They bought the Dresher farmhouse on impulse, falling hard for it's thick stone walls and densely landscaped grounds. That it had an indoor swimming pool in an old barn just added to the charm.
"We thought we'd use it regularly. We thought we'd actually begin to exercise. Both . . . assumptions turned out to be false," software developer Tom McCahill says cheerfully.
While their son, Tom, was young, it made sense to keep the pool. Once, he'd left for college, they figured out a better use for the pavilion.
"We're probably the strangest baby boomers around'" Jane McCahill says. "Just at the time when we should have been thinking about exercising and keeping fit, what do we do? We put in a bar and home theater."
Tom laughs. "We figured we could either make this really a good fitness center or we could put in a bar and have movies on demand." For these sociable cineastes, it was a no-brainer.
Besides, the pool was in poor repair. "It had never been ventilated properly, so the whole structure was just poached and pickled," explains Kiki Bolender of Schade and Bolender Architects.
The footprint of the pavilion remained essentially unaltered, though that was about all that stayed the same. "The walls weren't in great shape, so we took them down. Then we found out that some of the foundation wasn't in great shape either," she says.
Bolender's big idea for the interior was to support the cypress rafters with massive Douglas fir trusses. Traditional in design, with mortise-and-tenon joints, the timber supports were cut not by a craftsman but by a computer-guided saw.
Still, it took an old-fashioned crane to hoist the trusses into place, a sight that none of the witnesses that crisp, clear autumn day will soon forget. "For all the time you spend measuring and talking on the phone," says Bob Levy of Edifice Rex , the builder on the job, "there's always that lurking fear that somehow you screwed up and it's not going to line up properly."
By the time it came to choosing wallpaper, Bolender had an inkling that something British might get raves. The accent paper she picked was a bold lion-and-dove frieze designed by Walter Crane, confounder of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, and hand-printed by Bradbury & Bradbury in Benicia, Calif.
Tom McCahill spent some of his college years in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he learned to appreciate British pub culture. A handsome old bar, he knew, was key to reproducing that convivial ambience in his own home.
A trip to the Architectural Antiques Exchange in Northern Liberties yielded a dark wood beauty that had stood up to at least a century worth of elbows and tankards. The authentic etched mirror behind the bar promotes, "Dandie Dinmont Old Malt Whiskey," named, says Tom, after a "hideously ugly small dog indigenous to Scotland."
The challenge for Schade and Bolender was to bridge that gap between the high-tech equipment needed for the home theater and the finely crafted, handmade feel they sought for the room. Hiding the projector inside a cherry-topped end table helped. So did opting for wooden blinds rather than blackout shades.
The McCahills use the room a lot. For family gatherings. When the Sixers are on a winning streak. When there's something to celebrate. When there isn't. "It just made more sense for us than to continue to pretend to exercise," says Tom, expertly drawing a creamy pint of Guinness.