‘Everyone’s Hungry for Home’: Family Spends 2 Years Transforming 305-Year-Old Farm Into Their Happy Home

‘Everyone’s Hungry for Home’: Family Spends 2 Years Transforming 305-Year-Old Farm Into Their Happy Home
(Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
1/6/2023
Updated:
1/13/2023

A mom of five and property renovator has built the home of her dreams, a transformed 305-year-old farmhouse that embodies her family’s philosophy: Invest in the people you love. Now, her message is spreading far beyond the walls of her happy home.

California-born Ruth McKeaney, 54, lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Bob. She gave up a career as an attorney to become a stay-at-home mom and is now a published author, having transformed a once-derelict farmhouse and 12-acre plot into a grand yet intimate family home with Bob, over the course of almost two years.

The family’s home has since been featured in several magazines. The couple also runs a dedicated website, Hungry4Home, and an Instagram channel, @hungryforhome, sharing the love of their “charming historic home” with the world and advising them how to make their own niche a place worth cherishing and living in.

“We have done a lot of houses, huge old homes. I love to restore something that once had life and lost it,” Ruth told The Epoch Times. “When we saw this house, it was not habitable anymore. The windows were all broken, things had been stolen, it was horrible.

“So to bring it back and give life to it and make it beautiful again, to me, that was a big motivator.”

The Hillside Farm. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
The Hillside Farm. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
The 305-year-old farmhouse, fully renovated. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
The 305-year-old farmhouse, fully renovated. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
Ruth and Bob (C-R) with their children and friends. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
Ruth and Bob (C-R) with their children and friends. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
After 16 years of flipping houses, Ruth and Bob McKeaney have found their forever home. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
After 16 years of flipping houses, Ruth and Bob McKeaney have found their forever home. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)

Back to Life

Ruth and Bob bought Hillside Farm just outside Philadelphia, 12 years ago—it was originally an early 18th-century dairy farm. The couple had already been buying and flipping homes for 16 years, during which time they had welcomed five kids and moved roughly every 18 months.

Ruth hoped the farm, with its main three-story house and two guest houses, would become their permanent home. Since her mother had passed away, she also hoped one of the guest houses could be a cozy home for her father.

“We’re the fourth owners on the deed, so only four families have owned it in 305 years ... it had to be completely redone,” she told The Epoch Times. “There were trees growing into the third floor, there were stone walls that had fallen down, we had to put in all new plumbing, all new electric, all new everything.”

The surrounding woods were encroaching on the house, but after clearing away some of the trees, Ruth and Bob discovered the stone foundations of a barn that had previously burned down. Ruth had a sense of the home she was trying to create; staying true to the property’s history was paramount.

Ruth and Bob with their five children. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
Ruth and Bob with their five children. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
A get-together of family and friends in the newly built barn. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
A get-together of family and friends in the newly built barn. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
The top floor of the barn, which the family uses to gather with their relatives and friends. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
The top floor of the barn, which the family uses to gather with their relatives and friends. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
The barn is built on the site of the original barn that burned down on the property. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
The barn is built on the site of the original barn that burned down on the property. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
Staying true to the property's history was paramount in the family's renovations.(Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
Staying true to the property's history was paramount in the family's renovations.(Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)

A Beloved Refuge

There was hard work every step of the way, from tearing down walls for new wires and pipes to digging out the basement foundations. They had help from their friends, Ruth’s brothers lent elbow grease, and every challenge gave Ruth new appreciation for her husband.

“He’s not afraid of having to learn new skills, of having to do things that he’s not comfortable with. He just tries it and he works very hard. I appreciate him a lot,” she said.

Ruth praises her entire family for being able to work hard, love hard, and play hard, so when it came time to address the outdoors, she knew her five kids would want to share the garden space with their friends from school and church. But she didn’t want them cramped up indoors playing video games.

“We'd have things like a long zip line, a basketball court, dune buggies, tetherball; we had everything you could play outside,” said Ruth, who also keeps 20 chickens and tends a huge herb garden on the property.

