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Building

A Piece Of

History

The Pors Historical Home

If you like the essence of Colonial America, Williamsburg, VA, is certainly the go-to vacation destination. But if your affinity for that era travels beyond simple admiration to true immersion, you might consider re-creating a sense of that time closer to home.

In the case of Darlene and Bob Pors of Longswamp Township, the tenor and soul of Williamsburg is not just close to home – it is home. And it was home. Just over a quarter of a century ago, the Bethlehem natives left the wilds of Longswamp, where they had renovated an old stone farmhouse, and relocated to Williamsburg.

“We moved to Virginia for a few years,” says Dar- lene, who spent those years attending the College of William and Mary, where she studied historical architecture. “I was going to be an architect.”

During those years, the Pors purchased and renovated an old plantation house near Williamsburg. Darlene and Bob, the owner of Buckingham Building and Restorations who spent that time moving and sometimes deconstructing houses, fell increasingly in love with 18th-century buildings.

Bob and Darlene Pors

Solution to a search

Upon returning to their favored Longswamp area near the Lehigh County borough of Alburtis, the Pors had no luck finding a 300-year-old house to bridge those 300-plus miles between home and Williamsburg.

So in 1996, Bob the builder and Darlene the HVAC and plumbing designer decided to create their very own Williamsburg residence on a five-acre plot of forest.

First, of course, like those first Williamsburg settlers back in 1607, the couple had to create a clearance for the house. Despite an intense do-it-yourself dedication, the Pors hired an excavator for tree removal and grading. Later, they would also have to engage a licensed electrician. But everything else was pretty much the result of the Pors’ investment of their own time and talent. And they had already seen and spent time in what was to be the model for their new old house: the Orrell House in Colonial Williamsburg.

Pors Historic House

Believed to have been built in the 1750s, the house is located in the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area and is one of the 88 original buildings in the town. While the original builder is unknown, the house bears the name of John Orrell, the owner for the first two decades of the 19th century.

What attracted the Pors to the house style was its unique dimensions – 28 feet to the side with each side 28 feet tall: more or less a cube. It is the only original house in Williamsburg that offers no hint of window shutters and still boasts a bit of its original siding.

While blueprints for the Orrell House and others in Colonial Williamsburg are not available for builders, Darlene took matters into her own talented hands. Research- ing, she found basic floor plans for three homes that she could adapt and present to an architect. The couple settled on the Orrell House design because “it was the one we could afford,” says Bob.

Pors Historic House

Old and new

And the Pors’ house, while very true to its inspiration, has some modern modifications, such as radiant heated floors; central air, heat and plumbing; modern kitchen appliances; and energy-efficient windows, all of which would likely make Mr. Orrell quite envious. “You’ve got to live in the 21st century,” declares Bob.

The Pors’ house is also a cube, but Darlene notes its dimensions are 29 feet by 29 feet by 29 feet.

“It took us a year to build,” she says. “But it took two years until we could live in it,” says Bob, who did the major construction, from framing to interior outfitting.

Darlene recalls working 10- to 12-hour days and coming home to another job: painting boards, cabinets, raised-panel doors, fireplace trims, and moldings, the latter of which were often hand- hewn by Bob.

Original carpenter locks, gleaned from demo jobs in Virginia and other sources, can be found on every door.

“I salvaged lots of things,” says Bob.

Pors Historic House

Antique accents

The wrought iron hinges on the doors were specially made by Ball and Ball Antique Hardware Reproductions in Exton, Chester County. Other historical items were sourced regionally, some from the Centre Park Artifacts Bank in Reading and a curving wooden banister that highlights the open stairway from Good Old Things in Scranton.

Colors applied to the wood trim throughout the house were carefully researched. Brafferton Blue dominates, along with some similarly historically accurate and subdued greens and reds.

The walls appear to be whitewashed, although they were brush painted. Rather than typical dry- wall, Bob installed fiberboard throughout. It is twice the weight of drywall and composed entirely of recycled newspaper and gypsum.

Pors Historic House

“I got this from California,” he says. “Most drywallers don’t like it because it’s so thick and heavy and it takes so long to install. A nail doesn’t go through it easily. It’s soundproof.”

Darlene made the curtains framing the windows from reproduction fabric.

While the footprint of the 3,000-square-foot house is anything but open concept, the room flow, particularly on the first floor, easily accommodates entertaining family and friends.


There are five fireplaces in the home.


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camera / 1. The 12-plus-foot-tall garden patio fireplace; 2. Lantern outside of the house; 3. Steps leading to garden; 4. & 5. Staircase leading to second floor; 6. One of five fireplaces in the home; 7. The attic filled with antique reproduction toys

Pors Historic House

Cooking with history

And the 10 1⁄2-foot ceilings add to an expansive feel. The large kitchen has ample mahogany-framed cabinets with poplar doors and shelves for Darlene’s more than 100 cookbooks and is pretty much a chef’s dream; it has good-sized soapstone countertops, a bird’s eye maple island, and state-of-the-art appliances.

