Historical farm in Harleysville gets a green makeover

"Just for the fun of it," Jim Pepe, a self-taught craftsman, built a working outhouse.
"Just for the fun of it," Jim Pepe, a self-taught craftsman, built a working outhouse.

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Posted: January 14, 2013

For many in Harleysville, it is probably best recognized as the former Price farm.

The original 200-acre tract was settled in 1721 by Jacob Price, a preacher among the Dunkards, a mainly German conservative sect that immigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century.

Today, the prominent farmstead, with its main house and six buildings, sits on 7½ verdant acres and is the cherished home of Joyce Sherman and Jim Pepe.

The owners have been hands-on, devoting the better part of two decades to restoring, preserving, and annexing onto the property while being committed to a green lifestyle.

The couple, who met in the 1970s, are not only partners in marriage, but have also developed a seamless collaboration as colleagues in their design-and-build company, Pepe-Sherman Associates, where they try to integrate lots of recycling, and its solar division, Sun Ray Systems.

Sherman and Pepe's deep-rooted environmental consciousness has led them to outfit their home with a solar thermal system that heats it and solar panels that supply electricity to the main structure and two other buildings.

As vegetarians for 30 years, they get a good deal of their food from the fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and berry patches scattered on the property.

"We've always been drawn to older houses," says Pepe, 61, for the most part a self-taught craftsman. In fact, before moving into the house, the couple had refurbished a 100-year-old Victorian in Fort Washington.

But Sherman and Pepe yearned for a larger property, an open realm for their two girls (3 and 6 at the time) and their menagerie of dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, goats, and horses to explore.

"Initially, we did things for the girls, like the swimming pool, and Jim built the horse stables," says Sherman, 58, a graduate of Tyler School of Art of Temple University.

Along the way, and "just for the fun of it," Pepe erected a working outhouse, where Sherman painted an enchanting fairyland mural. They transformed the top of a silo into a lookout tower and added a metal shop and shed to the grounds. An old tenant cottage was converted into a Western-themed playhouse.

Then the pair embarked on overhauling the 4,000-square-foot living spaces, first giving the exterior a face-lift and removing heavy stucco that surrounded the red shale fieldstone. Restoring the walls to their early appearance was essential to honor the integrity of the house.

The interior boasts a gourmet kitchen, opened up by the couple, that has a stone wall, ash cabinets, and a granite island. Old-time farm tools surround the added breakfast room.

Throughout the years, Sherman and Pepe, as well as friends and family, have globe-trotted to faraway places, toting masks home from Canada, Japan, Peru, and Vietnam that now cover the TV room's walls. A leaf-like coffee table, a tree-trunk cross-section of a cherry tree, was carved by Pepe.

The living and dining rooms hold more eclectic pieces: an antique steam trunk; a mahogany chest with inlaid bone; and a cane collection that belonged to Sherman's father.

Bathrooms were modernized, with the couple again relying on their own expertise. In the master bath, Pepe used a boldly colored Moroccan rug as inspiration for the intricate tile design he did over the tub.

During each phase of renovations, radiant heating was incorporated into many rooms for extra warmth in the circa-1849 house.

One of their more formidable projects was transforming the cellar kitchen, with its authentic "cooking" fireplace, into a sauna (a favored space) of recycled redwood and cedar.

"Some of the neighborhood kids actually helped to dig out the floor," Pepe remembers.

Adding coziness to the room are salvaged chairs, a rug, and artwork.

And speaking of artwork, at every turn and corner of the three-story dwelling hang treasured paintings, drawings, and photography, much of it by Sherman, her grandfather, or the couple's daughters - Hollis, 29, an actress living in Los Angeles, and Chloe, 26, a photographer who is married and lives nearby.

"We are empty-nesters now - sort of," says Sherman. Their homestead is not only a haven for them and their beloved animals, but their five guest bedrooms are often filled with their friends and their kids' friends, who visit from all over the country.

"It is our dream to keep this place for our kids, well after Jim and I move on," Sherman says. "But there are no plans for that now."


Is your house a Haven?

Tell us about your haven by e-mail (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.com .

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