A Bucks County Farmhouse Showcases Rustic Design

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on September 29, 2014.

One interior designer’s passion for fashion and love of antiques has inspired the bold design within a historic bucks county farmhouse.

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The 100-acre Bucks County property on which this historic and daringly decorated farmhouse sits includes a Chinese pavilion and a 17th century English-style hedge maze.

When designer Andrew Hartnagle traded his Rittenhouse Square townhouse for a place in the country, he considered his new Bucks County farmhouse as another antique to collect, just on a larger scale. What he did with the home over the next 25 years was everything that no one expected. “I wanted it to be dramatic, so I put an explosion of different finishes, colors, and fabrics throughout, so people looked alive in it,” he explains of incorporating his bold fashion sense and many English antiques into the house.

In fact, it was serendipitous that Twin Silo farm, as it is known, was just down the road from a home he created for the then-head of design for Vera Wang. The two would talk about fabrics and colors for everything from walls to clothing during the process. Some of these conversations influenced Hartnagle’s décor decisions, such as the foyer, done in bright yellow grasscloth with ebonized floors and featuring a curved staircase. In other rooms, he lacquered pine floors and used luxe materials like mahogany for doors and ceiling beams or onyx for floors. Bright, glossy elements were the perfect contrast to the “boringly grand” furniture he had bought over the years at auctions with his partner, Wayne Stark, a retired investment banker. Hartnagle credits his foundations as a designer to working for Philadelphia’s Carl Steele, whose eclectic interiors have been featured in The New York Times and House Beautiful.

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Hartnagle mixed English antiques with unexpected colors and patterns to arrive at his distinctive designs.

Perhaps Hartnagle’s favorite room at the farm was one that was ever changing—the great room—one he envisioned as a French salon. With vermilion and pink striped walls, he likens this treatment to the inside of a jewel box. “We used to have grand parties here, so I changed that room a lot. Varying the space from time to time was like changing the set design. When you fill the room with people, it’s spectacular,” he says. The walls dramatize the serious Chippendale mirrors, William Kent tables, and eight bronze d’or griffon sconces that make the room sparkle. To encourage guests to sit and talk, the designer put two sleek silk velvet sofas back to back and scattered four chairs from the 1840s in sapphire blue and gray stripes around the space. He added doors and trim made of mahogany. “The mix provides harmony in the space.”

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The dining room features Chinese-patterned fabric on the walls and sleek mahogany ceiling beams.

In the gallery, which connects the main house to one of the two additions, his painter applied six coats of brilliant red paint, and then he worked with him on buffing the walls with wax. For an added dose of glamour, he chose metallic silver paint for the ceiling. The dining room was given a luxe makeover with Chinese-patterned fabric on the walls, replacing the rough-hewn beams with sleek mahogany ones, and covering the 10 chairs he bought at an auction with embroidered silk green velvet. In each room, sculptures and large oil canvasses of New Hope Impressionists give guests more eye candy. Of the unusual choices he made throughout the house, Hartnagle admits, “Some don’t understand it, but they’ve always loved it. They thought it was fresh and forward-thinking.”

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The hedge maze has been a talking point of many a garden tour.

The designer also made sure certain rooms would offer a bird’s-eye view of the 100-acre property. In the study, there is a set of three doors, two of which open to a New Orleans–style balcony, which overlooks the patio, pavilions, barn, and garden. Years ago, when there was little there, he studied books on the famous English gardeners of the late 19th century to develop his plan for a garden that has since been the scene for many a tour. “I wanted to create gardens that would further embellish and give continuity to the iconic 18th century structures on the property,” Hartnagle says. The gardens include alleys, a 17th-century English-style hedge maze, and a three-acre pond replete with a peninsula and a Chinese pavilion. Each morning, he gets his hands dirty working there and planning new areas.

Now that the property is complete, the couple will move to a new place nearby, where Hartnagle will develop a residence that has a more modern feel. “I look forward to working on a new home and garden, but I will miss this one,” he says. “There is a mystique about this property. Everyone who knows this farm loves it as we have.” Linda Danese, Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty, 6038 Lower York Road, New Hope, 215-794-1300

Home Tour: Dan and Sarah Keating’s Dream Abode

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on August 28, 2014.

As Dan And Sarah eating embark on their next chapter in life, the couple reflects on their rustic main line dream home.

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A new wing was designed to respect the rustic, vernacular nature of the existing house.

