Famed Civil War-Era Architect Built Bones of Surprising Home

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When Civil War-era architect Frank Furness built this week’s historical shelter in West Chester, Pennsylvania,  it’s likely he didn’t envision it being a family home.

That’s because it was originally a barn.

Before his death in 1912, Furness had ultimately built more than 600 buildings, and had taught more than a few young architects to embrace and appreciate the materials and design sensibilities of the Industrial Age.

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia

In fact, the architect who began making his mark in the Civil War-era had an admirer in the Midcentury Modern titan Frank Lloyd Wright. A young Louis Sullivan had a stint in Furness’s office that influenced him even more, he later said, than his formal training. Sullivan, in turn, influenced Wright, who came to admire the work of Furness as well, to the point that Sullivan later left him the copies of the work he did with Furness.

Among Furness’s most important surviving buildings are the Fisher Fine Arts Library, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.

The listing for this barn-turned-house provided a bit of a mystery. It’s for sale by owner, and in the Zillow listing, it says the structure was built in 1820, and boasts that it was “originally built by the famed civil war era architect Frank Furness, whose lineage consists of Louis Sullivan and then the GREAT Frank Lloyd Wright!”

However, while Furness was a known Civil War-era talent who inspired generations of architects, he was not preternaturally talented to the point of being able to build homes before even reaching the embryonic stage. 

Furness was born Nov. 12, 1839. He didn’t begin his training until the 1850s.

So we poked around, and it seems that when the home was previously listed, the build date was 1900, which makes far more sense, considering Furness at that point had built a couple more structures in that time period in West Chester.

But while it originally may have been intended to be home for animals, the current owner took the impressively well-preserved structure and turned it into a 2,072 square foot home with four bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and a unique blend of indoor and outdoor space.

“From conception to completion, this unique space has always been more than a home to the current owner/ builder and all who have had the pleasure of entering it,” the listing said.

“Conceptually the owner wanted to ‘put a metal box inside of a wooden box’ and so he did, with mindful craft paying homage to FLW and his peers.”

All told, the space utilizes 7,000 square feet of structure, from the exposed 30 feet high roof trusses to the wooden flooring. 

civil war-era

The loft-inspired home offers a chef’s kitchen with two commercial refrigerators and a concrete waterfall kitchen island. 

The lower level of the barn has parking for six cars and storage, and there is a full colonial tavern in the original stables. The lower level also has room for additional indoor-outdoor living space, and includes plans for an entertainment area and outdoor kitchen.

It’s also within walking distance to West Chester and everything it has to offer, and is also next door to an original mansion that, in part, dates back to the 1700s and boasts a Frank Furness library addition.

The home sits on one acre, and is priced at $1 million.

You can see more of the listing here. To see more historical shelters, click here.