Retired couple still living large, now in Malvern home

The main entrance of the Gunnings' home is a focal point for entertaining.
The main entrance of the Gunnings' home is a focal point for entertaining. (SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 25, 2012

A couple nearing retirement who had already owned several large homes while raising their family might be expected to downsize to a modest residence.

But, no, Ann and Ed Gunning weren't having any of that.

One thing is pretty much crystal clear when meeting these empty-nesters: They relish being surrounded by loved ones. Which is why, when the Gunnings bought their 5,500-square-foot two-story single in Malvern, their legendary parties - filled with hearty dishes and steins of robust beer - figured significantly.

Ten years ago, when Ed Gunning's company transferred him from their native Baltimore to the bucolic Valley Forge area, this stone-faced home wasn't their first choice. Initially, a newly built and even more expansive house caught their eye. But they didn't act swiftly enough.

"Another family relocating from California beat us to the punch," says Ed, feigning annoyance. "Now, we're the best of friends."

Just next door, the Gunnings found a smaller, not-quite-finished house, and were delighted to have a say in the lighting and flooring decisions.

Over the last decade, the Gunnings, both 59, have created a home with a mix of contemporary pieces and recycled finds, giving their dwelling a shabby chic and comfy Americana character that radiates warmth throughout.

Traditional moldings adorn the dining and living rooms, where the only formal furniture resides. Curios hold books, glassware, and period plates.

Cherry cabinets surround the kitchen, where the annual Mardi Gras party, as well as the occasional Octoberfest and Fourth of July celebrations, get started, with more than 70 guests savoring house specialties such as Cajun catfish and pulled pork.

Nearby is the family room, where two white tufted sofas are separated by a table shaped like a four-leafed clover that was refinished by Ed. Besides being handy with sandpaper and paint, he made the flowered cornice and crimson drapes that adorn the large windows.

"My grandmother was a top stitcher for London Fog," says Ed, who met Ann while both were in the radiology program at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1971. They married three years later.

Across the room is a 1970s-era armoire dotted with photos of daughters Meredith, 32, a videographer, and Megan, 34, an actress. The Gunnings also have remained close to their German exchange "daughter" Jutta, 42, (pronounced YOO-tuh), who lived with the family in 1988-89.

A backyard retreat with a 1,500-square-foot patio was built by the late Del Westwood, a local landscaper who became a friend. The rustic pergola has a vast and interesting collection of wine bottles slipped into the rafters.

"People take to the patio no matter what the weather is," says Ann, who works part time at Waterloo Gardens in Exton.

But what really distinguishes the house is the party room/beer hall on the lower level, an area in which the couple whimsically showcase family memorabilia and artifacts from bygone days in clever and offbeat ways.

Adding character are vintage appliances, including a Sexton stove from the early 1900s; several midcentury TVs, all in working condition; Mickey Mouse ears dating back to 1953; and a saucy light fixture shaped like a woman's leg.

Abandoned doors provide a staging area, where Ed's band, 4 Way Street, practices weekly. The tin-based bar with its marble counter holds their prized shot glasses from around the world. Twinkling lights, party beads, and bar lamps lend a "Let's Get This Party Started" vibe.

Upstairs, the spacious master suite has its own bath and elegant sitting area, outfitted with ceramic accents, and abundant closets and storage.

With friends and family visiting from around the East Coast and Europe, Ann and Ed have become more than familiar with making guests feel welcome. In fact, they flirted with the idea of becoming innkeepers when Ed retired four years ago from Siemens Health Services Corp. after a 25-year career in product management and sales.

"We pretty much have a bed and breakfast here without all the commitments," says Ed.

In the four guest rooms are more collectibles: an antique steamer trunk snapped up at a flea market; a colorful "peanut pourer" from South Africa; an assemblage of girls' bonnets.

Says Ann: "We have good neighbors, and we're close to major cities. And we have enough space for our family and friends. It doesn't get any better than that."

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