Photos by Jim Graham
Arden + James owner Bri Brant rescues and revives the 19th-century farmhouse she had always admired as a kid on the Main Line.
Growing up in Chadds Ford, Bri Brant frequently traveled along Cossart Road, where an old Folk Victorian farmhouse on eight bucolic acres caught her eye. “I’ve loved this style of house since I was a kid,” says Brant, an industrial designer and owner of Arden + James boutique in Kennett Square. “I know that’s weird, but I’ve always been drawn to them—to the feeling.”
Around Christmas 2020, when Brant spotted survey markers in the yard, she set out to save the property from being subdivided. “I have my real estate license, so I had access to the public record. I wrote a letter to the estate and signed my dad’s name to it, with his permission,” she says. “I worried that if I signed my own name, they wouldn’t write me back.”
It was kismet. A few days later, her dad got a call. Soon, Brant was touring the house with her husband, James, and their two boys. “It was a magical time of year with the snow, and I fell in love with everything about it,” she recalls. “My love for this house … It’s like when you love a person so much that you don’t notice any faults. I felt attached. There was nothing about her that could ever bother me.”
Three months later, the family was settled in the home. Brant named the house Victoria.
The Brants completely updated the kitchen, installing an island and shaker cabinets topped with an earth-tone granite. Stainless steel appliances offer convenience and a contemporary bent, as does a corner banquette hugging a circular farmhouse table.
A Blank Canvas
The Brants are the fourth family to reside in the home over the past century and a half. It was built in 1867 by the Sharpless family, who at the time owned most of Fairville village, including a post office, a boardinghouse for girls and a general store. The Sharpless House was later purchased by the Woodwards, well-known farmers in Pennsbury Township. Sometime in the late 1960s or early ’70s, they sold it to the Barringtons, who remained there for 50 years.
One of the home’s best features is its east-west situation. “It gets the most perfect sunrises and sunsets,” Brant says.
Brant often envisions the Sharpless family rocking on the original wooden wraparound porch or pulling up the circular dirt drive in their horse and buggy. She also likes to imagine how they lived in the space before the dawn of electricity and indoor plumbing. The porch has since been torn down. The drive, formerly part of Stockford Road, is now asphalt.
The Brants purchased the 3,000-square-foot home as is, and they fully expected to uncover structural problems while renovating. “I didn’t care what was wrong with her, I was willing to fix it all,” Brant says. “You could tell all the people who lived here before us loved it, and they took really good care it. Structurally, she was in great shape.”
Brant points to where a drop ceiling had been installed in the kitchen. “[It] had to be hiding something, right?” she notes.
As it turns out, a few modern updates were all the house needed. The goal was to create a “blank canvas.” For starters, they replaced the ’70s-era asphalt roof with more energy-efficient metal, rewired the electric, and removed old radiators to install central heat and air conditioning. “The radiators were really beautiful, but we didn’t want the oil,” Brant says.
They also hung ceiling fans with dimmer lights in every room— ideal for temperate months when screens allow for fresh air.
“I thought for sure we’d have to replace all the original leaded-glass windows and that we’d be broke for the rest of our lives,” Brant says, only half-joking.
None of the windows needed repairing, so they moved to the interior. They peeled off the wild floral wallpaper from the ’80s, did some plastering and painting, and pulled up the wall-to-wall carpet to reveal original hardwood floors in mint condition. The stucco exterior was white with contrasting black shutters. They painted it a pale gray that shows a hint of pink in certain light. “You see that pink, too?” Brant poses. “Isn’t that amazing?”
While Brant favors all things old—spaces, objects and general simplicity—her husband and the boys prefer a house that’s “new and open.” Sure, 19th-century architecture comes with its fair share of quirks (shallow closets, squeaky floorboards, mysterious nooks), but a few updated amenities made for a balance that appeases the whole gang.
James completely updated the kitchen, installing an island and shaker cabinets topped with an earth-tone granite. And while you’ll spot a few of Brant’s early American antiques in the home, an icebox isn’t one of them. Stainless steel appliances offer convenience and a contemporary bent, as does a corner banquette hugging a circular farmhouse table. Brant brushed an ivory porch paint across the wood floors. Foot and paw traffic from Lacey, the family’s 8-year-old Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, adds a patina that screams “farmhouse.” While new, a distressed Persian rug and woven leather stools appear rustic.
Elsewhere downstairs, there’s a great room, a formal dining room, a split-level family room, an enclosed porch, and a laundry off the side-entry mudroom. Upstairs, you’ll find four bedrooms and a sunroom just wide enough for a small daybed. Throughout most of the house, massive windows offer views of vast fields of sycamores, dogwoods, white oaks, beech and hickories. Rose of Sharon is also abundant, and Brant has planted perennials like aster, bluebells and milkweed to attract butterflies. “There were two beautiful maple trees, but they rotted in the middle, so we had to cut them down,” she says. “But isn’t it like a painting out of every window?”
Brant’s favorite indoor space is the south-facing “Blue Room,” where sun spills in from all sides to break up the shadows. It’s been painted white and renamed the “Piano Room,” after the Kohler & Campbell version James and the kids play. (They had to downsize from the baby grand at their former house.) An acoustic guitar leans against a wall, available to anyone who passes by.
In another corner of the room, an H-frame easel showcases a child’s drawing. Beside it, a wood shoe-polishing kit holds brushes and solvents. At the center of space, an ivory sofa faces an antique Franklin stove. An old chest serves as coffee table. “This is our music, art and reading room,” Brant says. “We spend a lot of time in here.”
Behind the black stove, a wall of tiles is the only artefact remaining from the Blue Room. Above it, Brant has hung a large palm cyanotype made by a high school friend. Other personal touches include the brown bears her late mother, Candace Anderson, collected; handbound books from James’ father; and several items Brant brought home after relocating her retail space from the Chadds Ford Barn Shops to Works Kennett Square (pottery, plants, pillows with kilim and Mexican embroidery).
On display between rooms are more collectibles and works by Brant’s mom, a real estate broker and visual artist with an affinity for tasteful furnishings. Other items include antique mirrors, Wyeth prints, and a framed montage of the Phish tickets James collected in the 1990s.
The intended family room—cozy, with its own fireplace and sliding glass exit to the yard—serves as James’ office and music studio. He’s a singer/songwriter and a computer engineer. A would-be formal dining room is now a place to flop down in front of the TV.
The enormous enclosed porch off the kitchen has many uses. With its panoramic view and ample seating, the porch is Brant’s favorite spot for watching her boys, 8 and 10, ride their bikes and four-wheelers around the yard. “This replaced the original porch in the 1980s and was the perfect addition. It’s perfectly north, so it insulates the colder, darker side of the house,” Brant says. “This house was my dream.”
Now, it’s her reality.
Related: Michelle Gage Upgrades This Haverford Home With a New Layout