Bobbie Rothman wanted to respect the 1732 manor home she and her family had moved into. Therefore, she left a few things alone: the riding boots found in the library’s closet, the toolbox in the ceiling of the first-floor recreation room, and a complete wine cellar in the basement.
“Anything that was here, I kept here,” Rothman said. “For good luck.”
Rothman, then a hospital administrator, and her husband, Marc, an oral surgeon, both worked at Einstein Hospital and loved living in Philadelphia. But 24 years ago, with a 3-year-old and a newborn, the couple wanted fresher air and more space. They searched for more than a year until they found the historic house in Rydal, Montgomery County.
Originally belonging to a nine-acre estate, the 6,700-square-foot house was the only structure remaining, with the estate’s pool, greenhouse and guest cottage going to neighboring properties. The barn was demolished to make way for a road.
“It was actually lonely before people moved in,” Rothman said. “And it was quite a change because we moved from a pretty contemporary townhome.”
The three-story house, with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms and a massive wraparound porch, had belonged to the Wolf family, its fourth owners. When the last of the family died, a caretaker had left the property with much work to be done.
“The floors were in good shape, but we had to paint over everything,” said Rothman, standing in her foyer. “There was peeling wallpaper everywhere and a salmon pink runner on the stairs.”
First, the young family tackled converting the heat from oil to gas and adding central air conditioning. Then they had to deal with the outdated wiring.
“If you coughed too loudly, you'd lose your electricity,” Rothman said.
They started renovating, one room at a time, as soon as they had the money and the time for each project. Furnishings got creative.
“I would pick up junk anywhere, and mix and match, and I would paint things,” Rothman said.
The couple started with the sunlit, first-floor library, which they originally used as a family room and playroom. Filled with large windows, built-in bookshelves and overstuffed furniture, the room has been upgraded and transformed into a cozy space.
“I liked how a sitting area at Barnes and Noble looked, so I copied that,” Rothman said.
Across the foyer, the spacious dining room holds a large round table, a detailed, inlaid floor, and a second door to the front porch, which was apparently used after the deceased were laid out for viewing, Rothman said.
Nearby, the Rothmans turned the butler’s pantry into an office and redid the kitchen, removing the yellow linoleum floor, restoring the original hardwood discovered below, and adding modern appliances and a large island.
“We lived with [the original kitchen] for probably eight years. It had a large table with eight chairs that didn’t match. I kept it," Rothman said. "I liked it.”
She aimed to decorate the home to honor its history, but sometimes, she said, that proved to be a challenge. “I tried to keep the flavor. I wanted country French, but I met a designer" who told her the house should be "English gentry.”
Rothman’s favorite place is a small room off the kitchen that used to be the kids’ playroom and now serves as her sitting room. They knocked out the exterior wall and replaced it with large French doors. During the renovation, an old toolbox was found in the ceiling. She had the contractor put it back. Outside, they added a patio and pergola, now covered in wisteria.
Upstairs, they renovated three continuous rooms to create the master suite. They built a walk-in closet, an office for Marc, and a spacious bathroom. A lot of the work was done by a friend Bobbie made while working at Einstein. He was a master carpenter and would supplement his income by doing work at night.
“It was great to have such a skilled friend who I could trust implicitly,” she said. “I called him my second husband.”
On the third floor, each room was painted a different pastel color.
“During the holidays, the extra space allows for everyone to stay here,” Rothman said. “This is the house that people come to.”
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