At Mike Schwartz’s house, diverse architectural elements from many times and places have found a home, a place to live in artistic harmony.
Two huge arched windows with painted white louvers, likely salvaged from a church, are displayed as sculptures in the family room. The heavy teak doors at the top of the stairs were made by hand in India a century ago. Salvaged barn doors open and close on metal tracks, just as they did in their original homes.
“I am more interested in found objects than I am in antiques,” Schwartz says.
By definition, a found object is a utilitarian item that is reinterpreted in an artistic way. Witness the carved wood panel in the dining room, one of 24 tableaus reclaimed from a horse barn on Philadelphia’s Main Line. Salvaged windows usher light into a loft dressing room. A vintage beautician’s chair is a conversation piece in the family room.
Schwartz appreciates the aged patina on a raised-panel shutter, a one-of-a-kind finish created by layers of paint and years of sun, wind and rain. The piece is displayed on a wall in the foyer.
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“It’s breathtakingly beautiful to me, which is why I am hanging it as art,” he says.
The two-story stone house was built in Greenville in the 1970s in the traditional Colonial style. A walk-in brick fireplace and pegged wooden floors, architectural elements of fine homes in the 18th century, were part of the design. A large addition was built about 20 years ago.
“The vision was to build a house that looks and feels like an old house,” he says.
To that end, the builder incorporated massive, aged beams in the construction. The beams were left exposed in places to reveal the marks of the adz, a sharp-edge wood-cutting tool used to shape logs before the advent of power tools.
Schwartz embraced that rugged and enduring skeleton when he bought the property last year. It would be the framework for his own design, in which he would peel away some elements and layer on others to produce his ideal of a relaxed and rustic haven. He bought pieces at auctions and antique galleries and shopped for materials at salvage yards and on the Internet.
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He found the Tudor-style chairs that flank the raised-panel fireplace in the keeping room at an auction in Rehoboth Beach. A Pennsylvania-style cupboard, resplendent in weathered paint, stands in the dining room, where chairs from a school library in India surround the table.
Friends advised him to tear out a cast-iron wood stove, a recent addition to the property. But he liked the stove’s sturdy looks and soon warmed to its practical charms.
“It’s extremely functional,” he says. “One day the heater went out and we used the stove to heat the whole house.”
He is especially fond of old wood, engrained with the character of passing years. To create a unique blend of floors and walls, Schwartz bought 5,000 square feet of planking, most of it reclaimed from barns in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
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“There are many different widths and lengths and various kinds of woods,” he says. “Some of it is painted red, some is painted white, and some has never been painted at all.”
In the family room, planks were hand-selected and laid to form a carpet of textures and colors, with some wood installed paint-side-up to contrast with the natural hues of the unpainted planks. In the master bedroom, lengths of rare chestnut were installed as a border to showcase their warmth.
The corridor from the master bedroom to the bath is a unique interpretation of parquet flooring in which a variety of woods are cut in small planks and set in quilt-like patterns to show off the various grains and finishes.
“I walk this path every day, so it’s important to me,” he says.
Schwartz discovered many of the reclaimed architectural elements throughout the house at Material Culture, a seller of antique and vintage furnishings and art in the cavernous train garage of the Atwater Kent Radio Factory, built in the 1920s in Philadelphia. The ornately carved piece that serves as a center island in the kitchen was originally a wine cabinet, crafted from elm in China’s Shandong Province in the late 19th century.
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“Traditionally, it stands against the wall, but it works quite well as an island in a kitchen,” says Vladan Gradistanac, interior designer at Material Culture.
The kitchen offers an enticing banquet of textures, a blend of stainless steel appliances, red brick floors and glazed cabinetry. Achieving the soft, vanilla sheen on the cupboard doors was a multi-step process, requiring layers of finishes.
“There is a big difference between painting and glazing, which really comes through in the finish,” Schwartz says.
The antique tiles on the backsplash are white with a blue central medallion framed with an ornate geometric and floral border in chocolate brown. He found the tiles, crafted in France in the late 1800s, at the Antique Center on Broadway in Denver, which also sells tiles online.
“They look like they came out of an old farmhouse in the countryside in France, just what I was looking for,” Schwartz says.
Rather than install tile on the backsplashes above the countertops, he opted for reclaimed wood planks, installed vertically.
“I hadn’t seen it done that way any place, except in my head,” he says. “But if you have an idea you think will be great, why not go with it?”
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He designed the headboard in his son’s room, inspired by an antique fireplace mantel. Made from weathered wood, it looks as if it might have been in the room for centuries.
In the master bedroom, a bed with four towering posts was custom-made in India from vintage architectural elements.
“We collect old arches and columns and put them together to make a bed,” Gradistanac says. “This one is especially nice looking because it still has wonderful old paint.”
In the sumptuous master bath, an antique ladder, bearing traces of its original red paint, is a towel rack as well as an artistic statement.
The space is rustic yet refined. In the water closet, the walls are sheathed in rough planks, “like an outhouse,” Schwartz notes. A glossy white soaking tub is elegant and luxurious. Milky matte countertops are honed Carrera marble. The dressing table was inspired by pink-and-white toile linens from Target.
Industrial-style lights, with metal shades shaped like butterfly wings, came from the NVF (National Vulcanized Fiber) plant in Yorklyn. Schwartz bought them on the spot and stored them for 15 years, waiting for the right place to install the fixtures.
The large shower is tiled in slate, with a river-rock floor. It’s a high-tech indulgence with multiple spray heads and computerized controls that create a colored light show, accompanied by realistic sounds found in nature.