Down in the barn of many beams, where Milo and Wilma grunt in pig heaven, where Lemon the hen comes clucking for grain and Louie Vuitton the show horse snorts steam into the winter air, a sign hangs from a peg:
"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of God."
Emerson would like it here on Joel and Mindy Chernoff's farm near Newtown Square. Be still, and you'll hear rustlings, manger sounds, stirrings.
The Chernoffs bought these eight Delaware County acres in 2006 but stayed in their Havertown subdivision for two years while renovating the 40-year-old house and raising the barn.
The land was near the trails of Ridley Creek State Park - Mindy is an ardent equestrian - and close to Broomall, where Joel works. It was a "chunk of heaven," Mindy says. But at first, she despaired that it could work.
"The challenge," says Stanley Barry of Barry Custom Builders in Paoli, "was working out their individual wants and desires." Mindy wanted a horse farm - she could live in the barn, if need be, she says. Joel wanted space. He envisioned a formal entrance foyer and central hall, "and this was a Colonial farmhouse," Barry says.
It would need major reconstruction to satisfy both Chernoffs. The project earned Barry a Pyramid Award last year from the Home Builders Association of Chester and Delaware Counties.
Today, the house has a new kitchen, pool, reconfigured rooms, and a two-story grand foyer. Mindy salvaged the thick wooden door and used it, knocker and all, in Joel's study. Other original charms include an oaken floor pegged with walnut.
But it's the barn that Mindy shows a visitor first - the five stalls, the rustic lounge, the animals. A chinchilla stands in its cage to see her. "My whole life has been the critters," she says. "They give me strength."
Here, Mindy celebrates silence. Helping others to get in touch with tranquillity, to feel God and gratitude in their lives, is a calling that has taken her near and far for workshops. She recently earned a dual master's degree from Chestnut Hill College in holistic spirituality and spiritual direction.
She knows about hectic. For years, she managed two barns and trained horses and riders as she and Joel raised two girls and a boy. Then several years ago, about the time her parents died, "God started stirring me."
She also found herself grieving the death of a quarter horse, whose movements were remarkably natural.
"I decided I'd spend the rest of my life looking for that horse again" - and she found Vuitton, a phenomenal paint whose show name is Flirtin' With Music. Mindy rode him to awards at the Pinto World Congress in Tulsa, Okla.
Joel Chernoff heads a religious nonprofit and has seen drought in Africa and poverty worldwide. He's also a longtime folksinger, songwriter, and guitarist with Lamb.
"We met back in '76," says Joel, 59. He smiles at Mindy, 52, as she serves homemade bread. "She was a groupie."
Country life wasn't in Joel's blood. When he saw the house, "I liked the stonework, but it felt small and claustrophobic." Yet he knew this was his wife's dream, "and I just let her go."
"Roads get smaller out here," he says. "You hear the clip-clop up the lane."
But his appreciation is of more than the pastoral. "I absolutely love it out there," he says, gesturing to the 45-foot pool. Another favorite: the great room and fireplace.
And the sun room. "The light is lovely, especially early mornings," Mindy says. "You lose something when you're not in touch with the light."
"What's not to like!" says daughter Elisha Chernoff, 20, as she arrives home (she's a Temple University student). Most special, she says, is the space: "Entertaining is so much easier."
What's also special is the role Elisha played in this dream. When she was at Delaware County Christian School, an arts-symposium speaker intrigued her. "This woman is just like my mother!" she thought. She sensed that interior designer Miho Kahn of West Chester matched Mindy's warmth.
"Miho was my heart," Mindy says. "What she did is like what I do in spiritual direction. She worked with us to discover what we really wanted."
"A big part of what I do," Kahn explains, "is trying to understand a person's voice and heart." In the Chernoff house, "Mindy had a lot of pieces with a very loud voice - they had been her mother's." Among them were artworks, pottery, and three limestone slabs that became a table. "Delightful," she says, but the styles had to be reconciled with the horse-farm setting.
Kahn unified with colors. "A soft and restful" palette, Mindy calls it. She shows off Kahn's other touches. River stone as spa flooring, for one. A countertop of termite-damaged wood.
"It's about taking things that didn't seem to be wanted," Mindy says, "and making them beautiful again."
The house, barn, fields - "this is a place for others, as well," she says. "I want people to walk in, heave a huge sigh, and feel at peace. It's so simple."
Is your house a Haven?
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