May 17, 2017
By Kathleen N. Webber | October 18, 2016 | Home & Real Estate
As his Spring Mill Road masterwork hits the market, architect Fred Bissinger reveals how he made this estate look right at home on the Main Line’s Gold Coast.
This sprawling estate, set on 4.5 acres at 744 North Spring Mill Road, took over four years to build.
Most people who drive by the majestic home Fred Bissinger designed on Spring Mill Road in Villanova think it has been there for 100 years or more. Try 15. But making a new home look like it has been part of the landscape is Bissinger’s calling card. In 1996, a Philadelphia couple approached him about creating something timeless for their family of four. The pair had already scoured the area looking for an old house, but nothing fit the bill. They bought two adjoining lots and then interviewed Bissinger. They asked him for a house with an “old-world” feeling, and two weeks later the architect presented them with plans.
They only changed one thing, a chimney. “We gave Fred a very general direction, and he nailed it,” says the homeowner, who is leaving the Main Line behind to travel. In fact, the couple loved his original hand-drawn sketches so much, they framed them. The home, a 14,000-square-foot hand-cut stone beauty with a red-tile roof, took over four years to build, but they declare it was worth the wait. Bissinger calls it an “artisan revival-style” home because it matches the fine craftsmanship and high-quality materials found in the best homes of a century ago.
Sitting on four-plus acres in Villanova, the residence features a gracious marble-paved entrance hall with a tall Palladian window that overlooks the expansive landscaped grounds. One feature on the owners’ wish list was a wedding-appropriate staircase (for their children to use someday). The result was a split “butterfly” plan with turned balusters and a massive mahogany rail that swirls into hand-carved newel posts. While the home is large, it isn’t overwhelming. The spine is a long axial hall with rooms coming off it. “We didn’t want to reveal everything right when you walk in,” says Bissinger.
The home’s front foyer features crown moldings and custom millwork to further accentuate the Palladian window and formal staircase.
Amenities include a home theater, a virtual reality golf room, a resort-quality gym plus sauna that open to a third-floor veranda, and a large bright billiard room, also on the third floor. Bissinger also incorporated what the owner calls “surprises.” One of these is a small stair that climbs from the billiard room to a rooftop widow’s walk to provide a panoramic view of the Main Line. Hand-carved details and custom molded ceilings enhance many rooms.
A piece of wood crown molding found in England was re-created in cast plaster for the breakfast room. Ed Mahoney of E.B. Mahoney builders executed the vision for the house and assembled the artisans. “Building this house was a lifelong dream for them,” says Mahoney of his clients. Mahoney, whose family business has been on the Main Line for 90 years, compares the level of detail to that seen at Biltmore or the Hearst Castle.
“I have known Fred for 30 years, and he takes things off the wall, not off the shelf. Everything is thought out—from the finial and weathervanes to the limestone around the windows and the ornamental plaster.” Many a passerby has mistaken the home for one with a longer history. “I consider it a compliment when people think it is not new,” Bissinger quips. “This house can proudly take its place with the earlier Main Line Gold Coast mansions lining Spring Mill Road. This was one of the most inspired houses I have ever done. It is grand without ever being pompous.” For more information, contact Lisa Weber Yakulis, 610-229-9011.
photography by Jim albert