By Kathleen Nicholson Webber
Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on July 10, 2013.
Alexander Greenwood and his business partner, Elric Endersby, of The New Jersey Barn Company(908-702-8896) are preservationists at heart. Their daily routine is turning one person’s debris into another’s storied abode. Acting on weekly calls from developers, farmers, and historical groups, they swoop in to save old barns from the wrecking ball, then disassemble and catalogue them, hoping to someday find each one a new owner and a second life as a guesthouse, a garage for antique cars, a party barn, or—in the case of one Bryn Mawr couple—a luxury antique pool house.
“We’re like an adoption agency,” says Greenwood. “We try and match a barn we have to an owner and their needs.” The pair have been rescuing structures in the area since the late ’70s and have placed them in sites like Bucks County, the Main Line, and eastern Long Island for clients as high brow as Steven Spielberg, Larry David, and Bill Murray.
For the Bryn Mawr project, a modest-size post-and-beam structure called the Atchely Wagon House, dating to 1847 and found on a farm outside Hopewell, New Jersey, was the perfect fit for the property. As with many of its projects, the company provided design services for the interior, working with architect Christopher Pickell of Flemington, New Jersey, a frequent collaborator, and general contractor Jim Littleton of Flourtown on a design focused on entertaining. The new wagon house’s frame is done in rich, authentic white oak, and the building features an open living and dining room, with a rustic stone fireplace as the centerpiece. The oversize doors to the dining area open onto a terrace of recycled pine and the pool beyond. Because space was limited in the kitchen, it was carefully planned for efficiency.
With rich wood countertops and painted wood cabinets, it feels as if it could be a boat’s galley. Upstairs, a second fireplace warms guests who are using the changing room or bathroom after a swim. From this perch, visitors can also get a closer look at the garden, thanks to large doors that the homeowners like to keep open for fresh air.
Landscape architect Charles Hess, of Hess Landscape Architects (1570A Sumneytown Pike, Lansdale, 215-855-5530), also had a hand in this extensive project. He was charged with siting the barn in front of the pool and with views of the spa, garden rooms, and seating areas. Hess, who has worked on projects as varied as Horace Trumbauer properties on the Main Line and lush estates in the Bahamas, gave a nod to the turn-of-the-century Pennsylvania-style main house in his design for the new “antique” pool house.
It took him almost eight months to plan and another eight to complete the project. He pulled away overgrown gardens near the pool and created shaded living areas around the water. Hess and his team built a covered porch, an arbor, a seating area in front of the barn, walkways, and an elevated spa whose hot water overflows into a trough and then recirculates in the pool. To transition from the main house’s library to the outdoors, the elegant arbor is draped in wisteria. He fashioned garden rooms framed by boxwoods and filled with roses, hydrangeas, spring flowers, tree lilacs, and yellowwood trees.
In front of the pool house is a terrace that Hess built and a soft sequence of steps to a lower terrace and the water features. Patios are done in flagstone with antique brick perimeters. To differentiate the front yard from the back, he fashioned a custom hairpin fence, which blends in with the landscape. “The space is comfortable and has interesting features for guests and for the homeowners,” Hess says. “This was a great collaboration that has a richness throughout, melding the outside with the distinct architecture of the home and the pool house.”
Greenwood is pleased with how the wagon house—which was going to be demolished to make way for an office building—fits into the design. “It is very satisfying to rescue something that was soon to be debris and now has value and purpose,” he says. “It’s like a piece of art.”