Exterior integration

Sullivan Building & Design Group ushers historical stone farmhouse into 21st century.

July 08, 2013
Dormers on the new addition ran through eaves, keeping its rooflines lower than

Dormers on the new addition ran through eaves, keeping its rooflines lower than the original stone building.

Seeking a country home for summer and weekend getaways, a New York City family purchased a 19th-century house in Bucks County, Pa. The 10-acre property, which sits at the end of a private lane, includes a pond, built-in swimming pool, and mature woodlands, all of which had been neglected while the residence remained vacant for years.

The new homeowners wanted to keep intact the main structure of the home, which is a traditional mid-1800s stone farmhouse typical of southeastern Pennsylvania. A 600-square-foot 1970s addition containing a kitchen and family room had been attached previously, but its exterior façade was a mishmash of colors and materials that did not complement the original stone house.

After hearing from a local resident about the historic renovations of Sullivan Building & Design Group, Quakertown, Pa., the homeowners approached the design-build firm in early 2010 with the intention of removing all prior alterations to the house and making sure the new addition blended seamlessly.

“The criteria was to make the stone house still feel like the prominent feature of the structure, but add significant amount of square footage and have it tie in with the period [in which the home was originally built],” says Bradley Sullivan, designer and co-owner of Sullivan Building & Design Group.

The homeowners signed a contract for $905,000, which encompassed the whole-house renovation and included the exterior facelift.

Planning the new

The company demolished the 1970s addition during the design phase, which lasted about six months. The firm also began restoring the stone portion of the house during that time because the rehab did not require extensive design considerations. Sullivan and his team basically followed a pattern book to recreate details consistent with the home’s original era.

Product list

Windows (new addition): Marvin Windows and Doors

Patio doors (new addition): Marvin Windows and Doors

Exterior trim: Cider Press Woodworks

Paint:vBenjamin Moore

Fixtures:Kohler; Rohl; Grohe

Windows (stone building): Cider Press Woodworks

Doors (stone building): Cider Press Woodworks

Although the homeowners sought exterior harmony that invoked the home’s considerable history, they lacked a specific plan to reach that goal. “They weren’t really sure what they wanted to do, so we led them through each step along the way,” Sullivan says.

The client journeyed from Manhattan to Bucks County for consultation about once every two weeks, Sullivan adds. Both parties would collaborate for a day on design and also work their way through the selection process. The firm even reciprocated travel every now and then.

“Sometimes we would take trips to Manhattan where we would go shopping at some of the showrooms in the city,” Sullivan says.

The firm presented numerous exterior design ideas to the homeowners, who were receptive to each suggestion and did not question Sullivan’s approach. An area of contention, however, proved to be the home’s rooflines and how the new addition aligned with the original building.

The homeowners insisted on keeping the rooflines lower than the main stone structure, but the company did not commit initially. The parties went back and forth for several months, trading various impressions of what should be done.

In the end, the firm agreed maintaining the lower rooflines achieved the client’s primary objective: expand the home’s size but ensure the stone portion remains the essence. “It sacrificed some bedroom space on the second floor, and mechanical spaces were difficult to find on the second floor, but I think the overall aesthetic definitely met the goal of keeping the stone house as the major focus on the building,” Sullivan says.

The firm wanted to incorporate dormers in the roof of the new addition, but installing them topside would have conflicted with the decision to keep all rooflines lower than the stone edifice; instead, Sullivan and the homeowners opted to situate the dormers through the eaves so that they kept a low profile and acted as natural breaks in the roofline.

Restoring the old

Capturing the details of the original farmhouse and recreating those nuances in the home’s renovation required diligence. Sullivan molded shaper cutters to the exact profile of existing mouldings and used them to craft matching trim for the stone structure as well as the rest of the house.

The firm sourced local pine and milled all of the trim through its custom woodshop, Cider Press Woodworks. The company also reinstalled a classic tongue-and-fork rafter system on the stone building and handmade new windows with authentic restoration glass that replicated the original units. Windows in the new addition were replaced with updated, energy-efficient units that also embraced the same style as the original windows in the old farmhouse.

Refurbishing a stone house presented a challenge to Sullivan and his team because they had to pay close attention to existing details before displacing anything, and stay within the proportions of the structure. The specialized building type necessitated custom materials in nearly every instance; the firm even used cut nails driven by hand to fasten wood components, Sullivan says.

During the demolition phase of the project, the company removed all existing wood and window units from the farmhouse so all that stood was literally a rock shell. The original stone home had suffered significant settling damage over the years, so the firm had to take out all of the floor joists. Starting in the basement, Sullivan and his team set laser lines and worked their way from the bottom up, leveling new but historically accurate floor joists and windows.

Despite the tediousness and difficulty of working with the stone portion of the residence, Sullivan appreciated the craftsmanship of the original farmhouse. “The old stone houses of the Northeast are some of the best structures that the United States has ever built,” he says.

A combination of stained wood clapboard siding, cedar shake roof, and natural cedar posts and beams ultimately complement the restored stonework of the old home. The firm outfitted the new addition—which includes two bedrooms and a full bath upstairs as well as a new family room, kitchen, and powder room downstairs—with handsome porches on all three sides.

The company also added a small entry roof to emphasize the front door and selectively removed trees surrounding the house to allow more sunlight to filter into the home and highlight the updated façade.

Accomplishing the task

Sullivan Building & Design Group completed the whole-house project in August 2011, just 18 months after initial contact with the homeowners, who “always” suggest the firm to prospective clients, Sullivan says.

The company and the homeowners purposely left the contract open-ended to account for fits and finishes that would not be selected until later in the job. The client submitted extras and change orders during the whole-house project totaling $50,000. 

The homeowners now seek to renovate a brownstone residence in Manhattan and asked Sullivan, who has also crafted furniture for them through Cider Press Woodworks, about recommendations regarding general contractors. Sullivan will be handling all of the millwork responsibilities, he says. PR

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