Although the Norristown Garden Club’s Holiday House Tour in December included 18th- and 19th-century mansions, for some visitors, the hit was a 1,900-square-foot rancher built in 1964. One visitor told homeowners Jayne and Bill Wright to let her know if they ever wanted to sell.
The sun-filled Ambler rancher (with no steps) seemed a perfect home for the older couple — Bill is 75; Jayne is 74.
Turns out it also had been a great first home for a young couple. The Wrights bought the home in 1977, four years after they married.
Bill and Jayne grew up in Montgomery County and met at the Hot Shoppe in Jenkintown while socializing with friends. As newlyweds, they lived in an apartment.
At the time, Jayne was an executive secretary for Univac. One day on her lunch hour, she and a friend boldly knocked on the door of a rancher with a sale sign, and the owner invited them in. He told the women he was a contractor and had built the sturdy house. His wife had died, and he was moving to an assisted-living facility.
Jayne contacted the Realtor and returned with Bill, who was not keen on giving up apartment life. Jayne, who later went into real estate sales herself, knew even then the cardinal rule for a prospective buyer: Do not tell the agent you like a house. But Bill, the initially reluctant homeowner, broke the rule after touring the house, blurting out, “We want to buy it.”
The rancher on a third of an acre was in move-in condition. It featured numerous closets, a walk-in shower in the master bath, a basement, an attic, and a two-car garage. The Wrights did paint the dark paneling in the family room and, over the next 43 years, made many improvements.
Originally there was a large Norge window air conditioner in the family room. “It cooled the whole house,” Bill said, “but it was noisy.” He installed central air. The space where the Norge was is now occupied by sliding doors with side panels, creating a wall of glass.
Carpeting in the family room and linoleum in the kitchen were replaced with oak to match the flooring in the rest of the house. A wall between the kitchen and family room was removed, and a breakfast bar now separates the spaces. The renovated kitchen has cherry cabinets, white Corian countertops, and a tile backsplash. The walls are pumpkin. There is a skylight and a garden window over the sink.
The original picture window in the living room was replaced with a bowed window. Walls in the living room, family room, and dining room are celery green with white trim, accented by a similarly hued couch and area rugs and a large print of yellow-green forsythia above the stone fireplace in the living room. Two bucolic scenes by the late artist and architect John Sabatino hang above the family room fireplace.
The china cabinet in the dining room belonged to Jayne’s mother. Her aunt once owned the secretary in the living room, which displays a Robin Hood chess set that Bill purchased. Pieces representing the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest face off against such evildoers as the sheriff of Nottingham.
Twin mahogany desks and leather upholstered swivel chairs furnish the bedroom-turned office that Jayne and Bill share. She is with Long & Foster Real Estate in Montgomery County. He owns Greystone Equipment, a material handling company in Ambler.
Rabbit and giraffe sculptures, a swan-shaped plant holder, and parrot prints in the master bedroom reveal the Wright’s love of animals, especially birds. Two graceful heron sculptures grace the koi pond with a waterfall in the backyard. Jayne keeps bird feeders filled year round. The pond and feeders attract wildlife from the nearby Wissahickon Watershed.
After the Christmas tour, the Norristown Garden Club left behind a wreath fashioned from dried materials by the front door and two clay cardinals nesting on magnolia leaves in the kitchen for the bird-loving homeowners.
The tours benefit the club’s community projects. The annual garden tour is scheduled for Saturday, June 27.
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