MEDIA — The house at 430 N. Monroe St. is arguably one of the best-known homes in the borough. For the hundreds (or thousands) of people who pass it daily, the stately gray stone structure makes one think, “I wonder what it’s like inside?”
Wonder no more. You can now book a room in the borough’s first Bed and Breakfast and enjoy the detail, ambiance, craftsmanship and luxury that are rare in today’s world.
The Gifford-Risley House has been a labor of love for Monika and Z Rehoric for quite some time. They purchased the home almost four years to the day the house will open to guests, and have been working on the two-and-a-half story, Gothic Revival structure non-stop for the past two years. To say it has been no small task is an understatement. Aside from creating guest rooms in seven different design periods, and transforming the first-floor reception rooms to a vision of the original Victorian grandeur, the couple had to convince local government the “B&B” was not only a suitable use, but a boon for the borough. Working collaboratively with council, a zoning amendment was passed to permit the use under appropriate conditions.
First a bit of history. The house was built in 1877 for Elton B. Gifford, understood to be a successful Philadelphia merchant. Only 11 years later, the property was purchased by Dr. Samuel D. Risley, a Civil War veteran, noted ophthalmologist and, at one point, president of Wills Eye Hospital. The home (including the now separately owned carriage house) was in the Risley family long after his death in 1920. The next notable transition saw it carved into apartments, thought to be during the mid-1960s.
Some may say that transition was not kind to the house, although it retained a gracious – if not slightly tiring – exterior appearance. The owner during the last half of the 20th Century put it on the market several times, while also submitting it for a significant honor. The Gifford-Risley House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. While the borough has other buildings of outstanding architectural and historical importance, only the Gifford-Risley and Media Armory carry that designation.
“We made three attempts to buy the house,” said Monika Rehoric in a pre-opening tour. “We knew immediately what we wanted to do with every room. It was just screaming for a B&B.”
Z unequivocally added he thought the house was “perfect” for their enterprise.
The Rehorics had owned Kenny’s Flowers on State Street for decades, but this endeavor needed their full-time attention, leading them to sell the business. The expertise had been honed by both Monika and Z. Their own home on Lemon Street – on the borough’s holiday house tour in 2014 – was testament to the passion for the precise and elegant Victorian décor.
“This was not our first rodeo,” Z said of the project. “We’ve rehabbed six properties over the years. This one was just grander and on a larger scale.”
They freely admitted Monika had the vision and design talent; Z seemed to have endless energy and practical know-how. Family members included their son Alex, a graphic designer and skilled photographer whose work has brought a great public face to the house. Daughters Desiree and Elise “helped in so many various ways,” Monika said.
“We had to do everything that would be necessary to renovate in a household – times seven,” said Z, who said some structural construction, plumbing and electrical work needed was outsourced to trade professionals.
Since each room was once a functioning apartment, they were completely reconfigured to eliminate the kitchen and create an entirely new bathroom. The work was not only “how-to,” but “what to?” Rather than a complete Victorian design, the decision was made to span the ages with themes from the Renaissance through to early 20th Century Arts and Crafts. The couple was doing what they already loved in attending auctions and scouring sources for every item in the house. The vision for each room was brought to life with furnishings, accessories, color, style and the minutest detail of art.
“This is my favorite table,” Z said in the Queen Victoria Suite. “Imagine the craftsmanship. It was made to last. This has given us the opportunity to recycle and give things a new life.”
“I’m feeling better about my ability to be creative," Monika admitted modestly.
"Sometimes I’d think about a space and just come up with an idea. This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 18. And now he’s letting me do it,” she joked about her husband.
“Monika will ask for my opinion, but I trust her judgment. We’re on the same page, having worked together for 25 years and are still married after 34 years,” said Z.
In December the finishing touches were being applied, including such requirements of testing the sprinkler system required by the borough. The Rehorics started the project with a love of the work, but also seriously considered the practical aspects of establishing a successful business.
“We feel we will appeal to guests who appreciate something different and unique, and will find the home intriguing. We wanted to create a warm and cozy atmosphere throughout. It’s a little bit of a lesson in art history as well,” said Monika. “We believe people who come and stay will respect our efforts and the history of the house as well.”
The newly minted Gifford-Risley House has seven guest rooms (the third floor Queen Victoria Suite includes a kitchenette and extra sleeping space), parlor, library, dining room for breakfast and possibly tea service, a veranda, enclosed conservatory, and enough charm to impress the most discerning guest.
While the house is the star of this show, its setting is a large part of the overall experience. Media, the seat of Delaware County, has federal roots and was incorporated in 1850. The vibrant business district, a short walk from the house, is a shopping and dining destination. The motto: Everybody’s Hometown. The Rehorics welcome their guests to embrace just that idea.
FYI: For reservations and all information go to www.gifford-risleyhouse.com. Rates vary from $195-$250 depending on room. Full color photos of all rooms, history, services and information about Media are included.