'Marley and Me' house is a lesson in good home renovation

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Construction, Old House Musings, In The News, Old House History, Historic Preservation

I will never forget my first leisurely drive through Pennsylvania’s rolling hillsides. Everything about the trip was wonderful, especially the old houses that seemed to be around every gentle bend. There is something magical about stumbling upon an old house in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, and finding that an old treasure has been restored to its original, beautiful condition.

When I saw that the “Marley and Me” house in Chester County was up for sale, I was absolutely delighted. Fans of the movie will recognize the house immediately. It’s a stately stone beauty nestled among mature trees at the end of a wide curved driveway. With 16 acres and four outbuildings, it stretches over a large parcel of Pennsylvania countryside.

courtesy Holly Gross Group

But it wasn’t always the kind of home you would find in a movie. In fact, producers were looking for a rock-solid home that would mimic the Grogan’s rock-solid relationship, and they found it in the big stone house. But when owners John and Lisa Ennis bought the home in 1996, it was a far cry from the beautiful place seen in the movie. The house had been abandoned for years. The front door was falling off the hinges. There was no kitchen. A shallow swimming pool had recently been filled in. The floors were damaged, falling through to the basement in some places. And of course, there was a contingent of bats in the attic.

But the house was salvageable. The Ennis family moved into the living room while they tackled home renovation, doing much of the work themselves. The result of that hard work is a Waterbury-designed kitchen, new hardwood floors throughout, a master bath with Carrara marble and a new cedar shake roof. All the plumbing and electricity had to be replaced. Everything in the kitchen is new but was carefully chosen to suit the atmosphere of the home. The soapstone sink is brand new but fits in perfectly with what might have been used during the mid-1800s. Wide plank floorboards and heavy ceiling beams, salvaged from old barns and farmhouses, were found at Antique Building Materials Co. in Coatesville. Though updates have been made to the outside of the house over the years, the original 1837 stone remains.

A close look at the living room photographs taken for Philadelphia Magazine in 2009 seem to show original doors, walls and baseboards. The old fireplaces and screened-in porch practically shout with history, while items like the new clawfoot tub offer modern conveniences while keeping the spirit of history alive.

It is a perfect example of what a good home renovation can do to a structure that is falling apart. The home went from abandoned to the star of a movie within the span of a decade–if the “Marley and Me” house can do that, imagine what that gorgeous old Victorian down the street from your place could be.

Want to see more? Holly Gross Group has the listing.