Cindy, Jed and Jim Pearsall: On growing up in Adrian Pearsall’s 1964 masterpiece house

adrian pearsall 1964 houseThe official sales listing for Adrian Pearsall’s 1964 house in Forty Fort, PA, is now “live” on Sotheby’s. When I first saw and wrote about this house <– more photos here, I was so stunned that I could not even imagine what it would have been like to grow up there. So, I asked Jim for his recollections, holding my breath the whole time hoping that he would not be “bothered.” Quite the opposite: Jim… then brother Jed… then sister Cindy Pearsall Sussman… each were amazingly generous in offering memories of living in this wonderland. I am kind of speechless reading, and then thinking, about this little piece of paradise their parents created for them.

Over the past several days I have have conversed by email with the three… Following are their memories about the house and about the life that their mother Doris — known as “Dorie” — and father Adrian created for them….

First, I heard from Jim Pearsall, who also is the listing agent for the house:

I am the oldest of three children and I was 12 when we moved in. It really didn’t occur to any of us that the house was all that unusual. the neatest thing was that the garage was attached to the house. It wasn’t until we started inviting our friends over for sleep-overs that we understood how different it was. There were cool things that no one had like the pond that you had to cross to enter the dining room and the water fall (that did not last very long because it was just to noisy and Dad said it always made him feel like he had to go to the bathroom during dinner!)

The indoor pool section was not built during the first phase, but once in place, it was spectacular. The skylights above it had to be lowered by helicopter and that was quite a spectacle.

adrian pearsall home forty fort pennsylvania

The entire driveway had heat coils underneath it so that we wouldn’t have to shovel it, but after Dad saw the first electrical bill after a snow storm, he decided shoveling was still a necessary evil. Mom and Dad didn’t do a whole lot of entertaining, but when they did, they did it in grand style with as many as 500 people attending. When my sister was married, Dad drained the entire pool and installed scaffolding to support a dance floor. We had several pianos, so in one end of the house they would have a jazz pianist and at the other end of the house a different type of music.

doris pearsall kitchen

My mom’s kitchen was grand by that periods standards. I love to cook and I eventually owned several notable restaurants and that’s where I got my start. As you mentioned, the ice cream bar was probably the single most unusual and talked about feature, but for our family, it was just plain logical. None of us was over weight and we are all fanatical about ice cream. Our family room with the round fire place was surrounded by bean bag chairs (my father invented them) and that was the only furniture except for my grandmothers chair in that room. You know the big ice cream containers that are at the ice cream stores? well, the fountain cold hold six of those and we, as a family, could polish those of in just a couple of weeks! Dad built the home all on one level with extra wide doors to every room. He envisioned that one day, Mom and he would be in wheel chairs and the extra wide doors would eliminate scrapped kunckles.

Jim

Next, I heard from Jed Pearsall:

The house was not built as a showcase for design, but a space for creativity and fun.  Everything was meant to be lived in and used.  We had a huge family room, where I was always setting up gigantic train sets and slot car sets. With an indoor/outdoor kennel, we had an amazing assortment of pets– always big dogs, but also birds, monkeys (I had four as a teenager), and even a lamb living inside the house for a while.

adrian pearsall house exterior

Outdoors, it was a kid’s dream–  a full playhouse (of course hand built by my dad), a tennis court that Dad sometimes made into a skating rink in winter, archery sets, and a huge backyard for any ball game you could imagine.   In the living room, we even  had the actual giant piano from the Tom Hanks movie, “Big”.  It was (and still is) a house that is meant to be lived in– always full of life and fun, with enough space to create anything and dream big.

BTW —  It really warms my heart to see such great letters written about the house from your readers.  My dad would be embarrassed by it all — I think he was a genius in his design, but more than that, he is about the most humble person you could ever meet.

Thanks again for sharing the pictures,

Jed

The dancing piano from Big?!! Of course I had to ask Jed what happened to that. He responded:

My Mom always worked magic at bringing things into the home that would make one of us happy– and when my dad saw that movie, she knew we had to have it.   It was so big, yet it still fit well in our living room.  But it was tricky to make a good tune, and even a little dangerous to play (jumping from key to key can be slippery), so we eventually sold it back to the builders and I think now it is at FAO Schwarz in New York.

