Road Trip: A Return to Lehigh County

During my most recent visit to the Lehigh Valley, I was reminded just how splendid this little corner of the world is. The fact that you can drive around on random back roads and find gorgeous buildings like this is one of the reasons I love this area so much:

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This stone mill is located in Lower Macungie Township and is situated directly on the Little Lehigh Creek, which would have been a prime location when it was still in use. Some records refer to it as the Neumeyer grist mill, most likely for the builder, Conrad Nuemeyer. Other references call it Laudenslager’s Mill. It was built in 1831 and operated as a flour mill. I didn’t know any of this until after I got home and Googled the name of the road where it’s located and “stone mill.” It’s amazing what you can learn with a little curiosity, isn’t it?

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I happened to be driving by the mill as the sun was going down, and a soft, golden light streamed through the trees, casting a warm glow on the building. It was the perfect light for snapping a few pictures on my phone. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the farmhouse that also shares the property.

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At Kalmbach Memorial Park, also in Macungie, I spotted one of the two Singmaster barns in the area. This one was built sometime around 1850. The current iteration has a bright white exterior with deep green doors and trim, as well as two distinct hex signs above the second floor windows.

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The property was originally the John Singmaster farm, later purchased by Fred Kalmbach, Sr., who loved the land’s natural beauty. The barn and house are surrounded by woods, fields, gardens, and a small stream. Kalmbach was adamant about the land being used as a public park after his passing, a place for the community to gather and appreciate nature. According to the park’s website, the property hosts lots of educational and recreational programs for adults and children.

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I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and peaceful the park is. My car was the only one in the lot, so I think I had the place to myself. I took my time strolling through the gardens, down to the water, and into the woods and through the fields. I appreciated how the signs throughout the park reminded visitors that it’s a place intended for quiet reflection.

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Not much farther afield is Kospia Farms. I noticed this garden center the first time I visited, and I would have stopped if it hadn’t been pouring rain. I made a point to go back this time and wandered through the greenhouses and retail shops. The colorful sign below caught my eye—I especially love the arrow pointing towards the dog! Much to my dismay, I only spotted the dog as I was driving away. He looked like a friendly pup eager to greet his visitors!

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Get a load of these succulent planters! This might have been my favorite section of the nursery. The variety of plants and containers creates a whimsical, perfectly-imperfect look, and the longer you look at the display, the more details reveal themselves.

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Who knew cinder blocks could look so magical? I don’t know if this arrangement happened by design or as a matter of convenience, but I love the combination of the lush plants with what’s basically an unremarkable construction material. It works especially well as part of the larger display grouped with the tree stump, the Jonathan Adler-esque planter, and other containers. I’m also in love with all the prickly pear cacti!

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Later in the weekend, I went to the farmers market in downtown Emmaus followed by a trip to Funk Brewing. I passed this brick house while walking through a back alley to get to Funk. You never know what you’re going to find when you take the road less traveled, right?!

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Funk Brewing was a great spot to hang out. I went with my husband and dad, and we sampled every beer on tap AND had some of the most delicious poutine from a food tent pop-up that set up shop for the afternoon. I didn’t take pictures of the food, which is a shame, but also maybe a blessing in disguise because looking at pictures of it would make me want to eat fries smothered with cheese and gravy nonstop!

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I not-so-secretly want one of those Lehigh Valley Brewers Guild signs.

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My trip to Lehigh County was for a family visit, so all of my exploring happened by chance. It just so happens that there’s a lot to do here, and you’re never far from pretty scenery.

Caption This: Storytelling vs. Scrolling

Sometimes it feels like 90% of writing about home design is posting a photo of your own or someone else’s work and saying, “I wouldn’t mind drinking coffee/reading a book/eating/sleeping here.” So many photos on Instagram are captioned with something similar—and hey, it might be true! I’m sure I’ve done that myself on this blog.

It seems a little lazy, though, especially when promoting one’s own work. I’d much rather learn a unique fact about the project! Tell me something meaningful about a piece included in the photograph or an interesting tidbit about the client. And that doesn’t mean telling the audience that the space was designed for “a young couple with children who needed lots of space for x, y, z” or “empty nesters interested in living closer to restaurant and entertainment options downtown.” Those circumstances are extremely common—lots of people are expanding their families or becoming empty nesters or living alone and looking for ways to do that in a home that’s functional and beautiful. Needing living space for a certain number of people is not the only reason why a client chooses a certain type of dwelling, and it’s not the only driving factor in decorating choices. What led them to choose that town, that neighborhood, that block, that building, that unit? What significance is there to the furnishings they’ve chosen—are they heirlooms, antiques, or collected works of art?

