Recreating William Penn’s Home :: Living inside History
Recreating the architecture of William Penn’s groundbreaking American home
History is an easy attraction, but a labor of love for Martha and Howard Kriebel of Collegeville, Pennsylvania. They are the proud owners of a meticulous replica of William Penn’s 17th century “Letitia” home, recognized as the first-ever brick home built in the country.
The Kriebels themselves built their 1,200 sq. ft. house over several years using copies of Penn’s houseplans for the original Letitia home, which had been named and built for Penn’s daughter. Now vacant, but still standing in Philadelphia, the home served as the Kriebel’s often-visited inspiration and model.
“It’s a new edition of a very, very old house that dates from 1682,” Martha Kriebel says. “We changed it a tiny bit by putting in a little galley kitchen and another bedroom. Also, we don’t have an outhouse,” she jokes, “they wouldn’t permit it in town. Other than that, it’s nearly an exact copy.”
Innovative in its design, Penn’s Letitia home had one of the first basements. “Another unique characteristic of the William Penn era,” Kriebel says, “is that the house has a center-door room with a large window on either side. Much later, the Betsy Ross house, birthplace of the American flag, was built around 1740, showing how the Penn design was modernized by moving the center door to one of the windows and then running the stairway straight up the inside wall.
“Halfway back through our house,” Kriebel explains, “there’s a circular encased stairway. The real architectural challenge was to get the angles on the stairs right, which was a mathematical challenge for Howard.”
While the replica home was originally built starting in 1991, the Kriebels recently took on a project to improve one exterior detail that deviated from the original design – the asbestos shingle roof that did not reflect Penn’s historical architecture. “We thought maybe we could get 30 years out of this 20-year old roof, but we just came to a point where we wanted to put the right thing on the house,” Kriebel says.
Natural quarried slate would have been cost prohibitive, so they looked at a few composite slate possibilities before selecting InSpire® Slate by The Tapco Group, a product often used on historical structures. “Somebody had told us about InSpire. The minute we saw it, we said ‘that’s it.’ The InSpire Slate looks exactly natural,” Kriebel says.
“The InSpire complements the house. It looks so good and it really just looks like what ought to be on this house. Its authenticity is the reason we chose it,” she adds.
Thirteen squares of grey InSpire Slate were installed, meeting both the affordability and aesthetic needs of the Kriebels. InSpire also weighs much less than natural slate, which can be a key benefit for both new and existing home construction. Because of these factors, InSpire is often recommended by roofing contractors, especially in historical applications.
Inside, stunning period details run throughout the home, such as the five fireplaces, each with its own flue. The most complex fireplace features 18 levels of trim. From floor to floor, there’s a different species of wood flooring used, based on hardness. “The first floor is oak, the second is poplar and the third is pine. Your main floor would be the most used, followed by the second floor, then least-used is the attic,” Kriebel says.
Now, from the roof down, the Kriebels’ exterior rings true with Penn-era authenticity – even through to colonial landscaping, which showcases historically-used pachysandra ground cover. The brickwork was paid special attention. “The glazed brick at the front makes a pattern, so what you look at there is very special. Then on the side of the house, there’s yet another pattern and at the back there’s less glazed brick,” Kriebel points out.
Back inside, furnishings and trim are also a historical match, from authentic wood wardrobes to a claw foot pie crust table recently made by Howard. “I couldn’t allow myself to get too excited about building the house,” he says. “Or I never would have gotten it done. I’m still working on it,” he jokes.
“The really neat thing about the house,” says Martha, “is that people think it’s so small until they’re inside. Their first comment is ‘you can’t imagine that there’s so much room!’”
Jonathan Wierengo is vice president of marketing at The Tapco Group, makers of building products for more than 50 years. A USGBC member, The Tapco Group is headquartered in Wixom, Mich., manufacturing such products as The Foundry Siding, InSpire Roofing, Atlantic Premium Shutters and Tapco Tools. For more information: www.TheTapcoGroup.com / Jonathan_Wierengo@tapcoint.com.
All images via the Tapco Group.
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About the Tapco Group (1 post)
The Tapco Group are makers of building products for more than 50 years. A USGBC member, The Tapco Group is headquartered in Wixom, Mich., manufacturing such products as The Foundry Siding, InSpire Roofing, Atlantic Premium Shutters and Tapco Tools. For more information: www.TheTapcoGroup.com.