Then, I heard from Dr. Cindy Pearsall Sussman:

Hi Pam!  My brother Jim asked me to write to you, giving a little bit of a taste of what it was like to grow up in the house my dad designed.  I was about 10 years old when we moved there.  I remember going to the empty lot before it was built and thinking the lot was enormous (it was roughly 2 acres I think).  Sometimes I would bring a picnic and just sit there, dreaming of the house that was to be built.  But the actual house surpassed my wildest dreams.

At first, living in the Forty Fort house was like living a fairy tale. My room was beautiful!   I had a white canopy bed that my dad made, complete with blue flowered curtains that I could pull closed, just like the ones we had seen in Williamsburg!  I had a built in desk whose front pulled down to hold all my school supplies and a Craft Associates child-sized table for my dolls and me.  I even had my own bathroom (no more sharing with my brothers).  We had a long, wooden, library table (also made by my dad I believe), big enough for us all to do our homework (plus friends) at the same time.

adrian pearsall house library

In the library, I could impress my friends with the movie screen that came down from the ceiling with a flick of a finger.  And in the foyer, we had a pond, stocked with gold fish (later filled in with soil and live plants) with marble stepping stones that crossed it.  We loved jumping over those steps.  Opposite the steps was a gorgeous curved marble wall that held a brass sculpture (modern of course) and was set up to have water flowing over it.  (I had my wedding party pictures taken in front of that wall many years later).

round fireplace adrian pearsall house
After dinner and homework, we would gather around the round fireplace in the family room, eating ice cream we had just scooped up from our soda fountain.soda fountain in adrian pearsall houseMy mom always kept the soda fountain stocked with huge containers of ice cream and all the fixings.  We would grab our dishes and plop into the deep cushy bean bag chairs my dad had made and watch TV.  It was heaven.

One summer, a couple of my friends and I had a day camp for a small group of our parents friends’ children in the house.  It was the perfect set up!  We gave swimming lessons in the indoor pool, my brother, Jed, gave tennis lessons, and we used the player piano for music sessions.  The long, built-in shuffle board gave us plenty to do on rainy days.

In later years, we probably became a bit jaded and our extra-special house was simply, our house.  However, it still amazed anyone who hadn’t seen it yet.  I remember bringing a boy friend home from college and he stopped short in the bottom of the driveway.  I said, “Just keep going. This is it.”  He said, “This is your house?  I thought it was a library or something!”    It did tend to be a bit intimidating at first.
adrian-pearsall-house-foyerWe had some great parties in that house!  Many times, my mom would plan huge Christmas parties, and invite friends in shifts (those with small children would come in the early afternoon).  Santa was there all day, and the ice cream bar was open for business!  We even had carolers strolling through the house.

 

We would spend hours in the days before the party cutting out  gingerbread cookies on the long kitchen counter.   Dad, being production minded, would make trays of all one thing. The rest of us would do it hit or miss.

My “graduation from medical school” party was held in our back yard.  It was an old fashioned picnic and everyone came in big hats or straw boaters.  Each guest got an individual picnic basket filled with gourmet goodies (most of which my restauranteer brother, Jim, had made), and we sat on blankets in the back yard with the Barber Shop Quartet seranading us.

Several years after the college boyfriend came to visit, a different boyfriend (now my beloved husband) came to Forty Fort to ask for my hand in marriage.  My dad took him into the den.  This was a lovely room with dark wood paneling on one wall and natural stone on the other.  It had its own little bar and refrigerator (both rarely used).  My dad took pity on my poor, nervous husband-to-be and offered him a beer.  Thankfully, all went well after that!adrian pearsall house

Our wedding reception was held in our house.  It was the most gorgeous wedding receptioin imaginable!  Dad removed the window panes from one end of the pool room and attached a tent for dancing.  He drained most of the water from the pool and built a scaffolding to provide more floor space, leaving a 6 foot free-form area that he surrounded with a small white fence.  He covered the whole thing with artificial grass and then refilled the pool so that we were all sitting at tables surrounding a real pond, complete with  floating candles and water lilies.  LIttle twinkly lights were stewn all over the plants in the room and along the ceiling.  The fairy tale was back!

adrian-pearsall-house-bathroomAs my parents got older, I realized how prescient my dad had been.  The doorways were all made wide enough for a wheelchair, and the doors slid into wells, instead of taking up space.  The master shower had a flip down stool, and any snow on the driveway was quickly melted away with the built in heaters (I don’t think those are functional any more).  Its only problem is that it was a bit too far from us kids!

