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 décor 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.
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.
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.
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.”