Traditional Building Portfolio



Fluid Forms

A new Arts and Crafts-inspired house merges traditional forms and details with natural materials.

Project: Residence, Berwyn, PA

Architects: Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd., West Chester, PA; Peter C. Archer, AIA, principal; Richard D. Buchanan, AIA, principal; Douglas Mancuso, project team; Michele Thackrah, project team

General Manager: Dreamhouse Inc./Michael Sapowicz Contracting, Exton, PA

By Hadiya Strasberg

For a new residence in Berwyn, PA, Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd., of West Chester, PA, followed a simple program, but one that had impressive results. The clients requested a house that would comfortably fit a family of six as well as provide separate space for grandparents. The clients wanted to take advantage of the site and they were adamant that the house should be built to last, hoping that it would remain in the family for generations. Archer & Buchanan took these requests to the drafting table and designed an "epic" Arts and Crafts-inspired residence.

The house is located on a stone-walled plateau on the northwest side of the clients’ 12-acre property. When they purchased the land, there was a house on that very site, but it was dilapidated, and so it was demolished in 2003. "After discussions about working with the existing house, we decided that a new house would be designed," says Peter C. Archer, AIA, principal at Archer & Buchanan, "The former, a summer house built in the early-20th century, was completely uninsulated and had an inappropriate layout for this family. It was the site that was so spectacular."

The property is predominantly wooded to the north of the house and there are meadows in all other directions. The long vistas to the south, southeast and southwest were paramount in Archer & Buchanan’s decision to site the house where it did. "The landscape was mature and wonderfully scenic – a park-like setting," Archer describes.

Although the new house was sited in the same location as the old house had been, Archer & Buchanan’s design differed considerably. "While the previous house sat very formally on the plateau," says Archer, "we sited our house to grow into the landscape. We wanted it to ‘roll down’ the hillside." Stepped roof levels, a "butterfly" plan and the curves of the chimneys impart this appearance.

The clients were keenly interested in the approach to the house and requested that "the house be a sequence of experiences," says Archer. Together, they created a long, gently winding drive from the road that runs north and then curves around the house to the west. "You arrive at the house through three main sequences," he says. "Initially there is a distant view as one enters the drive. You then wind your way up the drive as the house peers through orchestrated openings in the trees. Finally, upon arrival at the north side, parking in the woods, you walk down stone steps to the entrance court and into the house."

The influence of the Arts and Crafts style is evident, but Archer explains that the design precedent was more complex. "The house is mixed in its inspiration," he says. "For the exterior forms and materials, we drew a lot from English Arts and Crafts houses, the likes of [Charles F.A.] Voysey, [Edwin] Lutyens and [M.H.] Baillie Scott. But we also looked at American Arts and Crafts houses of Greene & Greene, which are very different from the English ones."

For the exterior, Archer & Buchanan chose a simple, autumnal palate to complement the surrounding landscape. "The colors – natural browns, reds, beiges and copper – are very uniform," says Archer, "in order to bring cohesion to the design." The materials utilized in this project are also natural. "They are time tested and low maintenance," says Archer. "They were selected and detailed to age gracefully."

The house is anchored on a 16-in. concrete foundation. The exterior walls consist of 2x6 framing, 8 in. of concrete block and 1½ in. of concrete pebble-dash stucco. The stucco was supplied by Ardmore, PA-based Heritage Stucco and "carries on that sense of being ‘of the earth,’" says Archer.

Offsetting the stucco walls are limestone window surrounds from Vetterstone, Inc., of Kasota, MN, and quartersawn-oak brackets and window trim custom designed and fabricated by Edgemont, PA-based woodworker David Dugan. The exterior doors and windows are manufactured of 2½-in.-thick mahogany with copper exteriors. Archer describes the copper-cladding process: "To create a seamless copper exterior that is fully bonded to the mahogany, copper was electrostatically powderized and then mixed with resins. It was then sprayed on in five coats. The appearance is of full solid-copper doors and windows, but from the inside you have the warmth and longevity of mahogany."

Many of the windows, including those of the dining room, are leaded art glass designed by Archer & Buchanan. "The owners selected the four bands of colored glass," says Archer, "and then the window manufacturer, CWM of Bryn Mawr, PA, fabricated and installed them."

Uniquely shaped twin chimneys, finished in the same pebble-dash stucco as the exterior walls, are important elements. "The chimney forms, which are rounded at the fronts and tapered at the tops, have a sculptural presence," says Archer. Heavy-gauge copper guttering complements the copper-clad exterior elements. The roof, which was massed to seem as if it grows from the rise of a hill, is of English clay tile from Northern Roof Tiles of Dundas, Ontario. "At the request of the clients, the roof was designed to ‘drape’ the house," says Archer. It was installed by Glenmoore, PA-based Timothy Spillane, Inc.

Under the roof is a grand entry and stair hall, the main living spaces, five bedrooms, two studies and a sun porch. The living room, one of the central spaces, is sited so that it faces south, but is protected from the summer sun by the arc of a balcony above. Four-by-nine-ft. French doors open to a terrace, which features a pool. "The living room is the heart of the house, both physically and otherwise," says Archer. "It has a great immediate presence upon entering the house and wonderful views of the landscape beyond."

Separated from the living room by only an art-glass screen by glass artist Emily Selvin of Philadelphia, PA, the formal dining room is situated on the northern side of the house. It commands views of the woods through its double-story bay windows. The large kitchen, which includes a breakfast space, is open to the living room. "The owners wanted an open layout for the main family rooms," Archer explains.

Located opposite the family room and beyond the stair hall is the more modern master-bedroom suite, which includes a study, a bedroom, his and hers bath and dressing rooms, a covered porch and a balcony. Archer points out that the balcony "is cut into the roof, allowing one to experience the exterior of the house from within, which was another important request of the clients."

The four children’s bedrooms, all of which also have balconies, are secluded on the second floor, each taking advantage of the southern view. Three bathrooms, a study and an exercise room make up the remainder of the rooms on this floor.

From the second-floor exercise room, stairs lead down to an attached 1,800-sq.ft. cottage, which is the home of one set of grandparents. It is also accessible from a private entrance on the first floor or through the three-car garage. The cottage is a complete living space, with its own living and dining rooms, bedroom and bath, kitchen, sunroom and study. "It’s more contemporary in its design than the house," says Archer. "The ceilings are lower and the roof is flat, with glass around the exterior and two long skylights in the center. We conceived it as though it might have once been a greenhouse that was turned into a cottage."

In the main house, interior materials mimic some of those of the exterior, such as English quartersawn oak for the entry-hall stairs and stained-glass panels, designed and fabricated locally, for the kitchen cabinetry. The living-room floor is French clay tile, the walls are plaster and the ceiling is beamed. Other features of the living room are fireplaces – one at each end of the room – and a rondel art-glass screen that separates this room from the dining room. "The transparency of light and beauty of pattern are evident in the screen," says Archer. "It creates a nice backdrop for the furniture on each side."

While hand-selected mahogany veneers surround the screen, the wood in the master bedroom – quartersawn fissured English sycamore – is much lighter and is detailed in a very modern way, without embellishments. The flooring is stone and there is a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Douglas fir flooring was installed in the other bedrooms and throughout the second floor.

Archer & Buchanan’s clients had been dreaming of building a house for a long time. The right site, design and craftspeople finally came together, and in October 2005 the house was essentially completed. "It’s an ongoing process, and we will be finalizing details for some time," says Archer. "The experience of it is very much as we had conceived; it takes on a lot of different dimensions depending on where you are in the house or on the property."  

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