Adding to the warmth of the deĢcor is Darlene’s extensive collection of Foltz Pottery from Reinholds, Lancaster County. That is complemented by redware pieces by the late renowned Robesonia-area craftsman Lester Breininger.

Just off the kitchen is the add-on, a work area highlighted by a sink and its surrounds composed entirely of Mercer Tile from Doylestown. There is also an adjacent powder room and laundry.

There are five fireplaces in the home. “Everyone seems to like the fireplaces in the living room and dining room,” says Bob.

The couple is also proud of a massive Baldwin Brass colonial-style chandelier that dominates the dining room. “We’ve been told it was the last Baldwin Brass chandelier made in Reading,” says Darlene.

While the house itself is very true to its inspiration, the Pors have been a bit more relaxed about the interior furnishings. A visitor might not consider it eclectic, but there is a mix of influences – from Williamsburg to New England to a dash of oriental. A large carved secretary purchased from DeLong’s Furniture and Antiques in Shoemakersville dominates one corner.

Pors Historic House

Inviting entrance, steep climbs

The foyer, the main entrance to the house high- lighted by the dramatic staircase, is sparsely furnished. Pocket doors leading to the kitchen add a formal feel. A large reproduction of the 1782 “Frenchman’s Map” illustrates the location of those original Williamsburg buildings, including the Pors’ home’s inspiration.

The story-and-a-half open stairs lead to the second floor, which includes the couple’s master bedroom, a guest bedroom, and a spacious bath.

The 29-by-13-foot master bedroom features a dreamy canopy bed with reproduction fabric that matches the curtains, a sitting area, a fireplace, and a small antique writing desk tucked into a corner near a surprisingly spacious closet.

The small guest room also boasts its own fireplace.

The bathroom, with an inviting soaking tub and brass fixtures, would have been a royal luxury unimaginable in colonial times. But Bob sees it with a contractor’s eye, noting he’s soon ready to renovate it.

Pors Historic House

After climbing a steep wooden stairway, the attic reveals a child’s dream room, filled with antique reproduction toys, many from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg. Though the Pors have no children of their own, there are many in the extended family, so the room, with its twin beds and the trunk that Darlene’s grandparents brought with them from Italy to America a century ago, has been the site of lots of fun and good memories.

The Pors’ family room is actually a walkout basement that leads to the gardens. A “caged” tavern area, a popular and common feature in colonial- era hostelries, serves as the bar and is a focal point along with a fireplace with a surround of “macaroni” tiles. Macaroni? Think about the lyrics of Yankee Doodle Dandy. The tiles feature a variety of “dandies” all decked out in different poses.

Pors Historic House

On to the gardens

The exterior arched brick wall off the patio is made of Cushwa bricks and is accented by “put logs,” a common feature in colonial construction. The attached pergola is constructed of reclaimed wood.

The patio and the walkways which lead up to and wind through the authentically designed Williamsburg-style gardens are created with what Bob terms “scrap brick.”

A 12-plus-foot-tall fireplace, topped by a terracotta chimney, was designed by Darlene and executed by Bob with solid-core bricks salvaged from the demolition of an apartment building in Allentown. It adjoins a “ha, ha” wall covered a bit by natural growth encroaching from the woods next to it. It was Thomas Jefferson who coined the term, as the wall really serves no specific purpose other than aesthetics.

But the couple’s garden, though no laughing matter, is a real delight. Darlene attended a Williamsburg Garden Symposium with classes centering on 18th-century gardens. She designed it, and the Pors created the colonial oasis that overflows with herbs and colorful plantings, both annual and perennial. Traditional boxwood borders portions of the established 18-year-old garden.

A 12-by-12-foot garden shed Bob constructed largely of two-by-fours purchased for 89 cents each on sale at a Mertztown business anchors the far end of the gardens near the fireplace. A cupola tops it. Red terracotta jars placed horizontally on the outside of the shed provide shelter for varieties of avian neighbors, and free-standing purple Martin birdhouses are added attractions along the pathway between the house and garden.

Downhill from the house is a large separate colonial-styled garage, built by Bob, which also serves his business needs. The garage is made of handmade bricks produced in North Carolina.

Bob’s business takes him far afield from the Berks-Lehigh region. Buckingham Building and Restorations, which does the bulk of its work in the higher-end Philadelphia suburbs, including the Main Line and Chadds Ford, has also tackled restoration projects in the Hamptons, Charleston, and Nantucket. The company is now working on a privately-owned island off the coast of Maine.

Still, what the couple has accomplished with their “new-old” home is their greatest source of pride.

“I think it was more work than any old house we’ve ever restored,” says Bob.

What advice do they give others who are either building a replica house or renovating an existing one?

“Patience, patience, patience,” Darlene says. “I think it’s something you have to have a love for. And for us, it was a bonding thing as well.”


The deep windowsills provide a place for accessories or an inviting seat to gaze out on a large antique salvaged barn window reglazed by Darlene.