A house away from ours is a nursing home called Barclay Friends. It’s where my children sled in the winter, and it’s where I occasionally redirect a lost visitor who rolls down his or her window for directions. It’s a quiet place and sometimes easy to forget there are 145+ neighbors in there.
Last Thursday evening there was a fire. A terrifying, fast-moving fire on a very windy night. I was sitting in my family room when I saw a pink sky. It was 10:45 and it looked like dawn – something wasn’t right. Soon thereafter I saw the flames, the smoke was already blowing in our direction and the burning embers raining down as the building burned and so quickly.
I took this picture at 11:15 p.m, the fire started at 10:45 p.m.
My neighbors ran into the building as it burned and helped a very vulnerable population – so many who couldn’t walk for themselves and/or with dementia. Neighbors from all along the street below, my block and the blocks surrounding the nursing home helped carry residents out and provide them with warm blankets and cell phones to call loved ones. You learn to run away from a burning building, but these neighbors knew the firefighters needed help and so many ran into the building as it burned and helped arouse sleeping residents. They pushed them in beds, carried them down stairs in wheelchairs and up the street to safety. It was a 40-degree night, and so many were just in pajamas and bare feet. Sadly, we learned a couple of days ago that four people did not make it out alive.
My husband wasn’t home when the fire broke out, so I quickly took the children and headed to a hotel for the evening – away from the smoke as our youngest has a rare lung disease. When my husband pulled into our neighborhood after his late flight, this is what he found. Neighbors, West Chester University students, firefighters, EMTs, ambulances, school busses all helping to transport the residents out of the cold and to safety.
This is the scene from our yard that evening. This picture was oddly comforting as we were so relieved to see the scores of residents getting loaded onto busses and not ambulances. There were over 20 people taken to the hospital for smoke-related injuries but so many were okay.
This is my neighbor making sure a woman’s bare feet weren’t hitting the ground.
Firetrucks just kept coming and eventually we learn this was a 5-alarm fire. This is the front of our house, and eventually I had my husband move his truck closer to the garage so emergency vehicles could fill our driveway.
These pictures are from the day after. The bottom of our yard where people were moved onto busses the night before.
And the firefighters continuing to douse the hot spots.
For days the news helicopters circled above and the news vans and reporters were lined up on all sides of our street. They coned off our street to prevent the traffic and it continues to be closed as the ATF works along side the local and state investigators.
A board member walked to each neighbor’s door this morning and hung a thank you note from the Barclay friends. It reads: We are immeasurably grateful for the care and courage of our neighbors.
This sentiment is shared by so many of us who heard stories, spoke to neighbors and even listened to our neighbors interviewed on the news. Their courage really was remarkable.
I have been thinking about that house lately and mostly because of the front entryway. The front to back hallway was one of my favorite parts of the house. The light, architectural features and unique floor sold me on the house back in 2006 when it was difficult to see much beyond the house’s poor condition.
Our oldest was barely three at the time and slipped down the wooden stairs shortly after moving in. We installed a stair runner shortly thereafter, and it was one I never tired of. So when it came time to choose a stair runner for our current house, I decided to go with something in the same family.
I am excited for the install as it will warm up our staircase and provide just that something special when you walk in through the front door. The stairs are the first thing that catches your eye.
My old front hallway was also on my mind as you see this gentleman at the podium? That is Gil Schafer. Gil Schafer wrote one and now two of my very favorite books, and I have gleaned loads of inspiration over the years. I remember opening his first book in a book store and turning to a page that looked remarkably similar to my country house.
This was the picture. I wish I had a picture of this vantage point looking from our old living room into the hallway but trust me it looks nearly identical. The staircase detailing is precisely the same and look at the green tonal stripes. The living room color, too! Of course his country house is far magnificent than ours ever hoped to be but clearly I like what Gil likes and so when I heard he was the keynote speaker at the Delaware Antiques Show this year, I made a point to buy my tickets immediately.
Gil Schafer was an incredible speaker and he took us first through his story of houses -the family houses, landscapes and environments that shaped his aesthetic. He eschewed the modern aesthetic that dominates architecture schools and stuck to what he knew and loved best: traditional. He said he found his niche in the Greek revival style but his new book clearly illustrates he does many styles well.
Schafer then walked us through a series of projects from his new book. The slides were of the befores and afters and what struck me is how thoughtful he is about not just the house but the site and the eventual landscape that can transform a house into a home. Schafer walked us through a Maine house he renovated for himself and it is clear from the interior pictures that he is just as talented in the decoration aspect as the architectural design aspect. Schafer understands that a house is equal parts architecture, decoration and landscape and for this reason his projects are just a little more special than the rest.
I have written about Gil Schafer on this blog in the past and will likely again as clearly I am smitten!