‘Few home features can match the charm of an old fireplace. Even unlit, it evokes a simpler time…

The new owners are settled snuggly and happily enjoying their beautifully converted stone guest house in Solebury Township. Meanwhile, they, Ernst Brothers and Wolstenholme Architects are celebrating the completion of a collaboration that called for meeting and overcoming challenges and issues in both creative and time-honored ways.

After successfully addressing the first (square-footage restrictions) and second (the light-blocking slope behind the house) issues, Ernst tackled those that remained.

Floor heights and slopes

As with many older homes that were built in stages over the decades as the family’s size or wealth increased, the home’s floor heights varied greatly, requiring many steps up and down to walk from one end to the other.  Clearly, earlier generations were sturdier folk, willing to risk a tumble and more effort as they went about their day’s tasks. By adjusting the floor height so it was more consistent, Ernst was able to reduce the number of stairs between sections without losing the awareness of multi-generational construction.




The floor in a second-story bedroom had a different problem: a noticeable slope across its modest 14-foot width of about four inches. To correct this significant fault, the entire floor system was removed and new engineered floor framing installed to safely support the now-level room.

Making fireplaces compliant

Few home features can match the charm of an old fireplace. Even unlit, it evokes a simpler time and hints at the flickering lights and visible warmth just a match-strike away. This home has two fireplaces that have been preserved.

The first is the original fireplace located next to the new kitchen, a large “walk-in” stone hearth with a massive single-slab wooden lintel and remnants of a brick-lined bake oven in its wall. Thought to have been an outdoor or summer kitchen cooking hearth originally, not the indoor hearth it is now, it has been given a new chimney liner and other restorative work so it can once again safely burn wood.

A newer masonry fireplace in the home’s family room had previously been converted with an insert, but it was poorly done. Ernst Brothers restored it with a new chimney liner and converted it to a gas-fired unit.

A river runs through it

While this old house does have its own stream flowing through its cellar year-round, what makes us shudder today was probably a boon when this home was young. Because chances are, the spring-fed water source served as both the water supply for the family and a food-cooling and preservation system as recently as 75 years ago.

In addition, for nearly 300 years that spring-fed stream has run its course, feeding other streamlets and farm ponds and creeks—part of a watershed the owners would be loath to mess with.

However, despite its long presence, charm and historical significance, such a “water feature” in an older home requires abatement procedures so the subsequent humidity doesn’t warp or cup the hardwood floors above or create other moisture issues.

A simple solution called for installing an industrial-strength dehumidifier to protect the upper levels and maintaining the existing sump pump as extra protection in case the flow-through system clogs.

Teaser for next post…

Read about more projects coming soon, highlighting Ernst’s attention to detail and quality workmanship.  

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