A Fairy Tale Find

A classic cottage in Arden gets an update by going back to its roots.

The sun-soaked three-season porch. Photograph by John LewisSadie Somerville discovered her Storybook-style home in storybook fashion.

The house hunter was taking a whirl, literally, through Arden when a friend took her by the hand and waltzed her over to a cottage known as The Castle for its swooping roof lines and distinctive tower.

“I was at a dance at the Gild Hall and she came and got me,” Somerville recalls. “I knew right away that it was the right house for me.”

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Built in 1923, the cottage features the leaded-glass windows, charming nooks and beamed ceilings that are a hallmark of Storybook style, a fanciful genre of one-of-a-kind homes born in Hollywood around 1920.

Somerville was delighted that such details as iron chandeliers crafted at the Arden Forge were still intact. The owner of Somerville Manning Gallery at Breck’s Mill on the Brandywine, she also found the cottage was an ideal spot to display both paintings and her collection of Arts and Crafts furniture.

Three seasons a year, the couple dines in a sun porch on the back of the house where they can enjoy the peaceful, wooded setting. A colorful cluster of lanterns is decorative by day and provides romantic lighting by night.

But for more than 15 years, she made do with the cramped kitchen, where guests frequently bumped their heads on the chandelier. Then she married Rodney Jester, an avid art collector who lived only a few doors away.

“We cook together every night and we dine by candlelight every night,” she says. “It’s our tradition.”

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Sadie and Rodney find the ballroom an ideal spot for displaying paintings and Arts and Crafts furniture.  Photograph by John LewisJester installs kitchens for Wilmington designer Sue Komins. Among his many projects was a kitchen renovation in his own period home. He was confident he could give The Castle the kitchen it deserved.

“When you consider that most people keep a kitchen at least 20 years, it makes more and more sense to invest in a new one,” Jester says.

Jester and his wife are both vegetarians. Both are keen on gardening and dancing. And they also were in blissful agreement about how to approach renovating the weary kitchen and the cheerless laundry room that joined it.

Their strategy was to improve the function and flow of the spaces but stay true to the Arts and Crafts style of their home, so they chose cabinetry, hardware and decorative tile with a vintage vibe.

“It was critical to both of us that the project be in keeping with the house,” Jester says.

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The final plan called for classic, Shaker-style cabinets in cherry wood with patinated oiled bronze knobs. He also used oak floors that echo flooring in the rest of the house. The fridge and dishwasher are disguised with paneled fronts. The microwave is hidden in a custom cabinet.

“I can’t stand microwaves,” Jester says. “They shouldn’t be visible.”

Muted green tiles on the backsplash are set on the diagonal to mimic the diamond-shaped window panes. Decorative insets are embellished with a ginkgo flower motif, each set in a quarter turn so they “spin” around the room. Electrical outlets were installed on the underside of the upper cabinets so they don’t break up the expanse of tile.

Jester refurbished the circa-1950 exhaust fan above the stove because a traditional hood would have blocked the bank of windows behind the range.

“I can stand at the stove and see everything that’s going on outside,” Somerville says. “There aren’t many stoves with a view.”

In years past, she closed off the uninviting laundry room when guests visited. Today the space is a bright and welcoming butler’s pantry, ideal for entertaining. The same Shaker-style cabinets installed in the kitchen were carried into the pantry and brightened with lemon yellow paint. Dog food is stored in a pull-out cabinet designed for trash and recycling.

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The spacious kitchen. Photograph by John LewisThe faucets on the sink and bin pulls on the cupboards are crisp, shiny chrome that reflect the vintage cocktail shakers on the bar. Overhead is a glass tulip lamp, an ever-fresh design that mimics the bell-shaped flower. A washer and dryer are stationed under the granite counter.

“Now doing laundry is fun,” Somerville says.

So is living in Arden, especially for people who love art and history.

Named for the sylvan retreat in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Arden was founded in 1900 by sculptor Frank Stephens and architect Will Price. The utopian community was based on the Single Tax philosophy of political economist Henry George, in which residents do not pay taxes on the houses they own but rather on the land they rent.

A traditional hood would have blocked the bank of windows behind the range. “I can stand at the stove and see everything that’s going on outside,” says Sadie Somerville. “There aren’t many stoves with a view.”

Following the ideals advocated by British artist and social reformer William Morris, the founders fostered hand-crafted work created in a beautiful environment. To this day, theater thrives in the community, as do arts, crafts, concerts, weekly community dinners and the annual Arden Fair.

The Castle has grown over the years as various owners put their mark on the property. Somerville will always be grateful to the family who retained the diamond leaded-glass windows that were removed during an addition, then moved to the other side of the house.

One longtime resident was artist Clara Finkelstein, who left behind two striking still life paintings that hang today in the “ballroom,” as Somerville calls the expansive living room.

Finkelstein was a gifted artist who worked with Chadds Ford icon N.C. Wyeth. “Now I represent both their work, so we’ve come full circle,” Somerville says.

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As an art lover, she appreciates the vintage tiles on the fireplace. They were made by Batchelder, a California pottery founded in 1909 that produced Arts and Crafts tiles in such patterns as rabbits, leaves and hunting scenes in muted colors inspired by the earth. The ballroom floors were made from indigenous oak.

“One piece of white oak is 17½ feet long,” Jester says. “They probably timbered it on site.”

The homeowners improved the function and flow of spaces such as the butler’s pantry while staying true to the home’s style. Photograph by John LewisThree seasons a year, the couple dines in a sun porch on the back of the house where they can enjoy the peaceful, wooded setting. A colorful cluster of lanterns is decorative by day and provides romantic lighting by night.

Somerville decorated the porch in a fresh combination of blue and white, with comfy wicker furniture.

“I went to school in Sweden, and I wanted the porch to have that light Scandinavian feel,” she says.

Jester’s next project will be to restore the unique lighting system in the ballroom, in which electrical tubes are artfully concealed in tray ceiling moldings.

“The whole ceiling was washed with light, absolutely beautiful,” he says. “We’re going to get that system going again.”

  • If you’re doing a renovation yourself, approach it like a project that must be completed in a timely manner. Rodney Jester is a pro at installing kitchens, so when he worked on his own space, he scheduled it like any other job. “Otherwise, things drag on and on,” he says.
  • Turn to the existing space for inspiration. The Shaker-style cabinets in the kitchen and butler’s pantry convey an Arts and Crafts feeling in keeping with the rest of the cottage.
  • Preserve the past. The Castle retains its diamond-shaped leaded-glass windows and original lighting fixtures, which were crafted at Arden Forge.
  • Adapt amenities to suit your lifestyle. Sadie Somerville stores dry dog food in a pull-out bin designed to hold trash or recyclables.

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