When she walks out her back door, Kathy Phillips says, “I feel like Maria in The Sound of Music.”
A lone magnolia separates a grassy lawn from mowed cornfields. In the distance, green and gold hills are veiled in a mist.
Phillips’ backyard vista is not in Austria but in East Bradford Township, Chester County. Many similar Pennsylvania landscapes have been threatened or erased by suburban sprawl.
The stunning view from the former schoolhouse where Phillips lives will be preserved, however, because the building and its surroundings are in the Worth-Jefferis Rural Historic District. The 1,800 acres of private land has been designated a natural resource by the National Register of Historic Places. Named for two Quaker families who settled there, the district has been farmland for three centuries.
The original 500-square-foot one-room schoolhouse was used by farm children from 1842 until the early 1940s. The school was converted to a residence in 1948. Several years later, a Tudor-style addition was added, complete with a decorative turret.
Phillips and her partner, Jeff Huckabee, began leasing the building last April. They had returned to Chester County from Pittsburgh, where they lived for four years, and were looking for a house to rent. Without even opening the front door, Huckabee says, “after walking around outside, I said, ‘I’m in.’”
Phillips was more circumspect: “I did not want to live in the boonies.” But she came round when she realized “we’re only a six-minute drive from the West Chester Courthouse.“
The home’s entry opens into a kitchen and dining-sitting area with a brick fireplace. Red cannas that Phillips planted outside the picture window by the front door attracted hummingbirds all summer, she says.
To the right of the entryway, the space that once was the schoolhouse and later expanded for a residence now houses the master and guest bedrooms, a full bath, powder room, and an office for Huckabee. The former oil company engineer owns Joe Mosquito of West Chester, a mosquito and tick control service. A cupboard in a bedroom probably once held school supplies, Phillips says.
To the left of the entryway is a vaulted living room with another brick fireplace.
Before Phillips and Huckabee moved in, the interior of the house was painted a heavy cream with glossy white trim. Oak floors were pristine.
Within two weeks, Phillips, an interior designer, had her new residence furnished and decorated. The kitchen, remodeled in 2013, has dark wood cabinets, which complement her mahogany chest, dining table, and shield-back chairs. Her collection of blue-and-white china is displayed on windowsills, on tables, and in the built-in bookcase next to a blue-and-white patterned screen.
Phillips split a blue and beige chinoiserie drape from her Pittsburgh home to make curtains for two guest room windows. She also made throw pillows for that room and yellow-and-white pillows for the four-poster bed in the master bedroom.
Two upholstered armchairs are positioned in front of the TV on a French sofa table that Phillips bought at auction. Huckabee added the bottom shelf. Red-and-white porcelain Chinese lions on the fireplace hearth belonged to Huckabee’s uncle. While in the Army and stationed in Germany, Huckabee acquired the vintage Gustaf Becker grandfather clock by the front door and the ornately carved Becker wall clock in the living room.
Phillips, 73, and Huckabee, 67, have been together for 14 years. She grew up in Atlantic City, he in west Texas. They were both divorced with grown children — she with a daughter, he with two sons — when they met at a singles dance at a country club in West Chester. For Huckabee, “it was love at first sight.”
Phillips now has two grandchildren. Huckabee has three.
Some of the formal French and English furnishings in their new home came from an antiques shop that Phillips operated in Pittsburgh.
She also acquired two landscapes by Chester County artists now hanging in the living room. And she had farm-themed items appropriate to her present surroundings, including a colorful oil painting of chickens, now above the sitting area fireplace, and a ceramic rooster lamp, now in the kitchen.
Maybe Phillips knew she would one day live “in the boonies.”
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