Following the footprint

A 19th-century farmhouse, made over in the ’40s, has been transformed for the 21st century - all the while staying within the original lines.

20141025_farmhouse
New construction on the left and original building at center right. At right are new wings.

Bob Berry's house on the banks of the Pickering Creek near Phoenixville has evolved, to say the least.

Born as a 19th-century farmhouse, it got its first makeover in the 1940s when famed architect Oskar Stonerov transformed it into an International-style haven for his family, which eventually included four children, and his wife, Elizabeth, who started a popular cooperative preschool there.

Then, when Bob Berry bought the structure in 2005, his brother-in-law and architect John Kohlhaus remade it to fit 21st century needs.

The now complete 6,000-square-foot contemporary house on 47 acres - comprising remnants of the original farmhouse, the refurbished Stonerov house, a modern rear addition, a small guesthouse, and an old barn - is a refuge for the 48-year-old and his yellow Lab, Ozzie.

That's a lot of home for a bachelor and his dog.

"It just happened," said Berry, who was living a few miles away when the Stonerov property went up for sale. It had been vacant since Elizabeth Stonerov's death about 2003, and developers were interested. "I considered buying this as an investment and couldn't decide if I could afford it."

In 2005, Berry, the vice president of USLI, an insurance company his grandfather founded, decided to go for it.

Stonerov bought the Chester County property in 1938 from his father-in-law Frank Foster, the owner of American Ice Co., which sold pre-refrigerators to homeowners in Chester County, according to Fran Rodgers, cochair of the Charlestown Township Historical Commission. On the property was an old farmhouse, thought to have been built in the mid-1890s.

When Stonerov moved into the house, there were sleeping porches with "lovely arches," according to Kohlhaus, principal of Environetics Architects, who did extensive research on the house during the two-year renovation. But during Stonerov's 30 years in the house, he converted those to bedrooms, leveled the pitched roof so it was flat (in keeping with the International style of architecture) and converted the basement into a two-story living room space.

During Berry's renovation, Kohlhaus had to seek a variance for any change to the exterior because of Charlestown Township's preservation codes. In the end, he refurbished the front of the house, but had to tear down and rebuild the modern back because of its deteriorated condition, while staying within the original footprint of the house.

Those sleeping porches returned. The garage became the foundation for a master bedroom. The serpentine wall that led from the house to the springhouse was restored. The springhouse was refurbished as a 400-square-foot guesthouse - where Berry slept during the renovation.

That's because Berry's own 2,000-square-foot house had burned down, an incident that helped solidify his decision not to rent out the Stonerov house after renovations, and instead just to move in.

Berry consulted Stonerov's daughters, Tina Daly and Tasha Churchill, who live nearby, as a way of learning more about the house. "They were delighted that the house wasn't being torn down," Berry said.

The two-story family room is now a movie viewing area with a full, pull-down screen, comfortable couches, billiard table, and fireplace. The tiny former kitchen, servants' area, and butler's pantry have been rebuilt as a modern, large kitchen that opens up to the dining area. Throughout, there are no carpets, a couple of area rugs, lots of light, and painted walls of primary reds, yellows and blues, which, to Berry, evoke a Mondrian painting.

But Berry's favorite part of the house is the outside, which is not surprising.

Berry, who played baseball at Rollins College in Florida, installed on the property a baseball diamond, a basketball court, a swimming pool, and a tennis court.

While Berry and Ozzie ostensibly live in the house alone, it is rarely empty. Frequent guests include his extended family, business colleagues, and friends from his church who hold celebrations in the house and in the barn.

"Sometimes it is hard to tell the house is so big," Berry said.

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