The first purchase Nancy Gracia made for her new home was a plunger. Besides plumbing problems, it also had wiring and structural issues.
The house and detached garage had been vacant for three years when Gracia discovered it while driving around Newtown, Bucks County.
It was 2009, and Gracia was picking up the pieces after her marriage ended.
Her two sons were almost grown, she had returned to college after dropping out more than 20 years earlier to marry, and she had an ambition: She wanted to buy a property where she could live and operate a residential interior design business.
Despite the house’s dilapidated appearance, she parked her car and, finding the back door open, walked inside. Though sheetrock was falling from the ceiling and ivy was growing through the windows, she thought to herself, “This is my house.”
The home Gracia purchased had been built in two phases. The original structure was constructed by stone mason John Milnor in 1800 with stones gathered from the creek behind the property. A clapboard addition, which was later stuccoed, was built in 1900.
Postponing major renovations, Gracia made necessary repairs when she moved in and put off buying new appliances, except for the French La Cornue kitchen stove she found on eBay.
In 2012, Gracia graduated with a bachelor’s of fine arts from the New York School of Interior Design. That same year, she hired Amish contractors to build a timber-framed addition to her home. The exterior was stuccoed to match the earlier addition.
The addition with its vaulted ceiling doubled the size of the house and included a great room with a fireplace and a spiral staircase to a loft, two half-baths and a full bath, and a basement workspace for her business, Bare Root Design Studio. There are three bedrooms and two more baths in the older sections of the house.
Gracia renovated the kitchen in the 1900 wing in 2019, installing forest green cabinetry with white marble countertops and backsplashes. She ordered new appliances, including a high-tech coffee maker and steam oven, but kept the La Cornue stove.
In planning her home’s decor, Gracia said she did not want to “overpower with modern design.” She integrated the different sections with warm-toned wood furniture, wood trims, and white and red oak flooring. The heating system uses vintage embossed metal radiators.
Gracia, who comes from Hispanic descent, grew up in South Texas. It was not a culture that had people paying for luxury services such as interior designers, she said.
During her marriage, Gracia and her family moved often for her husband’s work. She became her own interior designer, furnishing homes in California, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. “I always wanted to live in a pretty house,” she said.
Fortunately, she had a particularly useful decorating skill. Her mother, Julia Alaniz, a seamstress, had taught her to sew. Though now she often has others do the needlework, she loves using a variety of textiles in her home.
The settee is upholstered in emerald green silk velvet. Ottomans in the dining nook are covered in a tiger-patterned velvet. The multicolored striped cushion on the banquette behind the half-moon table complements the charcoal and white stripes on the Schumacher wallpaper.
Pale blue and peach drapes provide chic window treatment while allowing maximum light. Gracia made the pillows strewn on chairs and sofas. She also sewed the leaf-green cushions for the sculptural concrete chair on the patio by the front door. The chair, a concrete table and several planters came from Opiary Studio in Brooklyn.
A large square basket above a fireplace was made by noted weaver Jonathan Kline.
Folk artist Judith Key, whom Gracia found on eBay, painted the whimsical interpretation of Washington Crossing the Delaware. Another work by Key, a painting of a village by a river, hangs nearby.
A decorative piece of tinware by Pennsylvania artist Deborah Sielski shimmers above a tiger maple desk.
“I work with fantastic artisans,” Gracia said. “I am always on the hunt for the guy working out of his shop.”
Though she has owned other homes, the tumbledown Newtown property has been her biggest challenge.
“This was the beginning of a pilgrimage,” she said. Over the last dozen years both house and owner “acquired patience, authenticity, and peace.”
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