Twenty years ago, Daniel Keating bought an enviable seven-acre property that overlooked the 100-acre Morris Arboretum in Gladwyne, tearing down the existing house and building a Colonial for his wife, Sarah, and their six children. But even then, he dreamed of an addition that reminded him of his trips out West. “I wanted a product that showed the talents of the craftsmen working on it,” says Keating, a third-generation builder and the owner of The Keating Companies, Philadelphia-based real estate developers best known for buildings like The Union League and The Phoenix.

He wanted this new wing to echo the work of architect Peter Bohlin, whose designs include The Barn at Fallingwater outside Pittsburgh and the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York. “He creates extraordinary buildings,” says Keating. “He has a passion for the vernacular that is rustic, highly artisanal in outlook.”

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The swimming pool, designed by BLTA architects, predates the renovated house and became the redesign impetus for the whole structure.

Bob Henderson, master architect on staff at Keating, began to sketch plans. It would sit on a hill and feature a 20-by-40-foot pool, a guest suite, and a fireplace. After completing a 3-D sketch, he suggested it be fashioned in timber and steel.

The onus then fell to architect Alfred Dragani of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to articulate a plan. Keating provided recycled wood he’d purchased from an old barn in Connecticut, and Dragani pieced it together, with sweeping glass expanses helping unite indoors and out. The end product looks as though it belongs in a luxe ski resort. “The world unfolds when you step onto the property,” Keating says. “It’s as if you are at a resort in Montana or Wyoming.”

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The main entrance sets the tone for the western-themed interior.

Once the addition was complete, the Keatings had Dragani reconstitute the house exterior to match the style of the addition. Keating wanted a more open floor plan, so Dragani took down existing partitions to create space. “A palette of natural and recycled materials was utilized throughout for a rustic, yet modern character,” says Dragani. Rooflines and windows were altered. The exterior would now seem much better connected to the outdoors. “The home now feels like a Frank Lloyd Wright house,” Henderson says. “It’s part of the land.”

Another unlikely meeting paired Keating with interior designer Floss Barber, who joined the expanding team. Barber and her firm did the interior finishes, walls, furnishings, and some art.

Keating emphasized that the home had to feel accessible. “We wanted to be able to enjoy all the rooms,” he jokes.

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The dining room is an intimate space that recalls the old West.

Barber began with the dramatic entrance, which includes a monumental staircase. An oversize bronze bunny purchased at a gallery out West greets incoming visitors; in a humorous twist, both Dan and Sarah wanted to get it as a surprise gift for the other. Barber was forced to play the secret middleman—fielding surreptitious calls from both Dan and Sarah before convincing Dan not to buy it so Sarah could surprise him with it. “Their tastes are really that in sync,” Barber laughs.

The rugs are works of art as well—Barber had them custom made through the New Moon Mesa collection—and she found Spanish colonial antiques at Colonial Frontiers in Tucson.

The couple will downsize this fall when they move to The Phoenix to begin a new chapter in life, but they are leaving with happy memories. “The house has been fantastic,” says Keating. “We have raised our children here and used every room.” Eva McKendrick, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Fox & Roach Realtors, 1149 W. Lancaster Ave., Rosemont 610-527-6400

Home Tour: A Laid-Back Beach Home on the Jersey Shore

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on May 18, 2014.

A suburban couple’s beachside home reflects their new, laid-back lifestyle at the Jersey Shore.

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The living room at Karen and Hubert Jasinski’s Bella Condos penthouse showcases their style.

It is rare someone winds up thankful that a deal for a potential dream home falls through. But for Karen Jasinski and her husband, Hubert, being narrowly outbid for a Millionaires’ Row home on the Inlet in Atlantic City turned out to be an unexpected boon. With their disappointment still fresh, a call from Karen’s business partner led to the purchase of a unit at Bella Condos in Atlantic City. She was always against living in an “elevator building” as she was accustomed to the wide-open spaces of her five-acre Montgomery County farm, where she drives to her mailbox daily. But with a little coaxing, Karen was convinced to give high-rise living a trial run.

She soon found that she really loved the many conveniences of a staffed 24-hour concierge building and became a quick convert to this more pampered lifestyle. Before long, a penthouse became available, and she and Hubert—owners of a medical manufacturing lab in Lansdale—traded their unit for the two-floor, three-bedroom standout, commissioning the condo’s main designer, Janet Espenshade of Espenshade Interiors in Bryn Mawr, to have the place move-in ready in 30 days. Espenshade’s contemporary “upscale seashore style” interiors had already earned rave reviews from many of the building’s other residents, and she was up for the challenge.

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The kitchen features stainless steel countertops.

Espenshade, who also crafted the interiors for 1706 Rittenhouse, used glistening travertine floors throughout the Jasinskis’ home. The contemporary kitchen now boasts Italian cabinetry, glass hood and tile, and a built-in cappuccino machine. A stainless steel counter peninsula overlooks a dining area with rich wood and upholstered dining chairs.

