Making space for everyone

The Bryn Mawr house was big enough for new members, but renovations assured family's comfort.

Mark and Patti Monaco have restored a 1893 farmhouse with their 3 children from previous marriages. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)

Patti Monaco fell in love twice in the span of a few months: Once with her future husband, Mark, and once with his eight-bedroom 1893 farmhouse in Bryn Mawr.

Not necessarily in that order.

It wasn't until three months before their wedding day, while the house was undergoing major renovations, that they decided it would be the perfect setting for their wedding.

That might seem like a potential nightmare, but for the Monacos, it was just another seamless transition to their new life together.

"Now that I look back on it, I kind of feel more anxious about everything we did. Whereas at the time, we just put our heads down and got it done," she says. "It all went unbelievably smoothly, every aspect of it."

Patti Monaco, an executive at an ad agency, and Mark Monaco, a family physician, met three years ago through When they decided to get married, Mark and his children, 16-year-old Ian and 10-year-old Emily, needed to get the house ready to welcome Patti and her 15-year-old daughter, Emily Snowden.

The place was large enough to accommodate the new members of the family, but it needed work to make everyone comfortable in the new living arrangement.

Adding a family room where all of them could gather was a priority. They gutted the attic, a storage space more suited to Ian's annual Halloween party and haunted house.

The kids dubbed the third-floor room the "chillax room," (a mix of chill and relax). Furnished with comfortable seating and an entertainment system, this is where the busy family can get together in their free time or for one of their planned movie nights.

To involve the kids in the design process, their parents let them pick themes for redecorating their bedrooms.

Emily Snowden, who was given a suite off the chillax room, chose a princess theme, which she says perfectly fits her personality.

"It was such a cool thing for them to do," she says. "Mark and everyone realized that I lost that it was my mom and I together for five years. He just handed me a blank paper and said, 'How do you want your room to be done?' "

Emily Monaco chose a Broadway theme for her room, complete with dramatic colors and poster art from musicals. Ian opted for a look inspired by a bohemian New York City loft, with classic movie posters and cutouts.

Although having two more people around took some getting used to, things went smoothly, Ian says.

"It was different having someone getting up at the same time and just having another teenager in the house," he says. "I thought it might be a Yours, Mine and Ours situation, but it wasn't like that at all. I liked Patti and Emily, and, well, I still do."

Patti and Mark's space underwent the biggest transformation. By combining three smaller bedrooms, they were able to make a huge master suite with walk-in closets, an office, and a master bath.

The renovations were the second major makeover of the house in the last decade. When Mark and his ex-wife purchased the property in 1999, it was overgrown and a fixer-upper.

"We were really excited about the house,Mark recalls, "but we found out that most of our family and friends thought we were nuts - they just didn't want to say it to our faces."

He and his mother spent those early days scraping off wallpaper, cleaning walls, and painting every room.

Early repairs were mainly structural and cosmetic. There were plenty of challenges along the way, like breaking up a fight between feuding contractors, and flooding from Hurricane Floyd while the roof was being installed.

The sale of Patti's West Chester home helped finance the latest renovations. Much of her furniture was brought over to update and complement Mark's.

"We were cash-strapped. We had invested so much in this and invested so much in renovating, more than we budgeted for," Mark says. "So we made the decision, 'OK, we're going to have to live with some old furniture.' "

With the help of their interior decorator, Zena Croydon, and compatible tastes, they were able to furnish the whole place without buying a single new piece.

"I think it looks better than it did before," Emily Monaco says. "Before, it was looking weird and dated."

The unveiling of the new old house came in June 2008, when the couple opened their home to 65 of their closest friends and family for the wedding ceremony and reception. A ramp was put in so Patti's mother, who uses a wheelchair, could see the changes. Guests danced on the back porch and were treated to musical performances by the Monaco children and a toast from Emily Snowden.

The home turned out to be ideal for entertaining, something the Monacos hope will be even better when they make one final renovation.

"We want to do the kitchen, then we're done," Patti Monaco says. "Done, done, done. Then we'll just sit on the house and enjoy it as a family while our kids are still into hanging out with us."

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