There can be limitations in revealing this information, of course. A client’s privacy is of the utmost importance, and sometimes a space has been decorated to simply be a pretty spot in someone’s home without maximizing function. And Instagram favors short captions for scroll-happy attention spans! But I still think it’s worth telling the story instead of opting for the fluffy caption.

One of my favorite places to get the story—to read about the why—is the “You Make the Call” features in the New York Times real estate section. And I know, I know! We’re talking about long-form writing instead of snappy social media posts. It’s a little apples-to-oranges, but not a total stretch. The point of these articles is to try to guess which property a home buyer has chosen based on a fairly in-depth profile, which often includes information about their jobs and commutes, marital status and family size, pet ownership, and entertainment preferences.

After getting all the details, you’re presented with three real estate listings that fit the “must-have” list to some degree, and you’re asked to pick which listing you would choose for yourself and which one the buyer chose. When you make your selections, the buyer’s actual choice is revealed along with the percentage of readers who voted for each unit, both for themselves and for the buyer. I love guessing which property appeals most to the readers because sometimes it’s a no-brainer and other times it’s a total surprise. It can be tough to guess the buyer’s choice, too! Sometimes I think the decisions are based on information you’d only get by being familiar with the area instead of only trying to interpret the facts provided in the article. The best part is that you’re also given the backstory on why the buyer made their decision along with photos of the home after the buyer has moved in, so you get to see how they’ve personalized it.

In “You Make the Call,” decorating is (usually) less a part of the story than the preference for building type, architectural style, and neighborhood, but I like that you learn a lot about the buyer’s decision-making process.

The content in these articles serves a different purpose than Instagram posts. These articles aren’t meant to be a designer’s marketing tool or mini portfolio. Some of the qualities are transferrable, though. Thoughtful captions, like thoughtful articles, take time to write. It’s obviously easier to type something short and simple like “weekend vibes” with a few emojis. I can’t help but see that as a missed opportunity to actually engage your readers and give them information that they can learn only from you.

What do you think? If you prefer to get more story, what house-related social media accounts or websites do you follow? Some of my other favorites include House Stories, The Front Door Project, Maine Home + Design, Houzz, and Los Angeles Times Home and Garden. I’m sure there are TONS of others, though. Tell me what your favorites are!

Click through photo for source and get the WHOLE story by clicking “Beacon on the Harbor” in green font.

Hometown Nostalgia: Christmas City Charm

I recently travelled to my hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania after years of being away. It’s possible that the last time I visited was for my wedding shower, which was more than ten years ago! Isn’t that wild?

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My family recently relocated to the area, so I anticipate spending a lot more time there. I’m so excited about that! It means being with my favorite people in some of my most favorite places in the Lehigh Valley, Bucks County, and Brandywine Valley. The culture in these areas did so much to shape my passion for design and architecture, and without my parents’ interest in the art and culture of the region, I wouldn’t have the appreciation for it that I do. There’s an aesthetic to this part of southeastern Pennsylvania that I have yet to see replicated anywhere else—the landscape and artistic renderings of it are truly distinct. I can’t wait to rediscover and explore the places I was once so familiar with!

That’s why I jumped at the chance to spend a day in downtown Bethlehem during my most recent visit. I always loved walking the tree-lined streets when I was growing up. As a kid, when I would go to the library with my mom, sometimes we’d have to park a few blocks away, and I never minded because it meant walking beneath the leafy canopy and admiring the gardens tucked away behind hedges and in the narrow spaces between houses.

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I think these outdoor spaces are what sparked my love of urban gardens. There’s something magical about these small, semi-private areas shaded by trees, partially obscured by landscaping and garden gates. Despite being in the heart of a bustling city, they always seemed quiet and serene, as though their diminutive sizes naturally imposed a hush over street traffic and passersby.

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Porch style (and stoop style) is taken very seriously here, too.

