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August Home of the Month: Suburban surprise

Peter J. Heffley was looking for a home where he could easily entertain friends and colleagues and display his expanding collection of artwork.

He found it in a former cape-style home in Amherst, a 1940s-era house that underwent a major renovation about 30 years ago.

Since buying it in 2005, he has remodeled, redecorated and filled it with pieces collected over time.

Highlights include a formal dining room, art-filled hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious kitchen and living room. Out back, an illuminated woodland garden with winding paths can be enjoyed day and night.

The home “is very conducive to entertaining and committee meetings,” said Heffley, a retired educator who worked in local middle and high schools and colleges.  He serves on the boards of the West Buffalo Charter School and Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Mark R. Mendell, the late architect and retired president and cochairman of CannonDesign, redesigned and enlarged the place for his own residence, Heffley said.

It’s now close to 4,000 square feet.

“He took a basic cape and blew it out,” said Heffley, noting that the redesign incorporates a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired technique in which variations in ceiling heights – a low ceiling leading to a higher ceiling – first compresses then expands the sense of space.

The kitchen ceiling, for example, is raised near the sliding glass door that leads outdoors to an open courtyard. Similarly, a long hallway with 7½-foot ceilings opens to a large living room with cathedral ceilings and skylights.

A long hallway offers a view of the outdoor courtyard. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Heffley, who bought the place from a later homeowner for $295,000 in 2005, has made many updates. These include:

• Remodeling the kitchen with quartz countertops, bamboo cabinets and stone backsplash. The floor is slate with stone accents that match the backsplash. The floor in the adjoining eating area is wood.

• Adding a living room fireplace of Eldorado Stone’s simulated river rock.

• Remodeling the master bath and adding a fireplace and custom-built wall of shelves in the master bedroom.

• Refinishing the hardwood floors.

• Installing antique Chinese palace doors to a section of the entrance wall. They are purely decorative; they don’t open or lead anywhere.

He further personalized the place by bringing in a large collection of paintings, sculptures, folk art and more. Some came from family members; many he has collected through the years.

Antique rugs are also found throughout the home – some of which he inherited from grandparents, aunts and uncles, he said.

The kitchen. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The garden makeover dates back to when Heffley moved into the home in September 2006 – a month before the October Surprise storm brought down trees and caused considerable damage to the grounds.

He credits Joan Mariea, a Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional (CNLP), for cultivating a woodland garden filled with rhododendron, hostas, ferns, astilbes, sculptures, benches and more that can be enjoyed by walking the paths.

“I said to Joanie, ‘The inside of the house is filled with art, and I would like the outside to have that same artistic feel,’ ” Heffley recalled.

Woodland gardens can be tricky. “Not only are you dealing with all the shade but you also have the substantial root system from all the huge trees,” Mariea said.

“We have had to start with small shrubs and trees. We can’t dig large holes; we are limited in the space between the tree roots,” she said.

Also key: Choosing plant material that has a good chance of survival under those conditions – and watering.

“Watering is critical to the success of the gardens, especially with the competition from the tree roots,” Mariea said. “You also have to do some pruning of the canopy to let some light in, whether it is filtered or opened up entirely.”

In addition, a sun garden is planted close to the house. Dahlias, daylilies, coreopsis, hydrangeas, anemones and elephant ears are found here. An arbor leads to a bistro table.

The inside truly blends with the outside. “There is so much glass that you feel that you are outside when you are inside and inside when you are outside,” Heffley said.

The woodland garden. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The house at a glance:

Layout: Large covered side entrance leads to a 60-foot-long hallway with the dining room at one end and the living room at the other. The kitchen and large eating area open to a courtyard. The master suite, laundry and another bath are on the first floor. Four additional bedrooms and a third bath are on the second floor. There’s an attic and crawl space but no basement.

Backyard: A deep, woodland garden with winding pea gravel paths has been cultivated by Joan Mariea, a Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional (CNLP) and owner of GardenEscapes. Heffley tends to the garden as well. A watering system is in place, and benches and rustic chairs are found throughout. The shed was there when he bought the place. A concrete fountain/pond combo was designed to look like old wood. There’s also a sun garden.

Furnishings: A mix of antiques and newer pieces.

Flooring: Hardwood in the hallway (installed diagonally), dining room and living room – topped with antique Oriental rugs. Slate, stone and wood in the kitchen. Carpeting in the bedroom; slate in the master bath.

Accessories and artwork: English, French and American portraits and landscapes; Asian art and sculptures; folk art; African masks; works from local and regional artists.

Wall colors: White with some grays, including a darker gray-green in the long gallery-like hallway. The dining room is painted burgundy.

Windows: Minimally covered; shades only where needed.

Do you love your home? Tell us about it.

One of the most popular features in The Buffalo News Home & Style section is the Home of the Month, which features a local home and the people who live there.

Today we feature the Amherst home of Peter J. Heffley.

Our Home of the Month appears online – along with a gallery of photos by a News staff photographer – as well as in a print edition of Sunday Home & Style. (Today's story will appear in print Aug. 11.)

In fall 2017, we launched another feature that appears online only – the Home of the Week. This lets readers inside even more homes.

The Buffalo News continues to look for other local homes and the stories behind them and their décor. Those chosen will be displayed in the weekly feature at

The residence also could be chosen as a Home of the Month.

Here’s what to do if you’re interested: Tell us about your home in 150 words or less, and email 10 hi-res images (in JPEG form) to

It’s OK to send the images split among several emails. Please include your name, the city or town where you live and a phone number.

We will contact those chosen to be featured on We also will publish online some or all of the photos you submitted.

If your place is chosen for Home of the Month, we will visit your home for an interview and our own photo shoot. If you have problems submitting photos, please email

July Home of the Month: Urban hideaway

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