Combining their design and engineering skills, a designer couple took on a full-scale home makeover.
Michelle Gage and her husband, Alex, spent years fixing up a tired old house on the Main Line. Not long after the paint dried, they started looking for another property to transform. This time, the couple was intent on creating their forever home. “We were bored with our other house,” says Michelle. “We’d renovated it as much as we could, and if we did anything more, we weren’t going to get our money out of it.”
The 1927 stone colonial in Villanova they picked was barely habitable when they bought it in 2018. The wood floors beneath the decrepit carpet were in need of repair. The dilapidated kitchen cabinets were installed during a renovation in the early 1990s. They knew they’d get a better price on the house once they were finished with it. “We were looking for a place with a beat-up kitchen,” Michelle says. “I hate the idea of ripping out one that’s only five years old just because I don’t like it.”
The Gages are uniquely suited to taking on a full-scale makeover. She’s the founder of an interior design firm that specializes in custom projects from conception to completion. The firm’s project manager, Alex is a mechanical engineer with extensive experience in lighting.
Michelle did all the design work. The labor was just the right blend of trusted trades people and sweat equity. Alex took on demolition, light carpentry and refinishing the wide-plank wood floors.
It’s a large house—3,800 square feet. Literally, every room demanded attention, from the water-damaged walls to leaky plumbing. “It’s twice as big as our last house, but with four times as many problems,” says Michelle.
With such an extensive to-do list, the couple set priorities. At the top of the list: stabilizing the property, replacing the roof and taking down trees that were ready to topple over. “We knew that any interior paint or wallpaper job would be damaged by water leaks from above if we didn’t fix the roof,” says Michelle. “We also finished the floors early so we could start to decorate without needing to move everything around after the fact.”
They also improved the infrastructure, installing central air conditioning, a new boiler and a second-floor laundry room.
The six-bedroom house had been converted to four bedrooms by a previous owner. Accessed by butler’s stairs off the kitchen, one bedroom is now Gage’s interior design studio. “The trim and the floors are different than the rest of the house, so we think it was where the help used to stay,” she says.
Ripping down the damaged ceiling provided an opportunity to break into the attic and vault the space, adding drama and volume to Michelle’s studio. An exposed stone wall infuses the room with character. The studio is as functional as it is attractive, with a desk, a worktable and closets for sample storage.
Michelle was intent on creating rooms that reflect the couple’s tastes and travels. It made sense to take on the renovation of the kitchen and butler’s pantry simultaneously, as the adjoining rooms function together. The original cupboards in the butler’s pantry were beyond repair, so Michelle swapped them out for Shaker-style cabinets outfitted with brass hardware. The sink is accented by a single-tap faucet in antique brass.
For a bold touch, the couple painted the cabinets a vibrant teal. “We could see that, at one point, they might’ve had cobalt cabinets in the space, and this bold color is in that spirit,” she says.
Removing the washer and dryer created more room in a kitchen that exudes a vintage vibe consistent with the age of the house. White quartz countertops give the kitchen a clean look, and salvaged wood was woven seamlessly into sections of the floor that had been damaged by water. The cabinets are accented with simple matte-black hardware. “It feels like an English country house to me,” Gage says. “We stayed in an old cottage outside of London when we were there for a family wedding, and the kitchen cabinets were that color.”
The crystal glass pendant over the farmhouse sink is the handiwork of British designer Lee Broom. An Italian range by Hallman Industries is as pretty as it is pragmatic, featuring a white enamel finish and brass knobs and hardware. “It’s a jewelry splurge,” the designer admits.
The Gages consistently eat in the dining room, an inviting space illuminated by a pair of spherical chandeliers formed by bursts of glass and brass flowers. They added trim and moldings to enhance existing built-in cabinetry, painting the millwork white. It’s a sleek contrast to the bold and cheerful wallpaper above the chair rail.
The seating around a rectangular wood table is eclectic. Caned armchairs join white painted chairs accented with black feet. A white bar cart on wheels holds liquor, glassware and serving pieces. “Bar carts in dining rooms are fun and functional—great for serving and for storage,” Michelle says.
The living room retains its original ceiling beams and fireplace, which Michelle outfitted with a copper pot from her previous home. The built-in drawer and cupboards were originally used to store spices and cooking implements.
It’s a space that reflects the homeowners’ personality, with many favorite pieces acquired at Brimfield and Paris flea markets on display. A circus poster is hung beneath a vintage photograph of a bearded man. A bugle, antlers and snowshoes are all displayed as art. The large painting of cats and chickens over the mantel reflects their love of animals. “We had two dogs, then midway through the renovation we adopted two kittens,” the designer says.
A tufted aqua sofa anchors the conversation area, and a circular cocktail table is inlaid with bone mosaic. A rattan day bed reflects the relaxed, laid-back mood. Michelle found the pair of striped chairs online. “I bought them because they don’t have arms,” she says. “Bigger chairs would’ve made the space too tight.”
With a majority of the renovations complete, Michelle just finished the mudroom and is busy designing the bathrooms. “It’s great to have most of the projects behind us,” she says. “We’re truly enjoying our forever home.”