Great Outdoors

Come on in to Chipping Hill - and you'll still feel like you're outside.

Howard and D-J Brosius and their Pekingese, Misu, in their greenhouse/pool/great room.

Howard Brosius grew up on a dairy farm in Chester County, which helps explain why his wife, D-J, calls him "Rube."

It's not an insult, as in "hayseed." It's a compliment, as in Rube Goldberg, because on that farm he learned to repair and build, dig in the dirt, and lift heavy objects. Good guy to have around - you'd think - when you have an 82-year-old house and 31/2 acres in Springfield Township, Montgomery County.

Though Brosius claims his work is never done, visitors would be hard-pressed to find anything wanting at Chipping Hill, as the couple's home is called. It's gorgeous, and thanks to a built-on, live-in greenhouse just off the kitchen, life here seems a perpetual spring.

Whatever it's doing outside, it's toasty as the tropics inside, thanks to the 1981 addition of the solar-heated glass house, pool and great room with a spiral wooden staircase leading to the master bedroom - "the treehouse," they call it - upstairs.

"It's just a real pretty atmosphere," says Howard, who works from home for a Chicago investment-management firm.

We're sitting by the pool, such an inviting blue, admiring the row of giant cerise-headed geraniums against the glass wall. They're loving the light and moisture in here, just as the purple orchids and pink camellias, orange trees, and crazy-looking succulents are.

Besides the great room and pool area, lovely natural light filters through the kitchen, living room and dining room, too. You won't find thick drapes or blinds in this house; the outside is welcome to come in.

But it's all very private. From every vantage point, you'd think you were in the country.

You can see an outdoor patio to one side. Down the hill is another pool and a deck surrounded by Norway spruces. "You don't have to get bored with one spot," D-J says.

Beyond the greenhouse is a woodsy mosaic of oak, maple, beech and evergreen trees. "Your basic forest," Howard says.

If you look closely, you'll see little treasures hidden out there - another patio with a pond, a purple obelisk, and a fun little birdhouse with a green roof that Howard built.

It's one of more than 20 birdhouses on the property that draw juncos, wrens, chickadees and goldfinches. One morning, Howard was startled by a great horned owl sitting on the second-floor master-bedroom railing.

Living in an inside that feels like the outside can be scary, too, such as when a tornado brought eight trees thundering down on the greenhouse (which was rebuilt).

"Then again," says D-J, who has an interior-design business, "we have beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and when it snows, it's unbelievable."

"Absolutely gorgeous," adds Howard, "like a fairyland."

Lighted stars hanging in the greenhouse add to that effect. Can you imagine sitting out here on a spring evening, the glass house's doors wide open, the soft air and spring sounds floating in?

"Oh yes," D-J says. "We come out here with a drink and just sit."

They also eat, read, play bridge and entertain in this part of the house.

The bar's in the greenhouse. (Careful of that pool behind you!) The buffet's laid out in the dining room. Guests eat at a large round table in the great room.

"This is one of the best parts of the house for entertaining," Howard says. "You never get stuck in one room."

Given the quality of the art and antiques here, we might not mind getting stuck in a room for a week or two. In 45 years of marriage, the Brosiuses have traveled to 56 countries, most recently Tunisia, and it appears they've brought things back from every one.

And do they like animals.

Animal images are everywhere: Cavalier King Charles spaniels and Highland cattle, elephants, bears, monkeys, horses, chickens, lizards, leopards, rabbits, pigs and fish on the walls and furniture, candlesticks and footstools.

Where there aren't animals, there are antique buggy benches and inlaid marble tables, a Pennsylvania walnut tall chest, and one especially interesting piece - a servant's hand-washing sink, called a lavabo, from 14th-century France.

The house was built in 1927 to replicate a Pennsylvania stone farmhouse from the late 1700s. It has wooden-peg, random-width floorboards and heavy molding, wide windowsills, a wood-shingle roof, and transoms over the doors.

It's nicely modern and comfortable and, with four bedrooms, three baths and two powder rooms, plenty large. The Brosiuses, who have two grown children, reserve two of those bedrooms for visiting granddaughters Isabella, 10, and Georgie, 8.

"You'd think this house would be too big for two people, but honest to goodness, we use the whole house," says D-J, who has momentarily forgotten one other inhabitant.

That would be Misu, the mighty PekinesePekingese who, it sometimes seems, is the actual ruler of this very grand roost.