Artist John Stevens, who often paints old, historic brick and stone structures, wanted an old house that would reflect his love of watercolors while offering retail space to display them.
Ten years ago, Stevens, who has also sold his paintings at craft shows, found just the place - a two-story brick home circa 1850 - on Main Street in the quiet town of Shrewsbury, Pa.
"This place is unique in that it was originally built to be a business and residence, and always has been," he said of the property that, over the years, served such commercial endeavors as an ice-cream parlor and antique shop.
Furthermore, the home, with the shop entrance and large front display window on the east side and a second door to the living quarters at the west end, was tailor-made for the hundreds of period furnishings dating from 1820-1830 that he had been collecting for more than 30 years.
Stevens purchased the property, which possessed what he referred to as "good bones," for $165,000. By the time he had completed a large addition at the rear of the house, he had a little more than 3,000 square feet of living space, less than one-quarter of that comprising his retail gallery.
It took extensive work to make the home a model for what he paints and collects. He had to rip out low ceilings, obtrusive paneling and wall-to-wall carpeting, wire brush the pine flooring throughout the house and install a full kitchen.
"I'm a big lover of things left in their original finished surface," Stevens noted, pointing out that in Colonial America, before stains and shellacs, most pine pieces of furniture were painted.
In addition to his collection of walnut cabinets crafted from old wood, he has crafted a few pieces of furniture, including a hutch, a replica of one found at the Winterthur museum and estate in Delaware.
Stevens' family room addition was designed and built to blend with the main house's architectural hallmarks. A beamed ceiling lords over iron-work pieces such as a candle stand and a large kettle beside a wide brick fireplace. In one corner of the room, a Windsor reproduction chair, fashioned by Stevens from old wood, sits in front of a primitive cabinet filled with old quilts.
Stevens knows his treasures - their construction and provenance.
When speaking of the walnut highboy in his living room, he invites visitors to touch the wood, exploring with their hands the natural wear of centuries.
"This highboy dates to 1745 [and] was made in Ipswich, coastal Massachusetts," he said, indicating its Queen Anne legs. "This [highboy] needs to stand there like a thoroughbred horse, not a cow."
While serving customers in his gallery of original watercolors and prints, Stevens refers to his home as his biggest art project, the repository of a lifetime of collecting.
And of the bonus feature, he quipped:
"This is the house that came with a free store."
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Making a dream home
Dream element:: John Stevens' home and shop on North Main Street in Shrewsbury, Pa., dates to 1850. Its two-story brick exterior boasts original shutters as well as most of the original glass in the windows. His home is the embodiment of the framed watercolors he sells. His subject matter deals with the intricacies and exterior detailing of houses and buildings, as well as still-life subjects, the originals of which are found throughout his house.
Design inspiration:: As befits an original, mid-19th century dwelling with store front, many of the interior furnishings date to that period and further back. The parlor, for example, features a walnut highboy and cherrywood lowboy, both dating to the mid-1700s. An original, life-register sampler, stitched in 1831, hangs on a wall near the fireplace. It is difficult to distinguish original pieces of furniture and decorative art from the high-quality reproductions that grace every area of the home.
Personal touch:: Hung throughout the home are tributes to artists and artisans who have worked alongside Stevens at craft exhibits. A painting of a little girl in red by folk artist Keith Millison hangs on the dining room wall and distinctive wrought-iron pieces by blacksmith John Tyler are found in several rooms. These works, while newly made, are fine reproductions of original art and useful home items.