In 1991, Kristin and Steve Stoughton were 24 and engaged to be married. Knowing that they wanted to buy an older house, Steve's employer made a bold suggestion.
The boss, a residential developer, was planning to build several houses on a tract in Fort Washington. Would Steve and his fiancee be interested in buying a battered farmhouse and barn on the site?
The barn and the small three-story dwelling dated to the late 1840s. Two-story additions were added in the 1920s and 1940s. Upper floors were reached by a narrow winding staircase. The courageous couple took over the property and set about removing three Dumpsters' worth of junk.
Twenty-four years and numerous home-improvement projects later, the Stoughtons have created a lovely home they share with four children (Caroline, Jack, Libby, and Katie) and two dogs (Mae and Mirlo).
After cleaning out the buildings, Steve and Kristin restored the original parlor, tearing out drywall and plaster to reveal ceiling beams, beadboard paneling, and a fireplace.
Asbestos siding was stripped from the barn and from the stone façade of the house.
In 1996, a year after the birth of their first child, the Stoughtons installed a powder room and remodeled the 1940s kitchen with maple cabinets and new appliances.
Two years later, the couple had another baby and another project. Steve, acting as his own general contractor, oversaw the building of an addition, with a foyer, an open staircase, a family room, a dining room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a finished basement with a laundry. Kristin insisted on a laundry chute upstairs. Central air-conditioning was installed.
"We put in a lot of sweat equity," Steve says.
Professionals were hired for electrical and plumbing work. Steve, now a business developer for a mechanical contractor, and Kristin, a stay-at-home mom, praise architect Tom Witteman. His design integrated the wings of the house, Steve says, and gave it "a circular flow."
Multipaned windows, like those in the earlier additions, were selected to give the exterior of the house symmetry. Beadboard paneling was installed in the dining room and family room. Floors in both the old and new additions are pine.
The rooms' honey-hued chestnut, pine, oak, and maple furniture includes new and vintage pieces. Steve's father made the kitchen table. A long bench and a former church pew provide seating. In the parlor, the plank table and the family Bible on display there belonged to Kristen's great-uncle.
A king-size four-poster bed was purchased new. The armoire nearby is an antique. A wedding-ring quilt was a gift when the Stoughtons married in December 1991.
A former grain bin in the family room stores toys. Framed farmhouse prints by folk artist Warren Kimble line the staircase. Other art includes two clay elephants crafted by eldest daughter Caroline, 19, and a sailboat painting by son Jack, 16.
Model sailboats and an assortment of seashells were acquired on family vacations in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Kristin Stoughton is a native of South Carolina and a Villanova University graduate. Steve grew up in Upper Dublin and has a degree from Temple.
Lined up on shelves are miniature trains that Steve's father collected. Jack wasn't allowed to play with them growing up, Kristin says. Now, though, the teenager gets to play with big-boy toys: He and his cousin are helping Steve restore an old truck, a Jeep, and a Chevy Camaro stored in the red barn.
Recently, Steve and Jack made an outdoor sculpture from bottles hung on bare tree branches, and the two are always gathering wood they artfully stack in pyramid shapes. The wood is burned in the cast-iron stove in a sitting area off the parlor and in the master bedroom's fireplace.
On a bleak winter day, the warm fires beckon. But even in cold weather, four outside porches look inviting, with their cushioned Adirondack chairs and snow sleds hung with ice skates.
Updates and repairs on the house are ongoing. Kristin would like to remodel and enlarge the kitchen, for instance. But that project might have to wait, she says.
"College tuitions come first."