After passing through the property's security gate, rolling up the long drive, finding the 65-foot-long cobblestone courtyard (with pond and waterfall), and seeing what frames that courtyard - a transformed barn with adjacent (also transformed) farmer's cottage, all stone, all picture-perfect - a visitor wonders:
Is there a dress code to get in?
The answer: No.
Linda Thatcher Raichle greets the caller wearing denim. Husband John Duda is barefoot. In their 60s and with previous marriages behind them, the couple are, it seems, as delighted with their Media, Delaware County, home as they are with each other. They have been together in this house for eight years.
A professional couple - Raichle is a Ph.D., a Merck & Co. retiree, and the owner of Spectrum Medical Education; Duda is a semiretired orthopedic surgeon - each credits the other with the final appearance of what was at least a five-year renovation project.
"He gave me the confidence to do this on my own," she says.
He says she gave the house "the love and attention" it needed.
And judging from their stories, this was one needy house.
The chef's kitchen, with its two dishwashers and a professional-grade stove, was intact. Prior owners loved large parties, inviting guests who apparently had no respect for a barn built in 1850 or a cottage dating to 1927. (The two were connected sometime later.)
Yet intact in no way described the place.
The building "was very distressed," Duda says. "Mold on the walls, animal stains on the floors, burn stains in the carpets. . . ."
Their tales of renovation are great fun. With seven bedrooms, 41/2 bathrooms (including one converted from a horse stall), a great room, a sun room, a wine cellar carved out of the cottage's coal chute (each wine bottle-hole in the wall made from terra cotta), and a master bedroom whose windows fit between the existing beams of the barn, how could they not be?
The view out those windows, which stretch virtually floor to ceiling, is worth waking up to.
This is a favorite story of Duda's:
His longtime contractor - "he followed me around from house to house . . . no contract, just concepts" - found the same type of stone, Wissahickon schist, that was used to build the barn, which had housed the horses and carriages used by a local riding club.
The contractor used the stone to frame out the pizza oven near the backyard pool.
A favorite story of Raichle's: In the library, the couple found many old books belonging to former owners or tenants, but nothing as precious as letters sent from an Army lieutenant to his wife. He was stationed overseas during World War II.
"The letters are still here," she said, showing them. The couple are trying to find the lieutenant's heirs.
Like other owners of old properties, Duda and Raichle needed to make singular decisions: What to upgrade? What to maintain in its original period?
And because their property is a barn, albeit already somewhat renovated, they had such interesting issues as: What about the stalls?
They converted the horse-washing stall into a bar. They saved the original metal cupboard that long ago held grooming tools for the horses and the original hoof-scratched door, but added some top-shelf items, comfortable chairs and tables.
"We'll have 150 people . . . for a party, and 100 are packed in here," Duda says.
Another non-upgrade: the original wood beam ceiling, which above it, in its time, held the horses' feed.
"When we put in track lighting, oats and hay came down," Raichle says.
About the master bath: Much of the glorious light from the bedroom - the wall is 30 feet, most of it window - shines into the bath. No wall separates the two rooms, just block glass. Earth-tone Italian tumbled tile is everywhere.
On a tour of the house, the visitor notices a box on a shelf that says Auschwitz.
Duda's mother lost 10 family members there, but his father, who was Catholic and a member of the Resistance, saved her. Duda brought his children to tour the former death camp.