Reimagining Silverthorne Farm

Reimagining Silverthorne Farm

This article appears in the 2011 issue of the Cincinnati Home & Garden Show Magazine

A Craftsman-style cabin blends old with new– and gives a Monfort Heights family the space they need for creating memories.

By Judi Ketteler

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About 30 years ago, Marie Besse had a vision for an over-grown 12-acre lot in Harrison, Indiana. It had a mobile home, a three-sided concrete building, and a whole lot of weeds. The couple had been looking for an investment property and stumbled across this one. “My husband, Bob, said okay because he loves me and is a good man,” Marie says. The Besses’ four children–young at the time, but now grown–had fun exploring the property and spending weekends on cots in the mobile home.

The Besses came to name the place Silverthorne Farm, prompted by a tree on the property that dropped thorns everywhere, and because they cherished memories of vacations in Silverthorne, Colorado.

As the years rolled on, they added a pond and closed in the concrete block structure- at first, to house a tractor for the property. When the mobile home just wouldn’t do anymore, they converted the concrete building into a cabin, where they could sleep more comfortably. There would still be vacations to the mountains, but Silverthorne Farm was their preferred getaway spot–just 30 minutes away, but it may as well have been a million miles away in terms of peace and quiet.

As Marie and Bob’s kids got older, the family started to use the property less and less. “The house went through a period where it sat lonely for a while,” Marie recalls. “But I believe houses have spirits, and I always knew we’d be back.” Sure enough, once Marie and Bob’s kids started having kids of their own, interest in the place surged. “I finally thought, I’ve waited long enough: it’s time for a farmhouse re-do,” Marie says.

Two years ago, they hired Neal’s Design Remodel to re-imagine the modest concrete structure. But the Besses weren’t looking for grandeur: they wanted to keep a simple farmhouse feel. “I wanted the original home enclosed inside the house, to remind me of what the place has been, and how it had gone through different stages, right along with our growing family,” Marie says.

Space Without Ostentation
“Marie came to us with a vision,” says Neal’s project coordinator Frank Kuhlmeier, who oversaw the entire project. “The cabin was just a nondescript structure, without much character,” Kuhlmeier says. Marie wanted the look of the remodeled cabin to match the sentimental value the space held, which meant it needed to be charming, but still rustic; spacious, but still modest; and above all, a seamless blend of old and new. That’s why she and Bob asked Neal’s to design a Craftsman-inspired remodel that built on the footprint of the original.

“The main this they told us was that they wanted to spend more time there,” Kuhlmeier says. “They wanted it to be more comfortable for them–including a private suite, so they had their area. But they also wanted enough room for the whole family on the holidays.”

That meant the he and his team had several design objectives: more living space inside and out, a larger master suite and seamlessly integrated Craftsman details.

Neal’s solved the problem of more living space by reorganizing the interior. They built an addition to the house for the new living room, which they designed with a cathedral ceiling and a large center see-through fireplace wall. The fireplace wall helps the dining room feel integrated into the living space, yet still offers definition. In fact, the existing family room was converted into the dining room, giving the Besses the space they needed to host dinner parties for their friends and family. Finally, they tore off the old sunroom to make way for the new master suite.

Since Marie and Bob are at the cabin several days a week, they needed a comfortable place to sleep. The new screened-in porch connects to both the master suite and the dining room–a great way to bring the outdoors in and enjoy the beautiful country setting.

Marie also wanted a large front porch, so Neal’s designed a porch directly off the living room to extend the living space during the warmer months.

What they left alone was as important as what they altered. “We didn’t change the size that much, because this size just works for us,” Marie says. “It’s what we need and nothing more. That’s important at this stage in life, when you start to re-evaluate everything.” The kitchen was updated simply (see sidebar), and the guest room and guest bath were untouched.

A Place for Memories–Inside and Out
Re-doing the cabin means the Besses have more space, from a practical standpoint. For example, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary at the cabin last summer, and there was plenty of room for the entire family, which now includes nine grandchildren. It also gives the Besses “emotional” space.

“My favorite thing is being able to sit next to the fireplace, in a rocker, and look around and see all the memories of past generations,” Marie says.

She’s filled the home with many of her favorite things, each carefully placed, and often creatively repurposed.

“The entire place is decorated with memories,” she says. There’s the 1898 treadle sewing machine she inherited–Marie is an avid sewer, and comes from a long line of sewers and quilters. She re-finished the piece, put a marble top on it and is now using it as a small bar in the living room. The 1950s dining table from her mother-in-law makes a perfect library, and the old oak chairs that used to sit in the pharmacy Bob’s family owned still get a lot of use. “We still have the couch we bought when we got engaged in 1968,” she says. “It was our first big purchase together. They don’t make them like that anymore.”

The outdoor space is also filled with memories. “I feel like we’ve been good stewards of the land,” says Marie, who has always enjoyed gardening. Early on, she and Bob worked hard to clear away the weeds. Through the years, they’ve planted various things, like a lovely butterfly garden in the front. But they’ve also let some of the land return to its natural state. Wildflowers flourish in the spring, and by summer, it looks like a mature woodland. They keep the pond stocked with fish. It also has a floating dock, and the grandkids enjoy swimming in it during the summer. “It’s really a multi-generational space now,” Marie says.

Marie would like to retire full-time to the cabin–the remodel allows the Besses that flexibility. For now, every time they make the drive there, Marie starts to feel the familiar stirrings as the approach the land. “If I found out that I had ancestors who lived on this land, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Marie says. “I just feel that connected to it.”
Blending Old With New
“We wanted to re-use everything we could,” says Marie Besse of Silverthorne Farm. Some things needed definite updating, of course, like the HVAC system and the windows. But Marie and her Husband, Bob, had no interest in creating a sleek, modern space. That’s why they worked hard with the pros at Neal’s Design Remodel to match the existing flooring and exposed beams. Reclaimed timber, stained to match the original, did the trick.

They also made careful decisions in the kitchen. “We didn’t go stainless with the appliances, because this is the farm, and it still has to look and feel like that,” Marie says. They did basic laminate countertops with a ceramic tile backsplash. They re-used the old flooring and sink, but updated the lighting and installed Brookhaven cabinets. To increase functionality, they replaced the kitchen table with a center island. “We have these ‘Silverthorne Suppers’ now, where we invite friends down and cook for them,” Marie says. “Bob is really a gourmet cook, and he finds the kitchen perfectly adequate.”

Another area left untouched in the kitchen was a small raised platform in a corner called ‘Bridget’s Loft’, where the Besses’ daughter, Bridget, loved to play as a child. The Besses could have torn it out to get more space, but it held too much sentimental value. And now, their grandchildren love playing up there. “It all comes full circle,” Marie says.
Details Make a Difference
The Craftsman design cues weren’t really there when the Besses of Monfort Heights started planning for their remodel, so they looked elsewhere–mainly to their old vacation home in the mountains of Tennessee. “We loved that rustic, mountain-style look,” Marie Besse says. “Plus, with all the Sears homes here, Cincinnati has such a great Craftsman heritage.” Neal’s Design Remodel found the right balance of Craftsman details and easy farmhouse living. “We tried to make everything as low-maintenance as possible, with great styling,” says Neal’s project coordinator, Frank Kuhlmeier.

Details include:
• Craftsman-style columns, low-pitched roof lines, warm earth tones and rich natural materials
• An all-vinyl exterior
• Carriage door for the garage
• Mix of stone and wood throughout, including interior and exterior stacked stone elements
• Bead board ceilings for the living room and porches
• Large, central fireplace made from stacked stone
• Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired front door