For Suzanne and Fran Loftus and their two daughters, there's no better place to spend the yuletide season than at their restored barn in Churchville, Bucks County.
Tucked among pine and spruce trees, the rustic residence has the ambience of a winter chalet, with soaring ceilings, dark woods and cozy plush furniture, the perfect spot for sipping hot chocolate before a roaring fire.
They bought the place in October 2011 - they hadn't even been looking to move. But when Fran Loftus, an engineer for LMT Mercer Group Inc. in Lawrenceville, noticed that the old barn, two doors from his childhood home and just two miles away from where they were living, was for sale, he was curious. As kids, he and his buddies hurled rocks at its roof and watched bats flap away.
The circa-1800s barn had been extensively renovated and converted into a three-bedroom home. On a whim, Fran arranged a tour with the Realtor and immediately was awed.
"As soon as I walked through the place, I called Suzanne and said, 'You've got to come see this.' " He recalls being swept away by the 50-foot ceilings and multi-storied staircases.
The prior owner, veteran builder Fred Hagen, says he began renovating the 4,700-square-foot barn as a side project.
"I thought it would make a nice garage. But as I started jacking up the roof, my imagination took off," Hagen says with a laugh.
His restoration - constructed entirely without blueprints - embraced the barn's integrity, incorporating the existing wooden beams and stone walls. Yet, for modernity's sake, he added contemporary must-haves: 41/2 bathrooms, an ultra-luxe kitchen, a sauna, an in-law suite, and radiant heating.
"Everything we owned fit in the house perfectly, like we were meant to be here," says Suzanne Loftus. (Since moving in, they've installed a full-house generator, painted rooms, landscaped, and refurbished the garage and front doors.)
Come December, with a little holiday magic and a lot of artistic talent, Suzanne, a longtime crafter, decorates with handmade keepsakes she's created through the years.
It all begins in the foyer, where Santas and snowmen welcome callers from a gateleg table beneath balustrades garlanded with greens, dried artichokes, stars, and ribbons.
The festive feeling continues in the family room, where a Christmas tree stands, holding handmade ornaments and some from family vacations, and garland made from recycled atlases and pictures, delicately strung by Suzanne, a former librarian who is now a technology integrations specialist for the Council Rock School District.
The lofty second-floor great room and dining area are punctuated by a bookcase and remote-controlled hide-a-TV cabinet. Coordinated rugs adorn wide-plank oak floors.
Suzanne delights in filling the space with button-studded topiaries, plaid stockings she assembled from a vintage jacket, and the girls' annual Santa visit photos, lovingly collected from bygone years. Another tree, a 10-foot stunner, is dressed with more than 100 of her cross-stitched Santa ornaments. Poinsettias add pageantry.
During the holidays, the couple, who met on a blind date and married 16 years ago, say the country kitchen becomes more of a gathering spot, where guests congregate around the expansive marble island, and where Fran is the breakfast chef on Christmas morning. Copper pots hang overhead. An heirloom dry sink that was Suzanne's late grandfather's cradles cookbooks.
When building the kitchen, Hagen wanted it to look authentically old. He installed an apron-front sink and antique-looking Heartland appliances. New cabinets were distressed and painted slightly different hues of taupe, as if the kitchen had "evolved over time."
The stately library, which has elaborate moldings and built-ins, hosts a tree with hand-beaded and vintage ornaments. Nearby is the master bedroom, where a crimson bedspread and marble-topped tables from Suzanne's family add richness and warmth.
Large glass ornaments hang from the third-level bridge connecting the bedrooms of their daughters, Kate, 15, a self-proclaimed avid reader, and Erin, 11, a competitive cheerleader. Each room has Christmas trees and other touches: Kate's, a homespun wreath; Erin's, felt garland resembling pom-poms.
Fran's serendipitous rediscovery of what is affectionately known as their "Bustleton Barn" has resulted in a joyous home not just during the holidays, but all year long.
Says Fran, "We plan to be here a long time."