In Chadds Ford, Designing a Dream Home From the Ground Up
Here's how Kathryn and Ian McLean built a stone manor house suited for their entire family.
The homeowner quarried schist for the home’s facade from a property he owned in Vermont.//Joe del Tufo
Homeowners Kathryn and Ian McLean//Joe del Tufo
As a lad in Yorkshire, Ian McLean admired the stone houses that dotted the English countryside. “I have always loved the look of those gray stone properties, and that stayed with me long after we moved to America,” he says.
In 2001, when he came to the area as a corporate executive, he looked for a setting where he could build an expansive home for his extended family, a place where generations would gather.
“We thought it would take a while to find a place, but we found this within several weeks,” he says. “We knew straight away that it was just right.”
The land, 11 secluded acres in Chadds Ford, would become the setting for a 12,500-square-foot manor house with an expansive garage, two-bedroom guest cottage, and a swimming pool and spa with one-bedroom pool house.
But before he set about building the house, McLean and his wife, Kathryn, held a meeting with their four adult children. “We made a list of what everyone in the family wanted,” he says.
Ian was keen on an authentic English bar, “an area where we could have a nice party. And I thought a home gym would be very nice, indeed.”
A sewing room was at the top of Kathryn’s list, “a place where I could hide away and do my thing.”
The siblings and their spouses weighed in with other amenities, including a library, a home theater, a sauna and spa, and a game room with an authentic British snooker table.
“Then we handed the list to the architect—and he made certain it didn’t fall down,” McLean says.
Sourcing their own materials
McLean came up with a unique plan for the building materials, quarrying indigenous schist for the facade from a property he owned in Vermont. Oak, maple and cherry trees on the land were milled for flooring.
McLean sent two sons, Rob and David, to Vermont to oversee the operation. They assembled a crew of 20 workers to quarry the stone and cut it into slabs with a diamond saw before it was trucked south to the building site. The brothers worked, hands-on, to get the job done.
“We progressed from chisels, to crowbars, to hiring a Canadian company to dynamite the site,” Rob says.
The homeowners received serendipitous expertise in putting the stone together when Gary Odle, owner of Stonescapes in Hockessin, drove by the construction site.
“He pulled up in his truck and asked if we needed any help,” McLean recalls. “We already had a full crew working on the house, but when we saw some of his work, we were convinced that we wanted Gary. He is the best mason in the land.”
Local stonemason Gary Odle crafted a grotto-like, 1,200-bottle wine room with vaulted ceilings.//Joe del Tufo
Odle crafted a grotto-like, 1,200-bottle wine room with vaulted ceilings and arched niches for racking. The distinctive stone sink is a French antique Kathryn discovered on a shopping trip to Philadelphia with her interior designer.
On the exterior, a stone arch reminiscent of a medieval castle connects the main house to an L-shaped garage. A stone terrace wraps around the back of the house, with steps descending to the gardens and a stream. The terrace and house are supported by 16-inch steel I-beams.
The house was sited to avoid cutting down trees, with the smallest elevation in front and the largest in the back.
“I didn’t want the huge house by the roadside,” McLean says.
The house is ideal for entertaining, the site of large-scale celebrations, including a wedding reception for 150 guests. With seven bedrooms, all with en suite bathrooms, it’s also a comfortable destination for family and friends.
“We were determined to live in this house,” McLean says. “We didn’t want it to be a museum.”
Inspired by Venice
The grand staircase in the McLean home was inspired by Venice.//Joe del Tufo
Visitors make a grand entrance, entering into a foyer with a butterfly staircase with ornate wrought-iron spindles inspired by the architecture of Venice. To accommodate the stairs, the original plans for the foyer were expanded 10 feet, to 27 feet by 18 feet.
Heated floors are sheathed in Italian marble. Overhead, a massive crystal chandelier sparkles. It is positioned so that it is visible from outside the house through a triptych of arched windows. The chandelier is equipped with an electric pulley system so it can be lowered for cleaning.
“They come in every year and clean every single crystal,” Kathryn says. “It’s a ritual.”
The mahogany banister on the staircase is the only wood in the house that did not come from the Vermont property. In the living room, oak planks are a foot wide and an inch thick. Natural cherry floors gleam in the stately library, while maple was laid in a parquet pattern in the office and in a decorative inset in the dining room.
McLean designed the templates used to cut the wood for trim work, including elaborate crown moldings and chair rails in the formal living room. The fireplace mantel, embellished with carvings of urns and garlands, was discovered in Chicago. Instead of a gas insert, the McLeans opted for an element that replicates a traditional English coal grate.
A curio case displays family heirlooms and mementos from McLean’s business travels. The blue-and-white Georgian tea service belonged to his mother. The balsa airplane was crafted in Mozambique. The grand piano is one of the few pieces the couple brought with them to the house.
“This house is four times the size of our previous home, so we pretty much started over when we furnished it,” McLean says.
The silk sofa is tufted, with dressmaker details on the skirt. Cloverleaf side tables are topped with leather. Chairs with barley twist frames and temple lion carvings were snapped up at auction.
The two-story library is accessible from the main floor
Kathryn’s sewing room is outfitted with a large cutting table that doubles as a place to wrap gifts. Her favorite place in the house is the two-story library, which is accessible from both the main floor and the second-floor master suite via a spiral staircase. It’s a stately yet cozy space, with cherry raised paneling and arched bookcases. Overhead are a coffered ceiling and large brass-and-glass pendant lantern.
The bar on the lower level was inspired by the White Horse Inn, a country pub in England. Its top-shelf details include a pressed-tin ceiling, brass bar rail and mirrored back bar, where McLean’s collection of single malt Scotches are at the ready. Upholstered bar stools are framed in mahogany and accented with nail-head trim.
“We tested dozens of bar stools while we were shopping,” Kathryn says. “Then we sat in this one and said 'ahhh.'”
Kathryn hails from a musical family—her father played cornet professionally—and that gift has been handed down. A music room that also serves as a playroom for the grandchildren features a mural depicting musical instruments.
A piano carved into the stonework on the terrace is another family remembrance. A rose-and-thistle motif is forged into wrought iron grillwork.
“We put a great deal of thought and effort into our home,” McLean says. “You could say we are perfectionists.”
GET THE LOOK
Think globally. The grand staircase in the McLean home was inspired by Venice. The bar and snooker room are an homage to their native England. Be creative in sourcing materials. The stone and wood used to build the house came from the family’s property in Vermont. Two of the homeowners’ sons were tasked with running the quarry. Brainstorm as a family. In planning the home, the McLeans gathered input from their adult children, who they knew would be frequent visitors. Shop ’til you drop. In addition to furniture showrooms, Kathryn McLean and her interior designer shopped at auctions, estate sales and antiques stores. Think big. The crystal chandelier in the 27-foot-by-18-foot foyer was originally designed for a commercial property.