Saturday, October 10, 2015

A home of history, harmony

Four generations come together at a stone house in Perkiomenville, a place of both activity and calm.

Charles and Barbara Brynan in the living room/library of their house in Perkiomenville, PA. ( Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Charles and Barbara Brynan in the living room/library of their house in Perkiomenville, PA. ( Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Charles and Barbara Brynan in the living room/library of their house in Perkiomenville, PA. ( Clem Murray / Staff Photographer) Gallery: Haven: The Brynans' Perkiomenville home

Time moves gracefully at this stone house in Perkiomenville. Here, life forges onward with reverence for the past.

You see that spirit in the morning as Charles "Chas" Brynan III practices the precise postures of the ancient healing art of tai chi in a garden of boulders left by glaciers.

You hear that spirit slowly ticking in the many clocks in the 1826 house up the hill. Chas' father, Charles Brynan Jr., made them. He also designed the cottage addition where he and Brynan's mother, Shirley, are living. She, too, is a creative soul with a homespun heart, designing wreaths for church benefits and keeping busy in her kitchen making preserves.

It's the spirit with which Chas' wife, Barb, prepares holiday meals as children and grandchildren fill the house. Generations come together here. Like the Chinese discipline Chas teaches, this is a hub of energy.

Many couples downsize when the nest empties. The Brynans - Chas is 62, Barb is 58 - upsized.

"Holidays are a big thing for us," says Barb Brynan - too big for the Cape Cod where they lived 26 years in Pennsburg.

Now, she says, the grandchildren enjoy "Nanny's farm," as they call these 2½ acres with a gambrel-roof barn. The Brynans, who have gardened organically since the 1970s, have plots for herbs and vegetables, and themed gardens.

"We plant with wildlife in mind, for seeds and nesting," Barb says.

A geisha presides over an Oriental garden, with black dragon cedar and Japanese red maple. In the butterfly garden, bee balm and Joe-Pye weed are the attractions. Some of the flora are Pennsburg transplants: The Brynans took pride in the home where they raised their daughters.

But one day in 2000, as Chas, a surveyor, drove down a Montgomery County hillside, he saw a for-sale sign. He learned the large stone house had a buyer. But on the property, another fine house stood under a tall pecan.

When he and Barb saw the oaken ceiling beams, "we didn't have to go further," Chas says. "This was our place."

Major work had been done: stones repointed; windows replaced; electric service upgraded. But the Brynans began a hit list: landscaping, for starters, removing tangles of multiflora rose. They put in a flagstone walkway and French drains.

Son and father worked together. They built a white-oak bridge across a swale, set up compost bins, refurbished the fireplace with pass-through doors for wood. Shutters and hardware found in the barn were used anew.

"I'm having the best time of my life here," says the elder Brynan, 84, who long worked for Miller Pump. Besides making clocks and furniture, he built the barn's cupola.

He also converted a chicken coop into a workshop, replacing roosts with labeled drawers, an array of equipment, and in the corner, a potbelly stove. He makes frames, salvaging boards; a fallen privy on the premises yielded weathered beauties.

Much of the Brynans' decor also celebrates times gone: a dinner bell; a buggy seat repurposed as a bench; a harvest table; onion lamps. A plaque lists six former owners of the house, starting with "John and Mary Quigley, 1826-1854."

History seems to dwell within the walls here. The Brynans tell of the "rose room," where a scent of roses mysteriously appears as a cool breeze wafts through. A presence of the past?

Framed photographs tell other stories. The house in the 1920s, a Model A out front. A boy with his soapbox car in Pottstown - "That's my dad," Chas says. A little girl with Santa, a boy with the Easter Bunny - that's Barb and Chas at the old Kratz's General Store in Schwenksville.

They met at a Pottstown dance when she was 14 and he was 18 and headed to Vietnam. He was an instructor, and "she already knew how to do the dances I was coming up there to teach." Several years later, they married.

With an intuition for decor and color, Barb has harmonized eclectic styles. Along with antiques, there is Asian tradition: framed designs, calligraphy, an Oriental fan.

Together, they run Pear Garden School of Tai Chi. Chas became a student in 1991, and his master later deemed him worthy to teach, with classes in Phoenixville, Gilbertsville, and Boyertown. Barb is administrator. She long was office manager for a psychology practice; she now is writing children's books.

Stress causes illness, says Chas, and tai chi emanates calmness, stimulating the immune system. Good for seniors, it can ease blood pressure and fibromyalgia, among other ailments, he says.

When he first saw its slow grace, "it looked like a moving poem." Tai chi combines his longtime love of exercise and poetry. It honors the natural world and tradition - as do the Brynans, who plant trees for special occasions.

To be active, creative, in touch with nature: Such is the spirit of those who live here, grooming this homestead for generations ahead while preserving the ways of ones past.

Is your house a Haven?

Tell us about your haven by e-mail (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.


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