets remained.

In the dining area, Mike Colkett, a local muralist, painted the Tuscan countryside on the main wall. The story continues above the cabinets, where the artist even painted Michelle Rothstein and her late mother on a covered terrace.

"She always wanted to visit Italy, but never got to, so this is a symbolic visit," Michelle says.

In the living room, the Rothsteins added a custom gas fireplace and had Colkett gold-leaf the area above it. In summer, the Rothsteins throw open doors that lead out to the porch, so guests at their frequent parties can move inside and out with ease.

With its richly colored walls, the house is an art gallery of sorts. An American craft-glass collection amassed over the years - most of it purchased from Topeo, their favorite store in New Hope - is displayed on open shelves. "We have vases, bowls, perfume bottles, and other objets d'art," says Michelle.

The decor is contemporary and as delightful to the eye as the art. On the walls are paintings from Michelle's great-uncle, artist Albert Levone.

This 1,800-square-foot house is the smallest the Rothsteins have lived in, but it feels spacious because of its open floor plan. Because there is just one bedroom, guests stay in a loft space reached by an iron spiral staircase in the living room. The loft doubles as a library.

In August, the Rothsteins took on a two-month master-bathroom project, their biggest undertaking yet. The space looked like a chain-restaurant bathroom, with its white, burgundy and green tile. Michelle was aiming for a Zen-like room, "but not Asian in style."

Now, there are bamboo cabinets, confetti art-glass sconces from Topeo, and an amber-colored poured-concrete countertop.

Michelle gave the concrete craftsman fossils and seashells she had found to put into the creation. "I wanted it to look like the Grand Canyon," she says.

Different, too, are the dinner parties she and David regularly throw for friends old and new. On New Year's Eve, it was dinner for 12 - friends from their townhouse days, new friends from Furlong, and neighbors they had yet to meet formally.

"This house felt like home right when I walked in," says Michelle. "I had never lived in a house before that felt like home."

David Rothstein agrees: "This is the most comfortable and unique home I have ever lived in. I look forward to coming home to it each day."



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