Pennsylvania contractor Jeff Morrison looked at the forgettable facade of Jennifer and Michael Mankowski’s home, a stuccoed, farmhouse-style exterior. But what he actually saw was a circa-1900 house begging to emerge.
His partner, designer Courtney Kish, saw it, too. They envisioned using different textures — stone, cedar shake, faux-wood siding, and some stucco — to delineate the house’s existing separate sections, a style that defined the classic Chester County, Pennsylvania, farmhouse look. (Traditional farmhouse families added sections as their needs grew.)
As for the Mankowskis, who bought the house in 2000, their design ideas for the front facade weren’t solidified. They just knew the stucco had to go.
“It didn’t look vibrant,” says Michael, 50, a senior director of integrated digital marketing. “There was nothing to break up” the sections.
Besides, the gutters were close to useless, says Jennifer, 46, a registered nurse and owner of a yoga studio. To prepare for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Michael had propped Gatorade bottle lids underneath the gutters to hold them up.
And the chimneys were losing their stucco. Put another way, the 23-year-old exterior had reached the point where it needed attention, Michael says.
The four-month-long job began during the holiday season of 2013-2014 — yes, in the middle of snowfalls, freezing cold, and ice storms.
Why change the facade, including that of the garage, at all? Why endure all those months of banging and cutting, and tolerating the resulting necessary repairs to newly painted interior walls, and constantly seeing four Dumpsters on the lawn to hold all the removed stucco?
Well, the Mankowskis love where they are. Between the two of them, they list these reasons: They love their neighborhood; college town West Chester is just down the road; the local school district adds value to their house; the backyard accommodates their three young sons and their sports, and in time, grandchildren.
“We see foxes and rabbits, but we are not in the middle of nowhere,” Jennifer says.
Notes Michael: “Jennifer has a great client base for yoga [in the area]. She teaches ad hoc.”
Oh, and there was the “me next!” factor. You know, the one where upgrading one room immediately makes the rooms adjacent scream for a redo.
You either ignore that discordant chorus or respond to its siren call. Jennifer and Michael chose the latter.
They had started innocently enough in the kitchen. But then they took on the dining room, then a powder room (where Michael did most of the work himself), then the huge entranceway, and so on. In all, they replaced 30 windows.
As the inside looked better and better, the outside beckoned.
Enter Morrison and Kish.
The Mankowskis “didn’t force us in any direction,” Kish says. “We could add those defined textures to get that farmhouse look.”
The wide-plank cement siding, horizontally placed, is maintenance-free, as is the stone veneer. There is some stucco to keep costs down, Kish says. They work well together if applied properly, Morrison notes.
The design team revamped the garage, which stuck out beyond the house. Morrison added an overhang at the roof line and a pent roof above the two windows. Two hundred years ago, he said, builders installed overhangs to keep water off a roof.
The overhang protects the siding and keeps the walls from getting beaten with rain.
Structural issues that Morrison keenly wanted to correct were the posts on the house’s two porches.
“When you have skinny posts, it is visually wrong,” he says. Even the beam that goes from column to column must be sized correctly “to give the porch a feeling that it is structurally correct to the mind’s eye.”
“Jeff said we needed beefy columns,” Jennifer says.
The outside colors, which took days to pick because they needed to be correct in all types of sunlight, reflect the subdued, interior neutral tones. Cedar shake and siding are muted green, shutters are black, and the door is deep brown with black undertones.
On the inside, walls and ceilings are various shades of butter and gold, and the spaces flow.
Says Jennifer: “It’s good to go from one room to another.”