Visit an historic stone home in Virginia's horse country
It's no wonder that Janice and Cortright Wetherill feel at home in Pennsylvania horse country. They have had a lifelong love affair with horses. Daughter Amanda, now married, grew up with a passion for horses, and teenaged Cortie is one of the nation's top young equestrians. Here, where Cortright grew up, the couple was lured by a centuries-old stone house of irresistible character.
Smitten with the structure's historic charm, Cortright and Janice saw its potential as a year-round home. They admired the house's eclectic Colonial Revival style and were determined to bring it into the 21st century while honoring its past.
Shown here is the shaded lane leading to the Wetherills' house; just past the wrought-iron gates, the drive is flanked by horse stables.
Located in Chester County, 15 miles from Philadelphia, the original farmhouse dates to the 1700s. Although it had been enlarged several times, becoming a classic Main Line country home by the 1920s, it lived small and came up short in modern comforts. "This old house merited a renovation," says Janice. "We wanted to breathe new vitality into its soul."
Architect: John D. Milner, FAIA, John Milner Architects Inc., 104 Lakeview Dr., Chadds Ford, PA 19317; 610/388-0111.
Interior designer: Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman, Brockschmidt & Coleman LLC, 139 Reade St., New York, NY 10013; 212/608-5065.
Photography: Tria Giovan
Cortie Wetherill rides a champion large junior hunter, an Oldenburg named Cool Magic.
To lead their house's revival, Janice and Cortright turned to architect John Milner, a champion of historic vernacular home styles. In keeping with the Wetherills' vision of a comfortable, modern country home, Milner designed a three-level stone addition that harmonizes with the style of the historic house. The addition includes a conservatory with fanlight-topped French doors, a wine cellar, and a master bedroom suite. The new rooms feature elegant plaster ceilings with cove cornices, wood ceiling beams, hardwood floors, and arched doorways and windows that complement the original architecture. Despite their age differences, there is an easy flow between the new and old rooms.
On the main level, the bright and lofty conservatory draws family and friends like a magnet. Comfortable large-scale upholstered seating and an Oriental-style lacquered table from the 1920s anchor the generous room, while exquisite Louis XVI bergères lend sexy Gallic flair. The color palette of predominantly blues and neutrals is calming; Oriental rugs add warmth. The high-arched French doors maximize the home's panoramic views.
In creating an elegant but relaxed environment, interior designers Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman drew inspiration from the Wetherills' extraordinary range of antiques, fine art, and decorative objects spanning the centuries. "We explored their collections and discovered surprising connections," Coleman says. The design duo mixed the couple's treasures and favorite things with new furnishings, fabrics, and accessories throughout the house.
Around an elegant fireplace in the living room is a graceful grouping of period American and English chairs with a custom Chippendale-style sofa. Chinese Chippendale consoles, complemented by chinoiserie mirrors, blend with Asian ceramics and Oriental rugs to contribute a refined Far Eastern flavor. But the tour de force is the portrait of Cortright's great-grandmother Ella P. Widener, painted in 1903 by the master John Singer Sargent (see next slide).
The most celebrated portrait painter of his time, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was at the peak of his career in 1903, when he painted this portrait of Cortright Wetherill's great-grandmother Ella P. Widener. The artist captured her elegance and flair with dashing brush strokes and outstanding virtuosity.
The portrait influenced color choices for the living room. "We often take our cues for paints, fabrics, and trimmings from our clients' favorite possessions," interior designer Brockschmidt says. "The portrait certainly inspired the oyster silk curtains with coral and pale blue embellishments. Even the tassels and tiebacks were custom-matched to the distinctive blue of the painting."
Next to the living room, the bar and game room was refreshed with whitewashed walls. A new banquette runs the width of the sweeping lunette window on one wall. Silver commemorations testify that trophies have come like clockwork to family equestrian champions over many years.
One of the most prized of the Wetherills' many horse-racing trophies is the Preakness won in 1945 by Polynesian, a thoroughbred owned by Cortright's grandmother Gertrude T. Widener. Inaugurated in 1873, the Preakness Stakes is the second leg of American thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown and almost always attracts the winner of the Kentucky Derby.
Polynesian also had some notable success after he was retired from racing, siring the brilliant champion Native Dancer, who not only matched Polynesian's win in the Preakness but also went on to win the Belmont Stakes.
The wine cellar contains such eye-catchers as a massive Provençal farm table, a rare 18th-century French painted-linen wall hanging, and wine storage niches entered through arched doorways. The space was inspired by architect John Milner's visits to European wine cellars. It features white oak ceiling beams salvaged from old barn timbers and antique heart-pine flooring in random widths. "Some of these boards are as broad as 20 inches," Milner says. "They have a depth and richness of color not found in newly milled material."