A Collegeville farm that evolved into a family compound

Donald and Sally House built a home on two acres of her parents’ farm. The fields are rented out to grow corn, behind them. The home will be featured this month in the Norristown Garden Club’s Kitchen and Garden Tour.

Partygoers are not stammering when they say they are “going to the House house.” Don and Sally House often entertain at their Collegeville home.

Earlier this summer, they hosted the junior choir from Central Schwenkfelder Church in Lansdale, where Sally is music director. Thirty children and parents swam in the pool at the farmhouse where Sally’s mother lives. Then they walked down the gravel path for burgers, hot dogs, and ice cream in the Houses’ lush garden, set up with umbrella-covered tables and chairs.

The stucco home is on two acres deeded to Sally by her parents, Jack and Mary Louise Graham. The Grahams also deeded two acres to Sally’s sister, Nancy Bickel, who built a home next door.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The Collegeville home of Don and Sally House, far left. It will be featured in the Norristown Garden Club’s Kitchen and Garden Tour. Sally’s mother still lives in the original family farmhouse, at far right.

The farm was once owned by the sisters’ maternal grandparents, John and Viola Hild. John sold chickens, eggs, and produce to homemakers in Germantown. Nowadays, the farm’s fields are rented out to grow corn.

The evolution of the farm into a family compound occurred in 1995. Nancy and her husband, who had three young children, were house shopping. At the same time, Sally and Don were planning to marry and also looking for a home.

The House home took longer to build because they did much of the work themselves. Don has an apt surname, having taught building trades for 30 years at Pottstown High School, where he met Sally. She taught music in the Pottstown School District for 33 years. His former students helped construct the home after he and Sally selected a plan.

She yearned for arched windows and morning sun in the kitchen. He wanted a first-floor master bedroom and bath, and a basement workshop accessible to the outdoors.

With some modifications, the blueprint they selected met their criteria. The home has an elegant two-story foyer with a marble floor and a curved staircase extending to the second floor, where there are two bedrooms and a bath.  Sally stood on scaffolding to sponge paint the foyer in shades of  wheat, cocoa and almond. The café au lait living room has a coffered cathedral ceiling. The dining room features a cut glass and brass chandelier hanging from a medallion Don designed as a compromise.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
“When I have a dinner party, I want the formal dining room,” Sally House says. The still life paintings are by Don’s brother, Richard.

“Sally wanted a dome. I told her we couldn’t do it because it would cut through the second floor,” he says.

Arranged on a wall are luminescent still life paintings by Don’s brother, Richard. Nearby is a painting of the house by Worcester artist Bill Bourne.

When she hosts a party for 40 relatives at Christmas, Sally wishes she had a great room instead of a family room, living room, and dining room. “But when I have a dinner party,” she says, “I want  the formal dining room.”

In the den, Don built bookshelves and a high ledge circling the room to accommodate tracks for his model train set.

He installed oak kitchen cabinets and laid oak hardwood flooring on an angle. With no space for a kitchen island, he made a small granite counter-top table, positioned near the refrigerator. He bent wood to craft the sled Sally uses for houseplants.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Childhood marbles that belonged to Sally House’s mother, Mary Louise Graham.

The oak ice box and former kitchen cabinet in the family room are from the farmhouse. A vintage Victrola in the foyer belonged to an uncle. Don converted a drop-leaf table he found in the barn to an end table for the foyer.

“Sally’s family never throws anything out,” he says, pointing to a pretty box containing marbles she played with as a child.

Outside, a depression for drainage became a garden focal point after it was filled with rocks and lined with roses, oleander, hardy hibiscus, and Japanese blood grass.

From their garden, Sally, 61, and Don, 73, can see the roofs of the barn and farmhouse over a field of waving corn. Sally says her father, a former Worcester Township supervisor who died in 2003, “would be pleased” that a trust will protect the farm’s 20 acres from future development.

The House house will be featured on the Norristown Garden Club’s Kitchen and Garden Tour, Friday, Sept. 15.  http://norristowngardenclub.org/ngc/.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Don House runs his O-gauge garden trains on a track he built into the bookcases in the den.

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