After growing up in a household where everybody did everything themselves, Emily Goble Smith was not intimidated by the idea of designing her own house. She and her husband, Rick, who both work at a global engineering firm, previously gutted and transformed a Sellersville Victorian from a boarding house into a single-family home.
But to make their latest dream come true, the couple had to figure out how to relocate a historic barn to the property in Perkasie where they wanted to build.
The four-acre site facing Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County "was just so pretty," said Emily, who spotted it while visiting a friend down the street. "We talked about getting a lake house for weekends. I loved the Victorian, but this was quieter, and it's a really nice area to live in."
Emily had seen an article in Architectural Digest that featured a house in which the builders put up the interior structure of a barn and designed the house around it. She fell in love with that idea.
"We didn't want to build anything standard. We wanted something unique," Rick said.
An online search led them to a barn built in 1840 out of American Chestnut in Northampton, and they got to work designing the 5,500-square-foot house for their family, which includes children Isaac, 11, and Mia, 13, and pets Greta and Maisy.
"When they move the barn, they tag all the pieces and totally disassemble it. It is very nerve-racking that it won't go back together correctly, but it did," Emily said. "The best part about the barn is how the hand-hewn beams show ax marks from almost 200 years ago when the trees were felled. Each beam has a marking already on it in Roman numerals to show where it is located on the frame. Someone even carved a dog on one."
The main living area, which includes the living room, an open kitchen, and foyer, boasts 30-foot ceilings featuring original barn beams, barn ladders now used as bookshelves, and panoramic views of the lake. The front door holds a spirit hole, a decorative carved window originally designed to allow a deceased animal spirit to escape.
Emily laid out the house, leaving out a formal dining room. The first floor includes a guest room for parents to eventually move in. Upstairs, each bedroom was built with a loft to make use of available space. Because they also work together, the couple requested a studio built for Rick over the garage. Emily is the chief operating officer of Exida, a functional safety engineering company, and Rick is the marketing manager.
"It helps to have separate wings of the house," he joked.
They are proud they incorporated many environmental features into the home, including structural insulated panels to prevent wind, noise, and heat loss; lots of natural light, and several heat pumps to make the house as energy efficient as possible. They also used recycled materials, including the high-end cabinets they ordered from a website, Green Demolitions. That cut the cost of the cabinetry from $40,000 to $3,000.
"Our builder was not a fan of us because we were constantly cutting corners. He wanted the markup, and we wanted to save money," Emily said.
The pair met at Penn State — Rick had a radio show. "I thought he was funny. He's been my boyfriend ever since."
The couple shared a condo in Doylestown before they found the Victorian in Sellersville.
"When we moved [into the condo], we literally got everything out of the garbage. Now we've upgraded," Emily said.
Decor is a passion for both of them.
Rick fashioned an old factory cart into a coffee table and has a knack for finding vintage and mid-century modern pieces. Emily likes to decorate with her own artwork or things they buy when they travel to places such as Tucson, one of her favorite locations. A first-floor bathroom was inspired by San Xavier Mission, a Spanish Catholic mission and National Historic Landmark that dates to 1692.
"People ask you, 'Who is your designer?' I laugh and say, me and Rick," Emily said. "We find some great things, and we work around them. He has an eye that's really good. I never think, 'Why did we buy that?'"
And once in awhile, they may still pull something out of the trash.
"We live in such a disposable society, especially really large items. It just bothers me to my core," she said. "We say we can recycle this."