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HOMEOWNER - John and Susan Blair

LOCATION - Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

BUILDER & ARCHITECT - Blair Homes
610.865.4200 / www.blaircustomhomesinc.com

BUILT - Completed in 1998

LIVING SPACE - 8,500 square feet plus pool house and attached carriage house

PROPERTY - Five acres of rolling hills overlooking an adjacent golf-course fairway

STYLE - Fieldstone and painted clapboard with an early-American farmhouse motif

FAVORITE ROOM - Three-season, east-facing sunroom is "cheerful and warm" for breakfast, comfortably cool later in the day

HER FAVORITE PASTIMES - Baking, cooking, and playing golf

HIS FAVORITE PASTIMES - Working on the house, spending time with the kids, and playing golf

HOUSE-BUILDING TIP - "Write down your ideas and organize the pictures you've cut out so your architect and builder can go through them and help you put together your dream house"

The Kitchen

Luxurious Living Room

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — First-time visitors to the Blair home assume John and Susan bought an early-1800s stone farmhouse and added onto it in the manner of many other Bucks County homes. That's exactly the impression John and Susan hoped to create when they built the house five years ago.

Their objective was to reproduce, in every detail, both the interior and exterior appearance of a simple early-American farmhouse which, along with its carriage house, had been expanded over the years. Though such a farmhouse might have started out as little more than four stone walls with a roof, a fireplace, and an upstairs loft for sleeping, John explains that as families grew, so did the house, with each addition reflecting the architectural trends of the time — and the owner's prosperity.

John, like his father before him a builder by profession, had for years been jotting down ideas for just such a house. He based his drawings on extensive research and consultation with friends "a lot more knowledgeable than I am."

He liked starting from scratch rather than renovating an older home where he and Susan would have no choice in the layout. They knew, for example, that they wanted the kitchen to be near the garage for carrying in groceries, and the family room to be next to the kitchen. Building gave them that kind of flexibility.


John and Susan Blair's new estate was built to look like an early-1800s stone farmhouse. Shop Outdoor Living.

When they at last found the right property — five picturesque acres overlooking the thirteenth fairway of the Weyhill Golf Course at Saucon Valley Country Club — John began putting it all together. "The site gave us the enthusiasm to design our dream home," he says.

RE-CREATING HISTORY

For greater historical authenticity, John borrowed architectural details and building practices from earlier periods. Stonemasons layered exterior walls, sandwiching thinner stones between large cornerstones for structural support, while interior walls were rough-plastered to mimic the coarse hay-lime-water mixture that coated 19th-century farmhouses. (Plaster is not only more durable than sheetrock, says John, but its greater density has soundproofing qualities.)

Floors of random-width knotty pine and chestnut planking (some as wide as fourteen inches) were laid the old-fashioned way using three-inch cut nails. "You can look down at the floor and see little black rings from the nails," John says.

Thick bluestone sills were installed at doorways and, at the windows, functioning shutters with hand-forged hardware. "You can go out and shut them like they did in the old days to keep out the elements and protect themselves. People also used shutters to close up the house when they were away for an extended period of time. First-floor shutters were solid, while shutters on the second floor were louvered to ventilate the sleeping rooms. Our shutters are just the same."


A made-to-order reproduction of an early-period table contributes to the dining room's "formal country charm." Shop Furnishings & Décor.

Authentic chestnut barn beams were hewn by hand to create stairway posts, balusters, and railings. Adding to the farmhouse charm were Dutch doors and interior transoms, cast-plaster chair rails and crown moldings, beaded and pegged three- and four-piece door and window casings, and wainscoting of beaded board and raised wood panels. Every countertop in the house is either granite, wood, or kirkstone, a slate-like material imported from England.

Antiqued brick walls, floors, and fireplaces were arranged in a Flemish-bond pattern, alternating one large brick and one half brick. "Every other brick had to be cut," says John. "It took more labor, but that's what you see when you look at old farmhouses." Even the method used to lay the bricks was authentic. "Since we didn't want the joint to be smooth and concave, we used a burlap bag and stick to make it flush and textured."

Transitional contrasts were intentionally incorporated into the design to reinforce the appearance that the home had been added onto. The living room's antiqued, wide-width planked-pine flooring, for example, steps up to a less-dated breakfast area with narrower, natural-finish heart-pine flooring that runs perpendicular to the living room flooring.

Though their taste ran to early-period farmhouses, John and Susan decided to borrow the best features of farmhouses throughout the ages rather than limit themselves to a specific period or style. The wrap-around porch, though not common to all farmhouses, was one of them; likewise barrel-rolled ceilings which didn't show up until a later period. "They're not the same as a tray ceiling or hip ceiling or vaulted ceiling," John explains. "They're slightly elliptical — a nice touch in the living room and master bedroom." And many of the home's locks are box locks taken out of early twentieth-century farmhouses.