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It makes me so happy to see how well-maintained the houses are. Keeping up with external maintenance on an old house is a constant process—there’s always something peeling, cracking, chipping, eroding, or breaking. I admire how effortless these homeowners have made it look.

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One of my favorite accents used outdoors in Bethlehem is the Moravian star, which you’ll notice in several photos. The Moravian star, also known as the Star of Bethlehem, is the quintessential symbol of the city. There is even a giant, lighted version of the star that sits permanently at the top of South Mountain overlooking Bethlehem.

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I came across this quote a couple of months ago: “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave and grow old wanting to get back to.” Certainly as the years have passed, I’ve found myself thinking more about my hometown and longing to spend more time there. I’m looking forward to future visits, and I can’t wait to share more of this wonderful little town with you.

Real-estalking in Nashville

Yes, real-estalking. As in, real estate stalking. It’s a thing.

At the end of April, I spent a long weekend in Nashville. In between eating all the outstanding food and imbibing in all the amazing cocktails, I also gawked at all the cute houses I passed while walking around. Unfortunately, I only scraped the surface—I did a lot of shuttling around via car, so even though I traveled through some beautiful neighborhoods (Belmont, swoon!), I wasn’t able to take pictures from a moving vehicle. In the neighborhoods I explored on foot, though, I was delighted to find lots of nicely kept homes whose owners clearly put a lot of thought into cultivating their curb appeal.

If I had to choose one word to describe Nashville’s architectural style, eclectic is what comes to mind. It was easy to tour a single neighborhood and see elements of design common to New Orleans, Charleston, Seattle, and Philadelphia all on the same block. Some houses felt quintessentially Southern, while others reminded me of Pacific Northwest bungalows and Pennsylvania fieldstone houses.

I couldn’t help but think that if this shotgun house (pictured below) was in New Orleans, the exterior paint colors would have likely been a combination of pastel clapboards with punchy, tropical-inspired accents rather than shades of gray. Perhaps more formal and modern, the tonal treatment gives this small house an elegant look, especially with the iron fence and hedges.

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This itty-bitty Victorian house stole my heart. I found myself standing in front of it for several minutes trying to take it all in—there is so much to appreciate here even though it’s a small property! The marriage of traditional architecture with modern landscaping elements is nicely balanced. The slate gray paint helps to update the scalloped shingles and intricate woodwork, giving them 21st century appeal. Applying the same paint color to the modern fence was a thoughtful way to connect the two styles. In comparison to the finer details on the house, the hardscaping is clean and linear. As striking as it is, its simplicity allows the house to shine.

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This next house reminds me of something you’d see on Home Town. Can’t you just picture the big reveal where the homeowners squeal in delight over the pergola that’s been built on the front of their house? This is my idea of a grand entrance—some well-placed containers, a couple of decorative elements, and lots of symmetry. If this were my house, I’d probably (definitely) grow a flowering vine along the pergola.

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Nothing says southern hospitality like a welcoming front porch, and I loved how the owners of this house decorated theirs. After you’re done admiring the front door with leaded glass windows, notice that there are three chandeliers, several hanging baskets of flowers, a wind chime, a porch swing, and a hanging rope chair. (The swing and hanging chair are a little hard to see, but I promise they’re there.) This looks like a pleasant spot to read a book, have a cocktail, or catch up with your neighbors.

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This red brick Italianate isn’t actually a house anymore—it’s a restaurant! Located in Rutledge Hill, Husk Nashville operates inside this beauty. The house was restored and renovated to accommodate the restaurant. The building dates back to the late 1800s and was constructed by a former mayor of Nashville. While the dentil molding and elaborately trimmed arches are impressive, my favorite part of the exterior is the tall windows.

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These other brick houses caught my eye, too. My favorite is the first one (top left).

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Last but not least, this stone house reminded me of my home state of Pennsylvania, right down to the Keystone-like pattern over the windows. The Keystone State is full of colonial style homes clad in stone. The color scheme feels especially right for something you’d see in the northeast. Crisp, black shutters and a bright red door make for a classic combination—though, if I’m being honest, it feels too serious for a town like Nashville. I could see this house sporting a hydrangea-blue front door.

