Featured Remodel Project: Chimera
Ambler is a town that has been on the decline for many years. Its economy was based on asbestos, an industry that collapsed decades ago. Recently, Ambler has started to experience a comeback. Many of its original Gothic Victorian homes are now being purchased and renovated to their former glory.
The home we were working on is across the street from a mansion in the center of town, originally owned by the asbestos company founder. This home was probably owned by an executive in the asbestos company.
At one time a truly extraordinary home, it was literally trashed from end-to-end. It needed electrical, plumbing, kitchens, bathrooms, everything. It was a complete, head-to-toe renovation with a lot of repairs that had to be addressed.
The house had previously been split up into three apartments, but the client wanted to transform it back into a single family home for the family to live in. The vision was all modern, but we wanted to stay as true to the nature of the original architecture as possible. There would be an open kitchen that was fully integrated into the family space, new bathrooms, an expanded master suite, and a new laundry room on the second floor.
The biggest challenge was that the client really didn’t have enough money to complete all of the projects he had in mind for the house. Because of this, we redesigned two-thirds of the home but left the third floor as it was. Much of the basement was also left alone, aside from a few repairs. We needed to stabilize all the existing systems so that the deterioration would stop. Stabilization was a number one priority.
There was a stone addition on the back of the house that matched the house nicely, but the old exterior wall was 30 inches thick and we had to remove as much of it as we could to make way for the entry to new kitchen with steel beams supporting the stone above.
There was a lot of damage to the original chestnut moldings. Our efforts involved salvaging pieces from other areas of the house as well as repairing and recreating what we could.
The entire space was redesigned – bathrooms, kitchen, master suite, everything. We also restored the old wraparound porch, a porte-cochère, which you can drive under to get to the back courtyard and the old stone carriage house behind it.
The chestnut paneling and wainscoting were either reproduced or scavenged from other areas of the house so that everything matched. The painters came in to remove old wallpaper and paint. We did some new lighting and rewiring and refinished the floors on the main level.
Upstairs, the master bath needed to be completely gutted. We removed two closets to create a larger space and framed in a glass shower. We installed double sinks with marble countertops. We recessed the radiator into the wall to create room for the cabinetry.
To create the new master suite, we combined two upstairs bedrooms into one. One of the bedrooms was split in two, half of it transformed into a laundry room off the hall with the other half made into a large walk-in closet for the master.
To open up new space for the kitchen, we had to cut through a 30-inch thick stone wall. The current breakfast room was originally the kitchen of the house. There was a single doorway leading into a stone addition in the back and there was a rundown laundry and a chimney in between the two – not a fireplace, but a very large chimney about four feet wide.
We opened up the wall on either side of the chimney and removed everything except for the original cherry paneling and cherry benches, which we were able to salvage. We made the breakfast room into kind of a family sitting room. Originally, it had two doors leading into it off of the gorgeous Gothic porch, but one of them was very badly filled in. We made some changes to that and replaced the exterior door.
The kitchen has three great big bright windows we wanted to retain to keep it as light and airy as we possibly could.
The L-shaped kitchen design came out beautiful with traditional styling, yet modern convenience. The tall ceilings gave room for extra high wall cabinets. The tops were soapstone with marble on the island. Stainless appliances accented the design and the reclaimed flooring add a warmth to the space.
When the client first bought the home, I said: “You’re crazy to buy it; and you’re crazy NOT to buy it.” It was a huge opportunity but it was so much for them to take on, both financially, and mentally, just having the wherewithal of taking on this huge project.
It’s the kind of renovation where you constantly find things that need to be dealt with. We agreed that we would have a very specific list, room by room, of exactly what was to be done in each room.
Ultimately, it was a major labor of love. It was a risky house to take on, both for the homeowner and for us, but, on the other hand, it is such an extraordinary piece of architecture.
We are very proud of having been able to restore a house like that instead of somebody coming in and knocking it down as they would have done twenty years ago. As this town comes back, it’s going be an example of what can be accomplished.