Ruth McKeaney keeps 20 chickens on the property. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
Ruth McKeaney keeps 20 chickens on the property. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
The family's space for entertainment and indoor games. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
The family's space for entertainment and indoor games. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
A detailed longboard hangs on either side of the barn doors, where the family notes down events to be held in the barn. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
A detailed longboard hangs on either side of the barn doors, where the family notes down events to be held in the barn. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)

Today, the fully renovated Hillside Farm is a beloved refuge for the whole family. Ruth and Bob’s kids have graduated from playing in the garden to using the new barn, an entertainment space built where the burned-down barn used to be—and Ruth is always ready to host.

“Take for instance in my freezer,” Ruth said, “I have bags and bags of frozen chocolate chip cookie dough balls, so that if anyone comes, I can cook immediately for them. It’s just always having that welcoming sense to whoever doesn’t live here.

“My mother would have homeless people in our house ... my grandparents were evangelists, all over the world, so we always had an influx of people from overseas and it was so formative for me growing up,” she said. “My mom always said to me, ‘Ruth, entertaining isn’t about perfection or about performance, it’s about making people feel loved.’”

‘Everyone’s Hungry for Home’

When Ruth and Bob first got married, they sat down together, talked about their individual family traditions, and wrote a mission statement for their own family. That same intention applies to their home.

For Ruth, the kitchen is the heart of the home. The walls are adorned with large pieces of framed art by her own children, and instead of a guestbook, she and Bob have hung a log from a fallen tree over their fireplace and invite all visitors to carve their name.

The log hung by the McKearneys for visitors to carve their names. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
The log hung by the McKearneys for visitors to carve their names. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
The Hillside Farm kitchen, which Ruth calls the heart of the home. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
The Hillside Farm kitchen, which Ruth calls the heart of the home. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
As with the rest of the house, the living room is a welcoming space. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
As with the rest of the house, the living room is a welcoming space. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
Ruth is always ready to play host to any guests passing through. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
Ruth is always ready to play host to any guests passing through. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)

At one daughter’s insistence, they also keep a piano in the dining room since all five of their kids can play. “It was important to me that they learned the discipline of an instrument,” Ruth said. “We grew up eating dinner while someone might be playing the piano.”

With an open-door policy in their home, it wasn’t long before Ruth and Bob began inviting visitors from further afield. Ruth was touched by the words of a New York magazine photographer who said, “I only have one thing to say: I’m home,” and her cousin, who insisted through tears that people visit so often because “they feel that they’re loved.”

During a conversation with two friends in England about flipping homes, Ruth was asked why she does what she does. She replied, “I believe everyone’s hungry for home.”

“They both, in that moment, looked at me and said, ‘You’re supposed to write a book!’” Ruth said. “I’m not an expert, I’m not a chef, I’m not a designer, but the more people that began to talk to me, I do know one thing I have a heart for, and that is creating space for a home.”

Ruth has a heart for creating space for a home. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
Ruth has a heart for creating space for a home. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
The McKeaneys are often told by their guests that they visit often because they feel loved. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
The McKeaneys are often told by their guests that they visit often because they feel loved. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
Ruth hopes their renovation story encourages other people to pour love, care, and intention into their own homes. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
Ruth hopes their renovation story encourages other people to pour love, care, and intention into their own homes. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)
To Ruth, the desire for home crosses every boundary and applies to everyone. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)<span style="font-size: 16px;"> </span><span style="font-size: 16px;"> </span><span style="font-size: 16px;"> </span>
To Ruth, the desire for home crosses every boundary and applies to everyone. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)   

Encouraging Others

Ruth spent ten months on her book, “Hungry for Home,” a guide for any homemaker on how to make a house a loving, welcoming space with family at the center.

The couple have renovated two additional homes since moving into Hillside Farm, to pay for the barn addition and their kids’ college fees. They do not plan to move again and Ruth hopes their renovation story encourages other people to pour love, care, and intention into their own homes.

“I think homes are divided, families are divided, and that breaks my heart,” she said. “I think the topic of home and the desire for home crosses every ethnic boundary, financial or economic boundary, racial boundary, religious boundary ... to me this is a motivator, because my heart is to bless people, and my personal motivation is my faith.

Ruth and Bob McKeaney at their Hillside Farm. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.hungry4home.com/">Ruth McKeaney</a>)
Ruth and Bob McKeaney at their Hillside Farm. (Courtesy of Ruth McKeaney)

“Is a home always happy? No, everyone goes through things. Everyone struggles with different things. But to have a collection of people that’s going to love you through it, and walk you through it, I don’t think you can buy that.”

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