The 20-acre nonworking farm in Ambler was the ideal setting for Lou and Maggie Polisano’s new family home. The couple appreciated the expansive wooded property and the privacy it offered. They bought the land in 2013 and spent the next year building the home they named GraCat Farm, for daughters Grace, 23, and Catherine, 21.
“We were looking for an old farmhouse without the headaches of having to repair everything,” said Maggie, principal at CamaPlan, a financial services company based in Ambler. Using reclaimed materials for millwork, baseboards, stairs, paneling and wainscoting was a priority.
“The stone on the house is from an early 1800s barn in upstate Pa.,” said Lou, president and an owner of Center City-based RockITdata. “The brick in the mudroom is from a demo in South Philly, the Belgian block is from a demo under the Ben Franklin Bridge, the large ceiling beams are from a barn in upstate N.Y., and the supports for the glass shelves behind the bar are bucket hooks from our horse stables.”
Designed by Period Architecture in Malvern, the 7,000-square-foot house features five bedrooms, four full and two half bathrooms, a gym, wine cellar and full basement. The family room opens onto a generous outdoor terrace that overlooks the creek and meadow beyond.
“The home is a mix of our backgrounds,” Maggie said. “Lou wanted more of a farmhouse, and I loved the warmth of a farmhouse, but I wanted higher ceilings, big French doors, and lots of windows to let the sun in and keep the house bright.”
Architect Jeff Dolan helped the Polisanos design an open floor plan to maximize the natural light. The kitchen, family room, great room, and primary bedroom all have southern exposures. The home features three fireplaces, one wood-burning in the family room and gas fireplaces in the dining room and bedroom.
“Inspired by the work of early-20th-century Philadelphia architect R. Brognard Okie, we enjoyed uniting the timeless farmhouse aesthetic with the family’s goals for living and entertaining,” said Dolan, cofounder of Period Architecture. “A home where muddy boots and muddy paws are welcome.”
An homage to the Florida home where Maggie grew up, GraCat features arches throughout, including the porte-cochère leading to the house and the home’s entrance, which offers views of arches in two directions.
“We wanted a warm feeling when you entered the house,” said Maggie, who created an inviting space to entertain friends and family. “It had to be substantial to give you the feel of the old charm that these farmhouses had.”
The impressive great room has cathedral ceilings and a bar where guests can grab a drink before heading into the connecting kitchen. The couple, who enjoy cooking, designed a kitchen that is easy to use but large enough for friends to gather.
The family delighted in hosting events pre-pandemic, most notably their annual Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. Guests gathered around the large central island while the couple prepared the meal. A separate dining room was used for more intimate or formal occasions.
The home offers a natural flow to make entertaining easy. Separate sets of French doors lead from both the bar and the dining room to the blue slate patio in the backyard. The dining room serves as a buffet where friends can grab food, then head out to the patio’s seating area around the fireplace.
Maggie’s favorite spot in the house is the view from the family room. “When we first moved in, it felt like a resort,” she said. “You have so many nice views down the long driveway, and it’s quiet. In the morning it’s a great place to have coffee, and at night it’s where we watch TV and on Friday nights eat pizza or takeout. It’s a very comfortable lived-in space.”
Before moving to GraCat, the couple raised their children in Ambler. They appreciate the small-town feel with great restaurants and shops.
“I love that the home, and the property, is a gathering place,” Lou said. “We do outdoor activities like ride snowmobiles and ATVs, and, in the past, we hosted Thanksgiving with 55 people sitting at one long table.”
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