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A view with some rooms

Couple's house is the picture of openness, from acreage to floor plan to windows.

Jill and Michael Zimmner and their dog, Say D, in their great room which features a window grid that transitions into shelves. ( Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer )
Jill and Michael Zimmner and their dog, Say D, in their great room which features a window grid that transitions into shelves. ( Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer )Read more

Visit the Downingtown home of Michael and Jill Zimmer, and what strikes you first are the windows.

As you approach, you notice that the western facade is made up of long, rectangular windows, side by side, above and below.

To the north, which is the home's main entrance, are windows of myriad shapes: squares, circles, rectangles.

The sense of openness is immediate. And that sense continues inside the 3,000-square-foot house. Windows are everywhere, in the dining area, the kitchen, the upstairs bath.

Even upstairs, a balcony overlooks the first floor, so you can look out to the east, the north, and the west.

Open space surrounds the house - 20 wooded acres, and, yes, a creek (which the Zimmers created) runs through them.

The floor plan is open, too. There are few walls, save the requisite ones for bed and bath.

Instead of rooms, there are areas for living, cooking, dining. Colors throughout are earth tones, and the building materials are natural, conveying calm and quiet - except, perhaps, when the Zimmers' wonderfully exuberant dog, SayD, greets you.

Michael Zimmer, 61, is an architect, founder of Dakota Dawn Delineation in Bala Cynwyd. Yet previously, he had lived in places that other people designed.

In 1990, he became a widower with two young sons. Four years later, Jill entered his life. The couple lived in his home in West Norriton for a while but eventually wanted their own place.

"We understood that we wouldn't find a house that would satisfy us," Michael says. This was their chance to design what they wanted.

But where?

"We spent two, three years looking," says Jill Zimmer, 53.

They had friends in Chester County, so they concentrated the search there. They chose the 20 acres they did because there is a land trust nearby where no development will occur.

Building began about nine years ago. As Michael talks about his approach to the house, certain themes emerge: use of space; design symmetry; nature; conservation; light.

Those two-story windows overlooking the creek face west for a reason: The Zimmers like to watch the sunset.

"I design around spaces," Michael says. "I don't picture myself designing buildings."

Nor does he like walls: "Enclosures can be confining in many different ways."

Climbing the stairs to the second floor, he points out the balusters, which are made of copper pipe.

The flooring in the hallway up there is cork, but you are scarcely aware of it, so drawn is the eye to the balcony and those huge windows and that lovely creek.

To the right, a large round window overlooks the driveway. As you peer down, you see that a large piece of glass sits atop the doorway.

"I just wanted light and cover," Michael says.

He keeps an office on the second floor and says he installed the cork flooring to make it easier to roll his office chair. It's more comfortable to walk on, too, he says.

He acknowledges that the view is distracting. "But that's OK. Nature becomes so much a part of your day."

Appropriately, the master bedroom at the end of the second-floor corridor is done in forest colors - dark greens and browns.

"The coolest thing about this room," Jill says, "are the windows." And she's right. In one corner, they're small and square; in another corner, long and rectangular, with a window seat.

At night, the Zimmers say, you can hear nature at play, especially the frogs.

"We have a standing herd of deer" that comes to drink from the creek, Michael adds.

What with the view from the master bath and its deep tub, green tiles, a glass-block walk-around shower, and two dressing tables, a stressed soul could, it seems, be easily soothed there.

But this question must be asked: Most women want a hand in what's going on in their homes - what's it like being married to a guy who can manage this all on his own?

Jill, a former executive with the Hair Cuttery, admits that she "didn't get the windows, but she trusted him."

And while she seemed just a tad out of joint that she's allowed to paint only certain walls, she seems to have accepted the arrangement.

Says her husband, who shaves his head: "We have this policy that she could cut my hair any way she wants, and I could design any way I want!"

When the couple found each other back in the early 1990s - "I've had two great marriages," Michael says - they also discovered a shared a commitment to others. The Zimmers have spent time in Uganda, helping to raise funds for schoolchildren. They have traveled to the country three times.

"We have been lucky in our lives," Michael says, "and we can give something back."

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