Espenshade kept all the windows uncovered so the focal point of the home would be the view. “I was able to make it so much more than what you see at the Shore,” she says, admitting that while the home is not your typical Shore house interior, its modern elegance sets it apart: “I think it is the most glamorous building in Atlantic City.”

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The designer, Janet Espenshade, decorated the house with a contemporary “upscale seashore style”.

In the penthouse’s living room she constructed a custom glass and marble fireplace, and in the master bedroom, Espenshade used a creamy yellow for the sumptuous linens. The guest bedroom is done in shades of slate gray and pink. Off the master bedroom there is a curved balcony with impressive views of the city. “I think most people who have second homes want cleaner and lighter,” says the designer. “They may have the big, traditional home in the suburbs and now they want something that is easier to care for but has plenty of room.” The Jasinskis’ country home is just that—an Italian-style design with generous rooms that flow into one another and that are filled with art and collections. But for Karen, the Shore condo is her modern version of a European-style pied-à-terre, complete with a collection of vintage pin-up art curated by her husband.

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The guest bedroom in creamy yellow.

Now Jasinski and her husband hop in the car and enjoy the dining, gaming, and entertainment that have become part of their weekend routine. “During the day, we take our bikes and go to Gardner’s Basin near Borgata in the afternoon. It is like a mini Key West with its bars and restaurants.”

But the couple treasures quieter time in their beachside home when they need to press pause on their busy lives. “The unit is an oasis—an elegant functional home away from home,” says Karen. For Hubert, the vibrancy and accessibility of the city is the most exciting aspect of their luxe retreat. “When I go to turn in at night and look at the city lights, I often wonder how I can sleep when the city is so alive.” Bella Condos, 526 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City, 609-344-6200

Chase & Jen Utley’s 3-Level Penthouse Hits the Market

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on November 22, 2013.

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Citizens Bank Park can be seen from the home’s terrace.

Chase and Jen Utley may be one of the city’s most high-profile couples, but when it came time for the Phillies second baseman and his wife to decide where to move, they were lured to the suburbs for the same reason that so many other young parents are: They wanted a yard.

“For us, it’s getting harder and harder to have a toddler and a dog in the city. We’d love to have a yard for both of them—it would just be easier,” says Jen with a tinge of sadness as she talks about the 4,500-square-foot residence at the Ayer that the couple recently put on the market for $4.3 million. “It’s time.”

From the moment the Utleys moved to Philadelphia in 2005, they knew they wanted to live in Center City. While the Rittenhouse area may have been the expected choice, they preferred the privacy and slower pace of Washington Square. They rented there for a time, and one day, after a trip to the gym, they stepped into the Art Deco–style Ayer building. They were curious. The landmark circa-1929 property, previously home to the ad agency N.W. Ayer, was being converted to condos. It featured a spectacular lobby and impressive period details, like exterior carvings and a massive bronze front door. “It was our first real home,” says Jen, “and I think we knew when we walked in.” Chase says they both loved the character of the building, but having everything new and updated was “the icing on the cake.” The couple bought raw space in the property in June 2008 and, smitten with architect Michael Ryan’s sample unit (he is also a resident), signed him to convert their penthouse and the apartment below it into a three-story home with two terraces and a private elevator.

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Chase and Jen Utley.

“We were such newbies to the design process, and yet we knew what we liked,” Jen says. The toughest part for Ryan was stitching together those two apartments. One way he did so was by creating two sets of steel-framed wooden floating staircases with glass railings. The Utleys also asked him to add a bar to the lower level. “I’d like to think that area was part my doing—or at least Jen has told me that,” jokes Chase. In fact, Ryan says, Chase attended every design meeting. The architect even flew down to Phillies spring training to get plans approved by the couple. “Mike had great ideas,” says Chase. One was a stainless steel top for the dark-stained, textured-wood bar. Adds Jen, “We have had some great celebrations down here.” The lower floor also includes a media room (Chase’s favorite spot) and guest bedrooms. “Up and down, Mike made this space feel like a house,” Jen says. “You hire these professionals for a reason, and since we moved in, we have never changed a thing.”

When it came time to find and work with an interior designer who could give the modern space a fresh look, Jen took over. She asked friends at her yoga studio for recommendations and foundGreg Augustine. Like Ryan, he had no idea who the Utleys were, surprisingly, but he and Jen immediately hit it off. “She has impeccable taste and we like so many of the same things,” says the designer. Because their lives involve so much travel, the Utleys asked him for a home that was calm and soothing. “We wanted it to be modern but sophisticated,” says Augustine, “but still approachable and not showy.”