I have such mixed emotions writing this to you, Pam.  I have wonderful memories of growing up in the house my mom and dad built and it brings me joy to think about them.  But I will be so sad to see it go.

Thank you for asking.
Best regards,

Cindy Pearsall Sussman, MD

Wow. Thank you, Cindy, Jed and Jim for taking the time to share your memories of growing up in this house, and for your permission to feature more photos. “Fairytale” — indeed.

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Comments

  1. Puddletown Cheryl says

    The Pearsalls may have provided a fairyland for their children, but their best accomplishment was raising up three such warm, wonderful, appreciative children. What a lovely creative couple they must be.

  2. Michael says

    Pam, you always get such terrific stories, but this is one of your best! Thanks to you and the Pearsalls for sharing with us what it was like to grow up in such a remarkable home, with obviously remarkable parents! 🙂

  3. Jeanne says

    I am so appreciative for the three Pearsall “children” to share their loving stories with us readers! So often we are only able to view great design and not hear the actual stories of growing up in these lovely homes.

    I didn’t realize he invented bean bag chairs! That is so cool. And the ice cream bar is to die for! The entire house is fantastic. I loved the wedding story.

    Thank you Pam and Jim, Jed and Cindy.

  4. says

    It’s all so wonderful that it gives me goosebumps. What an amazing home but even more so, an amazing family. What a wonderful world to grow up in. Thanks so much for sharing the stories.

  5. says

    I think the best accolade a designer could have is that his children have such warm and appreciative memories of growing up in the home he built for them. It seems as though there was a huge amount of love in that family. Every house, however modest, would benefit from that essential quality, don’t you think? Thank you, Jed, Jim and Cindy, for letting Pam share these wonderful memories with us.

  6. gabby says

    I agree that not only great design but a real loving family comes through in the photos, and especially the stories. It’s wonderful to see such beautiful things bring meaning to people versus just being more stuff to show off.

    These are wonderful stories-I have no doubt from a really special family.
    Thanks for sharing with all of us!

    Gabby

  7. Cynthia says

    How wonderful that the Pearsalls shared their stories with us! Thank you so much, Jim, Jed and Cindy. And thank you, Pam, for this post. Great memories, gracious people, and photos of a beautiful house…what more could we ask for?

  8. CindySussman says

    Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments-they brought tears to our eyes! Mom and Dad would be so proud!!
    Cindy, Jim, and Jed

  9. Jeff says

    What a terrific home and an even more wonderful family story. I understand families move on and take their memories, but the home needs to go to someone who will treasure it, or it could be opened as a museum to modern design if local ordinances would allow it.

    In any event, a big “thank you” to the Pearsalls for sharing this home with us, and their story.

  10. Elaine says

    Thank you so much for sharing these stories. They brought tears to my eyes, hearing the joy, love and pride in their parents coming through. It seems amazing-ness can be passed down genetically.

  11. says

    Jim, Jed and Cindy were 3 lucky kids. Not so much because of “where” they grew up (even though their house is beyond fabulous), but more because with “whom” they grew up. What a truly wonderful family who appreciated everything the house had to offer. Thank you Pam, Jim, Jed and Cindy for sharing this story. One of my all time favorites!

  12. Angela Speiser says

    Thank you to the Pearsall family for sharing your memories of the lovely home and your family. I’m thankful everyday to be able to have dinner at our beautiful Adrian Pearsall dining set and to top dinner off with a cup of coffee, balancing my cup on a wonderful original Pearsall coffee table. Blessings as you always remember…a great home!

  13. Heidi says

    Such a great story and what a great place to grow up. Jim, Cindy and Jed, you are doing a wonderful job at keeping your parents spirit alive and bringing them to the rest of us. I have one of your father’s coffee tables and think it is spectacular. My kids all have beanbag chairs (pottery barn knock-offs though) that they sit in every single day. Wonderful. Your Dad was a genius and will live longer than all of us. Thank you, Pam, for putting this together.

  14. mimi says

    I love to browse the archives of this site, and just came across the Pearsalls for the first time. This family and their love of life brought me such good feelings, and memories of a time of true American excellence. Astoundingly wonderful creativity combined with determined, principled and honorable people, that is what we pine for and strive to recreate with our mid century obsession. It was wonderful to grow up in that world. It is still in us, always, to achieve that again in new ways. Reminds me to keep the faith that America isn’t really gone, just another phase learning what we already know.Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

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