Bill and Nicole Miller had no idea they were looking for a house. The couple’s 2,000-square-foot split level in Exton had served their four-member family well.
But a half-mile down the road, nestled behind a thicket, sat a majestic, three-story Victorian with a wraparound porch, gingerbread trim, and plenty of updates. The house had been on the market for more than a year, and then the listing was shared with the neighbors. So the Millers decided to drive by.
“We came up the driveway. ...The outside wasn’t quite fitting with the price tag,” said Nicole, a special-education teacher for the Downingtown Area School District. But then the price dropped some, and they returned two more times. “I thought it felt a little dark, but when we came back for a walk though, it felt right.”
The couple, who shared an apartment in Center City for graduate school, moved to Exton once they found out they were expecting their first child and for work. For 11 years, they were happy with their home, but they wanted a little more space.
“We got a lot more,” Nicole said.
According to the previous owners, the property, originally 200 acres, was a wedding present from a father to his son, a pharmacist who traveled by train into Philadelphia. Now 8.5 acres, the property holds the 1875 house, a sprawling yard, remnants of a stone garage, and too many fox holes to count. It was the park-like nature of the property they fell in love with, though it is right next to a neighborhood so it doesn’t feel isolated.
“We once counted 17 deer from the living room window,” Nicole said. “The property is still zoned for five horses.”
The front living room features the original double-entry doors, 18-inch window sills with wavy glass, and a distinguished dark-trim staircase. The room flows into a large dining room that was opened up to connect to an addition, which includes a new kitchen and family room. A floor-to-ceiling exterior stone wall was saved and used as a cutout for a wine shelf. The expansive farmhouse kitchen boasts a 10-foot island, lots of seating, and new appliances and countertops. It’s one of their favorite spots.
Some families who toured the house didn’t like the contrast between the new and the old, but the Millers found the mix of character and updates "a dream come true,” Nicole said.
French doors in the family room lead to a back patio covered in stamped concrete and surrounded by stone ledges.
“We’ve had a sports party, a baby shower, a Memorial Day party, and even Democratic Party events here,” Nicole said. Unlike their previous homes, “the house is large enough that if it rains, it’s OK, we can still go inside.”
On the first floor, steep stairs lead to two bedrooms on the second floor, and even steeper stairs lead to a third-floor bedroom and office. “Everyone has fallen down the stairs at least once,” she said.
The previous owners converted the two small bedrooms on the second floor into one, which is now used for their son’s room. The master bedroom and a new bathroom sit in the back. Coming up on their one-year anniversary in the home, the family is still appreciating the details of the space, such as ornate hinges on most of the doors.
Each room on the third floor has its own Rapunzel-like balcony. Originally, it was “terrifying,” said Bill, who works from home as a consultant for a drug development company. They had to raise the shin-level railings up to code. Lately, Bill has gained the courage to have his early morning conference calls from a chair and table out there, his wife said.
But the balcony, along with a charming private space, was magic to their 11-year-old daughter, Hannah. The Millers outfitted the third-floor stairs with special decals that read: “Every great journey begins with one single yet brave little step.”
The Millers plan to waterproof the basement, find landscaping that the deer and rabbits won’t eat, and possibly add geothermal elements to improve on heating costs. And they want to find the perfect chairs for the front porch.
“I always wanted a veranda,” Nicole said. “I’m trying to find rocking chairs. Now I’m on a new hunt.”
Outside, a stone bench sits near a draping crepe myrtle with Secret Garden-like stone walls in the background.
“Now there are hummingbirds coming to that crepe myrtle. I love it,” Nicole said. “Actually, the newest residents were box turtles. It’s always an adventure here.”
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