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