Haven: The Simpsons' Tuscan-style home in Kennett Square

Posted: April 22, 2012

Most families have a scrapbook or a photo album to show what they have been up to for the last decade or so.

To document what they’ve been doing for the last 12 years, Wayne and Colleen Simpson have their house, all 4,000 Tuscan-style square feet of it, in Kennett Square.

Sunny-colored stucco covers the house, which sits on four acres and greets visitors at an angle, so they must navigate the curved driveway and notice the structure’s resemblance to an Italian villa.

Wayne, an architect, and Colleen, an interior designer, began applying their skills to the design of their home in 2000.

“It took us 10 years to furnish the house, and we are still working on it. We still need dining room chairs,” Colleen says.

She adds, “We are lucky; we work well together.”

Inspiration for the house has its roots in the 1980s, when Wayne interrupted his architectural training at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to travel to Italy and become immersed in that country’s design culture.

He returned, finished his studies, and moved to Philadelphia. When they met, he and Colleen, who is from Connecticut, lived in Washington Square, where they began their careers.

“At that time, we both became part of a hiking group,” Wayne says. “Architects always like to be outdoors as much as possible, and when you don’t have much money, hiking is a great activity.”

They married and a few years later moved to the near suburbs, eventually looking for a house even farther out.

The Simpsons bought the Kennett Square property 12 years ago, despite the advice of their real estate agents. The former tree farm had been unoccupied for a number of years.

“We built here because we loved the setting … and the fact that it is in the country,” Wayne says.

Colleen says the history of the community was an important part of their decision to build there.

“There is an authentic village a few miles away that was built in 1801 with money and land donated by two families who are still part of the community,” she says. “The two families are still important in the Quaker meetinghouse in the center of the village.”

Designing the arrangement of the structures on the site had a lot to do with lessons learned from his studies in Italian architecture, Wayne says. The buildings form a half-circle, complete with garden furniture, where the couple, their two daughters and mixed-breed dog, Tucker, gather with friends and family.

“Yes, the house is built on an angle, so as you come up the driveway you don’t see [it] head on, you see it at an angle ... first the office, then the house, and then the garage.”

For a visitor, it feels like arriving in a little piece of Tuscany. You enter through a large curved, wooden front door. You can see to the expansive fields beyond through the glass-walled living room.

The stairway at one side of the living room rises four stories, from the basement “kids area” to the master bedroom on the third floor. A tin chandelier Wayne says was one of the couple’s big expenses came from Italy and hangs on a long chain from the ceiling.

“The house is set with north orientation, and the light follows the house during the day. I don’t need to look at a watch, I just need to see where the sun is in the house,” he says. “Also, the doors and windows allow the air to follow through. We have air-conditioning but rarely need to use it.”

Wayne points to the fireplaces on either side of the 13-by-14-foot living room. The family uses little utility heat during the winter because the fireplaces are continuously burning.

The dining area — the couple refuses to call it a “great room” — is largely taken up by a copy of a 17th-century Italian table in black walnut.

Colleen says she is proud of the interior of the house: “The kitchen is orange, and the living room walls are yellow, the sofa is bronze, and the effect all fits together.”

That’s part of her theory of interior design, she adds. “If everything fits together, you will not notice the color of one thing; it will flow together smoothly.”

The kitchen, which has gray cabinets, is meant to be modern and different from the rest of the house, she says.

Most of the clients she and Wayne deal with want traditional architecture, Colleen says, but she does some modern designs for other clients. And things are changing.

“People are beginning to ask for modern touches,” she says.

Their own kitchen seems to speak for this peek into contemporary architecture. And hung prominently in the space is a large framed portrait of a friend named Emile, done in pink, black and white.

As Wayne notes, it’s a touch that “spices up” the house.

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