Self-confessed flea-market junkies RJ Thornburg and his partner, Warren Muller, stumbled upon this 1860s farmhouse in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Poconos and, as the saying goes, never looked back. The former pig farm, set on 2½ acres in Saylorsburg, was in need of major renovation, but RJ, an interior designer, and Warren, a sculptor, were up to the task. With few distractions — “when we’re here, we go to bed early,” says RJ, “what else is there to do?” — the pair transformed the place into a funky, flea-market-find-filled weekend retreat in just a couple of years.
The result is high style on a low budget: “It was like creating a fabulous meal from leftovers,” says RJ.
The partners own Bahdeebahdu, a downtown art and interior design studio, located in Philadelphia’s South Kensington section. Weekdays are spent there and in their city loft, amid the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. On weekends in the country, it’s a different story. “This house is the antithesis of the city,” says RJ. “It’s about relaxing and getting in touch with nature.”
On the grounds’ gently rolling hills, the old chicken coop, smokehouse, and working two-seater outhouse still stand, but the farmhouse interior was virtually gutted. The old footprint, room configuration, and most walls remain intact — in fact, you can see the original horsehair-and-newspaper insulation in some of them. In the home’s first story, oak floors were updated with an ebony glaze; upstairs, the wide-plank pine flooring was kept as is. Some windows were replaced, others not. “It can get drafty,” says RJ, “but we’re roughing it here. You should have to throw on an extra blanket at night.”
Without moving walls, RJ merely swapped the dining and living rooms. A magnificent fireplace built from fieldstone found on the property is the new living room’s focal point. The new dining room is off the kitchen, which “just made more sense,” says RJ, and serves as a convenient overflow guest space. The kitchen itself is a masterpiece — the one room where the pair disregarded any budget constraints. At its core is an enormous center island designed to resemble a keeping room farmhouse table. A 558½-foot piece of lava stone sits atop hickory cabinets stained a deep chocolate. The floors are tumbled travertine, and the backsplash is porcelain tile with a platinum glaze. Originally the room had been windowless, but RJ added a row of oversize transoms that usher in natural light and frame views of the hills beyond.
Upstairs, a master bedroom and two guest rooms share a common bath, a major transformation that has become a favorite feature. Divided into two rooms to accommodate more than one person if need be, the reconfigured bath easily handles the steady weekend guest traffic.
“Our goal was to feed and sleep twelve,” says RJ. “We have a lot of weekend guests; we wanted to create a comfortable retreat that was as welcoming as a B&B.”
Exploring Space: Just Three Fixes
• Swap a space. “Switching the dining room and living room made a drastic difference in traffic flow,” says homeowner RJ Thornburg.
• Add light. Creating a row of transom windows in what was a dark, cramped kitchen transformed the entire room.
• Solve a problem. To serve guests’ needs better, RJ and Warren turned a small, cavelike bedroom into one part of an ingenious two-room bath.