An architect takes us inside one family’s new home
Blending old and new styles to form a space that effortlessly suits your lifestyle starts with a frank talk about what your family is really like with your architect. The recently built Four Oaks Farm home in Charlestown is one such house. By combining traditional materials with a modern floor plan, architect Timothy M. O’Neill, along with Craig Miller, President of C. I. Miller Construction, was able to design and build the 7,000-square-foot home — complete with five bedrooms, several fireplaces, and a three-car garage — to fit both the clients and their scenic site. The Hunt spoke with Mr. O’Neill, who reveals some of the difficulties and details of the project.
Q: What are your professional affiliations? What is your connection to C.I. Miller Construction Company?
A: I’m a former partner of Murphy Architects, but I now work on my own, mainly in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. I am not officially affiliated with C. I. Miller Construction Co., we’re just good friends who joined forces with the homeowners on the project.
Q: What are some of the more traditional elements of the home? Were there any issues in blending these with a casual floor plan that suited the owners?
A: The traditional elements of the house are in the Chester Country tradition, but they are not strictly a copy. The slate roof, stone walls, color schemes, and finishes are traditional and combined with a very modern floor plan to allow the homeowners to continue their casual lifestyle. The homeowner and I worked very closely together with the builder, but there was little that we suggested that she wanted to change. Because Craig Miller (president of C.I. Construction) has his own wood-working shop, he was able to take the lead on those parts of the house.
Q: Four Oaks Farm boasts that it captures views of the pond behind the house and the surrounding countryside from every room. Were there any challenges to building the home on this advantageous part of the property?
A: The homeowners bought the 11-acre property that the house was built on. There was a deed restriction because of the Brandywine conservation efforts, so we had to be conscious of that while building. Also, the homeowners wanted views of the pond from almost every room in the house, but the front door still had to be easily seen from the road, so that provided some difficulties.
Q: What can you tell me about the homeowners?
A: They are a young couple with three college-age children.
Q: How have the homeowners been able to keep the family connected while living within such a large space?
A: The homeowners wanted intimate spaces for daily living, but enough room to throw large parties. In lieu of the typical two-story family room, the owners preferred 10-foot ceiling heights throughout the first floor. None of the rooms are exceptionally large except for the kitchen, which was built that way to accommodate a fireplace and a reading nook. Warm colors are used throughout the house, and there aren’t any touches of crystal or mirrors.
Q: How did all of the details and processes that went into this home affect the construction schedule?
A: We had a very tight schedule because [the homeowner] wanted it finished by last Thanksgiving. The size is simple to deal with because the structure of the house was very basic; there are only two load-bearing walls throughout the whole thing. It took between 13 and 15 months to be completed.
Q: What would you suggest future homeowners keep in mind when taking on a similar kind of home-building project?
A: Come to your architect with a program of your lifestyle. Be positive that you know what you want and how you want your house to look and feel.
Q: Of what feature in the Four Oaks Farm house are you most proud?
A: That would be the way it suits the clients’ needs and how happy they are with the way it suits their lifestyle, and just how everything came together on this project.