So often, when the kids leave, empty-nesters decamp south and downsize into small, maintenance-free homes with first-floor master suites.
Ellyn Spragins, 63, and John Witty, 64, defied tradition.
"I think we even upsized a little," says Witty, a semi-retired investment banker who freelances as a financial writer.
Since purchasing the 3,500-square-foot, half-century-old dwelling in January 2015, the couple have respected its original architecture while adapting it to their own classy styling.
"I wanted a house where guests would feel comfortable," says Spragins, author of three motivational books, including What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self.
After their son and daughter moved on, the couple sold their Pennington, N.J., home and rented a place in Malvern around the corner from Spragins' sister. It was to be a brief interlude while they pondered their next chapter.
Soon, they found themselves falling in love with the lush Pennsylvania countryside. After two years, they bought this house.
Living in a traditional midcentury structure, the couple faced the same predicament other homeowners do: how to create spaces that are suited for today's lifestyles.
"From an architectural standpoint, the most challenging aspect was to take a standard two-story Colonial home and redesign it to fit the clients' less-formal lifestyle," says architect Mark Fox of Gardner/Fox Associates in Bryn Mawr, who led the six-month project.
Since the structure was somewhat plain outside, they added a portico with a copper roof to the entry to provide character as well as shelter. Inside, the house lacked natural light, so they added two windows and French doors with sidelights to a kitchen wall that faces the backyard. To maximize flow between spaces, the wall between the kitchen and the media room was opened up, and the wall between the kitchen and breakfast area was removed.
Although the couple collaborated on many details, they acknowledge that Spragins, who works at the Blue Octagon home-design shop in Malvern, did the majority of the decorating. Her sense of spirit in using bold hues and varied textures works seamlessly.
In the kitchen, white marble-like quartzite and dark gray cabinets from Sterling Kitchen & Bath in Malvern, contrast nicely. Also chosen were a white farmhouse sink and a shiny backsplash in a leaf design.
Spragins' choice of brass injects dazzle into the room, most notably via the faucet, the trim in the wood-like tile floor, and two Kiss pendants from WAC Lighting. More brass is featured as studs on the white faux-leather upholstery that was installed on both sides of the island to soften the hard surface, and also on the gray curved settee that surrounds a white tulip table.
Witty says the sideboard in the dining room that belonged to his parents was updated with bright white paint, "but this room was left mostly untouched."
Bright botany wallpaper from Marimekko enlivens the garden room tucked behind the kitchen. A potting sink with a brass Rohl faucet sits within a black cabinet. Floor-to-ceiling closets, with translucent sliding panels, offer storage. A vintage island purchased at Vermont's Trade Secrets Garden Event adds interest. Almost more important are the two beds for the couple's dogs, Wonder Girl, a rescue mix, and Wookie, a Cairn terrier.
In the media room, two cheetah-printed sofas and two black Gustav chairs, studded with white faux-leather, balance the emerald-green walls. White diamond-patterned paneling surrounds the gas fireplace and a flat-screen TV mounted above the mantel.
Gatherings — like a recent engagement party for the couple's nephew and his fiancee and Easter's lamb dinner — often spill into the family room, located a step down from the kitchen and dining areas. The massive stone fireplace and rustic ceiling beams were left intact. Creating a cheerful yet cozy place for conversation are a watermelon-hued sofa, blue chairs, a white-fur chair, and a blue ottoman with white wooden carvings. A Pangea Home white lacquer desk works as a bar.
The original second story had seven bedrooms. Walls came down in both the former master sitting area and a small bedroom to complete a new master suite. Soft greens, blues and grays cover the bed linens. A fireball fixture descends from the cathedral ceiling, adding a burst of pink. The bath has a curbless shower, an egg-shaped tub, and ice-blue cabinets with Lucite hardware.
Distinct in character, but harmonious in energy, all the rooms stimulate the senses.
"We never made it to a warm climate," Spragins says. "But it's OK. We love it here."