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The oversize kitchen is perfect for big family gatherings.

Jen and the designer both love grays and used the cool neutral tone throughout. “It’s very ethereal, soft, and subdued,” Augustine explains. The accents are in icy blue, deep blue, and eggplant. Luxury details include floors of stone or walnut and walls of glass or stone. One of Jen’s favorite walls—in a light-gray blue polished marble with just the right amount of shimmer—separates the stairway from the oversize Bulthaup kitchen, featuring gray riffed-oak cabinetry and walnut floors. While she doesn’t cook all that much (she confesses to preferring the convenience of Talula’s Garden, just downstairs), she has hosted family from California for Thanksgiving.

The living room, with its 11-foot ceilings, has tailored gray flannel sofas and a silk hand-knotted rug. “I love our living room at night,” says Jen. “The whole house is windows. There are two terraces, and from one you can see bits of the Delaware and from another you can see south all the way down to the park.”

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Chase and Jen Utley’s former home is the consummate clubhouse.

In the dining room, Augustine had stone floors and stairs installed and gave the room a bit of drama with a custom chandelier made of hundreds of delicate, smoky quartz stones and vintage silk-wrapped bulbs. Beneath it, the custom walnut table—with a lacquered top and modern chrome legs—seats 12. The walls are grass cloth in steely blue, and on one hangs an oversize sepia photo of wild horses by Robert Dutesco. The backdrop is the adjacent terrace and views of the city.

When Augustine was working on the house, the Utleys had just adopted two cats, Sugar and Sebastian. Jen, who volunteers tirelessly with the Pennsylvania SPCA and has helped raise more than $1.5 million for the organization through The Utley Foundation, asked the designer that no animal products be used in the house. After moving in, they added Jack, a pit bull. Says Jen, “My friends joke that Jack, who is gray and white, matches the house.”

In 2011, son Benjamin joined the family, and he’s the main reason the Utleys are bidding the city a bittersweet adieu. “We’ve loved living in Philly all these years,” says Chase. “The city has grown so much since we first moved here, and we wanted to be a part of that, but we have a little guy now. We’ll miss so much about [living here] and this home, but we’re also excited to start a new chapter.”For more information, contact Melanie Stecura of Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty. 226 W. Rittenhouse Sq., Ste. 102, 215-735-2225

Art is Key in Rittenhouse Home

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on November 12, 2013.

In 33 years of marriage, one thing Lynda and Larry Gross always agree upon is art. To celebrate their anniversary each May, they almost always buy an oil or watercolor painting, a bronze statue, or even a cultural artifact. So when their nest was close to empty, and they looked to move from a sprawling suburban home to the city, they didn’t want to deny their beloved trove of artwork the square footage it so richly deserved. Their hunt began in earnest in 2006, and they had two caveats: they didn’t want to build, and they didn’t want to live on Rittenhouse Square.

A year later the couple offers a collective shrug when explaining that they live in a penthouse condominium in the Parc Rittenhouse, a place they built from a shell, thanks to a little nudging from developer Allan Domb. How did they get there? A few failed deals, including a floor-to-ceiling glass condo in a new building, led them to meeting Domb, who suggested constructing “what they really wanted,” and who assembled a team that even included his architect of choice, Spence Kass. The result is a spacious, airy space with many old-world details, and a perfect setting for their art.

In January 2011 Kass sketched out what he could do with the blank space after his wife, Laura, came to the Grosses’ sprawling colonial in Lower Gwynedd to measure and inventory the collection. Project architect Michelle Colville listened to what they loved about their current home—and more plans were made. The apartment, which took just seven months to build, features three bedroom suites, a supersize kitchen, a media room, a library and office, and a living room/dining room/music room, which holds their grand piano and other beloved instruments.

There is a sense of peace and space the minute you walk into the apartment. Kass and Colville created a backdrop that fosters enjoying rooms where art can also be enjoyed, gallery style. The entrance foyer features an ethereal portrait by Charles Dwyer, Contemplating Blue, one of their favorites and bought in Boston for their 25th anniversary. Also in the foyer is Autumn Rain, James Scoppettone’s original oil of a meandering forest path the pair acquired in Hawaii for their 20th anniversary. Antique chairs complement the setting.

In the living room and dining room, art and instruments enjoy equal billing. Near the entrance to the kitchen is The Blue Painter, an original lithograph by Marc Chagall (acquired from Israel for their 19th anniversary). Kass and Colville fashioned the long hallway leading from the living spaces to the bedrooms into something of a gallery. “Their art is interesting. It brings life to the home,” says Kass, who chose moldings with enough detail to highlight, rather than distract from, the collection. He also gave the space arched portals and coffered ceilings to give it warmth. Floors are also artful: Decorative marquetry, using six different types of wood species, was installed in the foyer and outside the master bedroom.

