Arnold Chassen and Lynne Barol's home went up in flames one morning in spring 2012 - 2:30 a.m. March 28, to be exact.
A screeching alarm woke them. The blaze lit up the bedroom windows. The couple and their two dogs escaped the burning structure through a door leading to a deck.
An electrical fire had started in the garage.
"Tell people to put heat sensors in the garage," Arnold says. Had there been some, the fire might have been detected early and confined.
As it turned out, Arnold says, "Pretty much everything was gone; the cars were blown up. Almost nothing was left." The fire marshal later told him the intense heat bent steel support beams like waves.
Their house, built on a wooded hillside in Penn Valley in 1979, had to be torn down.
While they dealt with the task of rebuilding, Arnold and Lynne stayed first in a hotel in Conshohocken, then rented a house in Bala Cynwyd. Though traumatized, they summoned the strength to deal with insurers, building permits, and other issues. Arnold appreciated that Montgomery County and Lower Merion Township officials "were sensitive to our situation."
They hired How Properties to construct a new, larger house on the foundation and footprint of the old one, described by Lynn as "a reverse split-level" - with the garage and living space below ground and a den, three bedrooms and two baths above.
After almost a year of paperwork and planning, construction began in February 2013. Arnold and Lynne moved into their new home the following November.
Sheathed in stucco and siding, it features a two-car garage on the lower level. A high ceiling allows for storage of Arnold's canoe and kayak.
On the same level is an entrance foyer, a gym, a bathroom and laundry, and a large storage space with an incongruous fireplace.
"It survived the fire," Lynne says. "We decided to leave it."
The foyer is furnished with a teak chest and a stunning, multi-hued Turkish rug - one of several fire-damaged rugs that were able to be restored.
The street level includes a living room, a sleek silver-and-gray open kitchen, a powder room, and a den.
The couple disagreed on the need for the latter.
"I didn't want a television in the living room," Lynne says.
Now, when she and her husband entertain, the men watch sports in the den while the women sit on rattan-and-metal bar stools around the kitchen counter.
Throughout, the floors are made of Brazilian teak.
Contemporary teak furniture for the dining and living areas was purchased from House of Norway and Dane Décor. A cream leather sectional sofa provides seating in front of the fireplace.
Upstairs, there are two bathrooms and five bedrooms, though only two of those have beds: the master bedroom and a guest room used by Jared, Lynne's son from a former marriage, and his wife, Irini, when they visit from San Francisco.
Also featured are a sitting room and offices for Arnold, 68, a financial consultant specializing in insurance, and Lynne, 58, who works part time for a financial adviser.
A fanciful light fixture of green, yellow, and red shapes resembling giant Christmas bulbs hangs in the stairwell.
In addition to the rugs, some other items were restored after the fire, such as Arnold and Lynne's wedding portrait and ketubah, an illuminated Jewish wedding contract - the couple married in 2005, a year after moving to Penn Valley - and a ceramic sculpture of a water carrier that belonged to Arnold's father.
Restorers were not able to remove charring from a photo of Lynne's grandfather, father and two uncles. Still, she is grateful it was salvaged.
Outside, Arnold shows off a stone wall he built and a landscape of stone, gravel, shrubs and pachysandra. A graceful trio of white birch trees survived the fire. He walks visitors through the gunmetal-gray front door and points to a back door just yards away.
"We have lots of exits," he says unapologetically. The house also has 67 windows - no chance to feel trapped.
When builders suggested that the master bedroom space was large enough to accommodate an exterior balcony, Lynne and Arnold enthusiastically agreed.