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Most of these houses were in the Music Row neighborhood (near Vanderbilt) and Germantown, which is north of downtown. I’d highly recommend taking a walk through Germantown. It seemed to be neighborhood that was undergoing some gentrification with new construction in progress, but there were renovations on older homes underway, as well as plenty of already-restored historic houses. I would have loved to walk through Belmont, which is nestled near the 12 South neighborhood. The homes I passed while driving through were magazine-worthy!

Have you been to Nashville? Which neighborhood is your favorite for realestalking?

All photos used in this post are my own.

A Scandinavian Saltbox Cottage in Litchfield County

This simple little saltbox house caught my attention as I was browsing real estate listings in Litchfield Co., Connecticut. It struck me as very Little House on the Prairie, the way it sits in the grass tucked beneath that enormous tree with the perfectly sculpted stone wall extending into its side yard. The gray clapboards, the stout central chimney, the shutter-free windows: it’s a quietly stunning example of American colonial architecture.

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As I tend to do, I scrolled through the listing photos before reading the description, eager to see if the interior rooms and remaining property were just as appealing as this single perspective. I’ve been fooled before by cute, historic-looking exteriors that have been nothing more than cruel, hoax-ridden façades hiding dated renovations from the 80s, bathrooms clad in 50s-style tile, and junky DIY jobs. This particular exterior was extremely misleading—but in the best way possible.

Exhibit A: this photo of the pool (which is really just a teaser for what’s to come) tossed into the first three listing photos, no doubt to make viewers gasp and halt their scrolling to fully ogle the scene. I can practically feel the warm breeze playing off the surface of the water and smell the sweet scent of the lush landscape enveloping this secluded escape.

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Under a sky that blue, the temptation to stay poolside all day is real, and I almost lost the urge to continue exploring the rest of the photos because I was absolutely mesmerized by the perfection of it all.

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Moving on to the interior, another unexpected twist awaited my discovery: the walls and wooden beams have been washed in cool tones of white and gray. At first glance, it reads contemporary, but a closer look reveals the rustic nature of the original architecture has been preserved, from the exposed beams to the rough-hewn floors. The mix of midcentury and modern furniture with the subdued color palette and varied textures of the furnishings feels inspired by Scandinavian design, topped off with an obvious touch of hygge. It is both updated and ready to cater to the needs of modern-day living while also being completely in touch with its quaint, cozy roots.

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The kitchen fully embraces the house’s rustic bones and cottage vibes, particularly through design details such as the open shelving, Shaker style cabinetry, and wide plank floors. However, the stainless steel appliances don’t seem out of place here.

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A set of French doors opens onto the patio and outdoor seating area.

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Where color is used, it is used sparingly yet playfully. Artwork in the kitchen and dining room punctuate the mostly white and neutral rooms.

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The play between traditional and modern design elements continues throughout the rest of the house. The front hall expertly displays the juxtaposition of the smooth white walls against the grain-heavy floors. Thanks to their abundant texture, the floors prevent the house from appearing cold and out of touch with its 19th century provenance.

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The bedrooms share the neutral aesthetic of the public rooms on the first floor. The exposed beams and hardwood floors create a nest-like backdrop for the streamlined furniture.

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Outdoors, the property is connected by a series of gardens and intimate seating areas. Whether you fancy an outdoor breakfast, lunch with friends on the patio, a relaxing break by the gardens or pool, or an evening in front of the outdoor fire pit, the options for lounging while surrounded by nature are endless.

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The dining table on the patio overlooks a grassy patch of lawn which connects to the pool behind the ample hedge.

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A firepit centered in this tidy gravel circle fills out an outter nook in the grass.

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A natural wooden pergola shields this seating area from the sun, providing a relaxing space to enjoy the outdoors even on the hottest of days.

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The carefully planted yet carefree gardens add depth and whimsy to the landscape. Eventually, I did read the listing description, and in doing so I gleaned that this house has apparently caught the attention of more than one well-known house and garden publication. It’s not hard to see why Gardenista decided to share this property several years ago in a feature on secret gardens.

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A parting view shows the Litchfield Hills in the distance.

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It’s rare to find antique and current styles so beautifully intertwined. The modern updates in this home have been tastefully executed to maintain the original charm. The results are surprising and altogether way too tempting!

To see additional photos of this special country house in Roxbury, CT, check out the listing here. All photos of the house and property are from the listing.