Not surprisingly, her tastes lean more toward Provence than Plain. So, when she and her husband, Arlin, were making plans to build a home, she knew exactly what she wanted: a home that could accommodate her friends from around the world, as well as her and Arlin’s large families for visits, holidays and other gatherings. Her dream home also would feature timeless European architecture, bring in the natural elements of the Benners’ foliage-filled five-acre property, and display the furniture and décor she’d been collecting over the years – which she’d been storing in their barn! “I love decorating,” she declares, noting that many of the items in the house – such as the crystal chandeliers – were purchases she made when she was still living single in New York City.
Deborah even had specific kitchen doors in mind, which she and a friend surreptitiously snapped with a camera while in a Downsview Kitchens showroom in Philadelphia. Other inspirations came directly from Deborah’s own European experiences, as well as her library of French-design books. She flips the pages of one of those books to point out an olive-green china cabinet with a black & white checkerboard surface – the replica of which is directly behind her. She explains that she spent months scouring for tiles that perfectly matched the photo. She flips the book again to point out another cabinet – this one adorned with fleur-de-lis-patterned leaded glass, which she loved so much that she hired an artisan in Chadds Ford to custom-make for her.
What may be surprising is that Deborah also is a farmer.
She and Arlin – the fourth generation of his family to work in agriculture – own Yippee! Farms, a 700-acre operation that includes three dairies, and recently was featured on Today and Dirty Jobs.
Since dairy farming is a 24/7 job that the couple want to continue for a lifetime, they must live close to or on the farm. That’s one reason Deborah was so particular about their home’s design. “This is not our first home. This is our LAST home,” she states.
After living in an 8,000 sq. ft. Tudor-style home as a child, a tiny New York City apartment during her acting career and a single-wide trailer with Arlin after they were married, Deborah knew exactly how she wanted her home to look and flow. However, the architects and home builders she and Arlin consulted tried to nudge them away from her ideas and couldn’t resist incorporating their signature elements into the design. So, she ultimately decided to hire general contractors for each phase of the building process, designing as they went along. “To get exactly custom, you have to do it yourself,” Deborah says.
That especially applied to the kitchen. “I knew this would be important real estate,” she says, noting that her Italian family considers the room almost sacred. Between family, friends and dinner parties they planned on hosting, Deborah envisioned a kitchen space made for entertaining.
With such a specific picture for her kitchen, Deborah required a designer who was completely open to anything she requested. She met with several in Philadelphia, New York City and San Antonio, plus a few local cabinetmakers – but, like the architects, all of them drew up plans that used their own ideas at the expense of Deborah’s distinct vision.
Then, a friend recommended Wynwood Kitchens.
Deborah was impressed at her first meeting with Wes. She liked the fact that he owned the company and did all his own work. She also appreciated what she calls Wes’ “design mind” and openness to creating her vision and style – no matter how long it took.
“It was a tremendous amount of work,” she admits, noting that she rejected several versions of Wes’ distressed look for the cabinetry. Wes even built the olive-green cabinet, as well as the cabinet doors to the style and sizes Deborah specified – no questions asked. “Wes never tried to steer me in any area that said, ‘This is a Wes design.'”
Five years after Wes finished their custom kitchen, Deborah and Arlin still love it and still spend much of their time there. “The kitchen is always the heart of the home,” she says. The immense island – which Arlin jokingly calls a “continent” – is the centerpiece, where their family, friends, fellow church members and now, two children (they adopted from Ukraine last year and plan on adding more children soon) still gather for buffet-style meals.
Deborah says one of her friends commented at the start of the building process that her challenge was to make the huge home feel “cozy.” With Wes’ help, she did just that. “I don’t feel like I’m in this massive space,” Deborah says. “And that’s what I wanted. The greatest compliment we could receive is to see people come in, make it their own, put up their feet and almost hear them say, “Ahhh, I feel like I’m home!'”