Woodworker Victor Rossi did all of the apartment’s millwork and built-ins, including the rich cabinetry in the library, which doubles as an office. “We really live in the office and in the kitchen,” says Larry. Because Lynda and one of her daughters like to cook, the kitchen is a focal point and is as big as the one they left in the suburbs.

The kitchen opens up to the media room on one side and the music room on the other. They employed an acoustic specialist to soundproof the music room and other parts of the home. “We built essentially two walls near the piano,” says Larry, who has played since he was six (Lynda does, too) and loves to have his daughters and wife accompany him on vocals. “All of us sing with varying degrees of proficiency and play a variety of other instruments,” he says. The couple toasted the move and their most recent anniversary by buying two period etchings—a map and a landscape of the city during the Revolutionary period. The Grosses’ transition to the city has been seamless. “We can’t believe how easy it has been,” says Lynda. “Our home feels like a retreat, and now we are part of this vibrant community.”

Wayne Home Recalls Main Line History

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on September 12, 2013.

Architect Frederick L. Bissinger thinks a style can’t simply be copied. “Style is a language,” he says. “If you can speak the language well, you can write new poetry with old words.” Bissinger has been designing traditional homes for the well-heeled here since 1970. One such project is on the site of the former Schmidt beer estate in Wayne. The property’s Victorian residence burned down, but in 1997 these coveted three acres were purchased by a couple who dreamed of building a family home where they could raise their children and entertain often.

Bissinger created Honeystone, an 12,800-square-foot residence in a style he calls Artisan Revival, with English Georgian influences. “This kind of home revives the fine craftsmanship, details, and high-quality materials used in the first third of the 20th century,” the architect says. “If you look at the great old houses on the Main Line, you will see they’re made of stone and cut limestone and they have nice doorways. All of these materials and features are back in style. They are expensive, but people are willing to pay for them.”

All of his clients, including Honeystone’s owners, want a custom design, so Bissinger made certain the six-bedroom, seven-and-a-half-bathroom house was filled with ornamental details that would not be seen anywhere else. One is the front door, with its copper repoussé fan light, created by a Massachusetts coppersmith and framed in limestone. For the roof Bissinger chose natural Vermont slate; the principal is all stone; and the windows and doors are trimmed with Indiana limestone cut in Canada and installed by local masons. Inside are carefully scaled rooms—some grander, for entertaining, and others intimate, like the library, the kitchen, and the family room, which overlook the private grounds.

Bissinger called on Edwin Mahoney, of Bryn E.B. Mahoney Builders, to execute his ideas for the interior. A third-generation suburban builder, Mahoney employed veteran crafts-people to do the millwork and stonework. “People who want an old house want the kind of detailing we put in this house—the chiseled stone, the custom ironwork gates and clay chimney caps,” he explains. “It’s off the wall, not off the shelf.” Bissinger, who knows quite a bit about woodworking himself, feels that his knowledge of this craft and other artisanal details makes his designs better: “If you’re educated about a craft, it helps you to choose the right materials and design for the maximum effect.”

One of Bissinger’s signatures is to uncover details meaningful to the client and incorporate them in the residence. “Sometimes I ask homeowners about carving something into a fireplace,” he says. “I make sure people feel their house is theirs.” For this project, the owners presented him with three antique stained-glass windows from an old church in Maine. Mahoney had the windows releaded and framed, and the architect made them a focal point of the entrance, creating a dramatic staircase and landing so visitors can enjoy them from up close and afar. Adds Bissinger, “They liked the idea of an important wooden-rail stairway with heavy millwork around the windows.”

Now the home is on the market. Agent Susan Ravenscroft, of Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty, says the house, priced at $5.75 million, looks grand even from the driveway. The Belgian block courtyard is set with an antique millstone provided by the client’s father. A series of terraces lines the exterior, some offering views of the home’s exquisite gardens and lawns or its heated swimming pool and spa area, complete with a fully outfitted pool house.

“The architect did such a wonderful job siting the house on this beautiful piece of property,” says Ravenscroft. “From so many rooms in the house, you can sit and look at the rolling lawns or see the snow fall from the octagonal eating area off the kitchen or from the family room. There really is attention to all the details and the fine craftsmanship of houses from another era.” For more information, contact Susan D. Ravenscroft, 610-213-3515, or David B. Harrington, 610-636-8266. Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty, 6038 Lower York Road, New Hope