"Every other brick had to be cut. It took more labor, but that's what you see when you look at old farmhouses."

Though John is a stickler for detail, he was willing to compromise when it came to gutters. True, the Blair home was to have the same slate roof as its centuries-old counterparts — but unlike them it would also have gutters and downspouts for draining rainwater. "When gutters did appear," says John, "they would have been galvanized. Later on, gutters on the nicer estates would been half-round copper. That's what we used."

MAKING THE HOUSE A HOME

"I designed the house in about five months," says John. "I knew what I wanted — that was the easy part. The hard part was getting things to flow right: traffic patterns and size and spaces. The challenge was to take an 8,500 square foot house and make it feel cozy, like you could go anywhere in the house and put your feet up."

How did they pull it off? The use of natural materials — brick and wood and stone — created a warm, welcoming atmosphere as did extensive wainscoting and millwork. The family room took on the look of a barn, complete with chestnut beams, antique-brick floor, light-admitting cupola, and two-story hayloft ladder that's draped with quilts to keep the kids from climbing.

Even the pool house exudes cozy farmhouse charm with its fieldstone walls, working fireplace, belt-driven paddle fans, shuttered windows with flower boxes, and bluestone patio.


John created the powder-room wash basin from an antique Hepplewhite sideboard
Susan had found. Shop Bed & Bath.

Furnishing the house with antiques made each room all the more inviting. "We came from a house similar to this," says John, "so we weren't really changing our look. A lot of furniture from the old home fit right into this house."

John and Susan had been collecting antiques since they first got married, an eclectic mix of early American, some French pieces, and whatever caught their eye. "If it's something unique and something of good quality, and if we like it and it fits our taste, we purchase it."

OLD-FASHIONED CHARM, HIGH-TECH AMENITIES

Though the home was built following centuries-old architectural guidelines, it's loaded with twenty-first century accommodations that facilitate everday tasks and improve peace of mind.

Among the many conveniences:

  • Centralized lighting system that can be operated from virtually any room
  • High-tech security system
  • Whole-house sound system with state-of-the-art acoustics
  • 20-zone irrigation system to help maintain the Blairs' five acres of land
  • Five-zone HVAC system that utilizes radiant geothermal technology — no outside compressors needed

They also enjoy a cigar den with exhaust fans and built-in humidor, remote-operated cupola with weather station, and butler's pantry with a built-in gas grill that's accessible both indoors and out.

In the master bath, John and Susan treated themselves to steam showers, body sprays, and oversized twelve-inch dual shower heads.

THE PLEASURES OF HOME

In designing the house, John took care to situate the more active parts of the house — the garages, kitchen, and children's area with indoor basketball court — so as not to disturb the golfers. The more formal areas, where they entertain in the evening after the course has closed, overlook the fairway.

The large dormered room above the garage serves as the children's playroom. "They have a 50" television and all their gadgets up there," says John. "Foosball tables, video and computer centers, built-ins for all their toys, and pull-out sofas for sleep-overs with their friends. They wake up in the morning, and that's where they go. They live up there!"

The family spends most of their time together in the kitchen and family room. Susan's passion for cooking and baking keeps her in the kitchen overtime. From here, she's also able to listen to what's going on upstairs with the children.

"We call it Blairs' Greenacres Golf Club. ... When people walk down the fairway of the country club, they look over and think this is part of it."

The home is built to bring the outdoors in. The east-facing sunroom provides a warm and cheerful setting for breakfast and, because it doesn't get direct sunlight, maintains a comfortable temperature for day-long enjoyment. The wraparound porch overlooking 700 feet of fairway property is furnished with rocking chairs that bid you sit and stay awhile. With piano music wafting through open French doors from the living room, it's a lovely place for formal cocktail parties.

Just this year, John and Susan put in a four-square vegetable garden modeled after old-time kitchen gardens where spices and medicinal herbs were grown. Interlocking cobblestones form walkways among raised garden beds planted with cucumbers and tomatoes, scallions and squash.

The year before, they built a greenhouse with twelve-foot long, eighteen-inch deep copper sink. "Gardening is something we just recently decided to take up," says John. "It makes us more self-sufficient as a family, and it's educational for the kids."

John and Susan also added a 100-yard par-three golf course (with a little sand) to the property.

"We call it Blairs' Greenacres Golf Club. It has an 1,800-foot synthetic green and a golf cart with an attachment to pick up golf balls so people can come out and practice their swing. We use it for picnics, too." He chuckles, adding, "When people walk down the fairway of the country club, they look over and think this is part of it."

John and Susan say they're going to be here a good long time. "We're on a private road, we both like to golf, and it's a great place to raise a family. This is a dream come true for us to be able to put it all together."

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