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Abstract Art and Modern Décor Converge in Chantal Westby’s Bryn Mawr Home



Architect: Lombardini Architects, Andrea Lombardini, Earleville, Md., (610) 212-8441. 
Builder: Josh Boucher, Centreville, Del., (610) 585-2173. 
Faux painting: Alix Jacobs Decorative Painting, Haverford, (610) 658-5996.

Faux limestone blocks painted by Haverford artist Alix Jacobs line the walls of the foyer, which also displays owner Chantal Westby’s abstract paintings. (Photo by John Lewis)Chances are, when you come to Chantal Westby’s Bryn Mawr home, you’ll see a painting that wasn’t there on your last visit. The acclaimed artist has no qualms about using the walls of her home to showcase her latest abstract and mixed-media work. Hanging it allows her to see it in varying light and determine whether it’s truly finished. “I like my paintings to live with me for a while,” says Westby. “If a painting is beautiful in my home, I know it will be beautiful in any other home.”

Still, it could be argued that Westby’s greatest work to date is her home. Fifteen years ago, she transformed a tired 1950s Cape Cod into a modern château loosely modeled after the homes in her native Valenciennes, France.

“I looked at countless home magazines for inspiration,” she says. “I then added my own unique touches to things that I liked.”

Working with French-speaking architect Andrea Lombardini, Westby oversaw the 18-month renovation, also creating window treatments and giving old furniture an authentic French Empire look. All of the “before” pieces were found at Main Line antique stores and Philadelphia auction houses. “Our local thrift shops are a treasure,” says Westby.

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Westby and her husband, George, met more than 25 years ago in Paris. “I didn’t speak a word of English at that time,” she says.

The connection was so strong that she left France and followed her future husband to the Main Line. “When I first came here, I moved into his small, historic home on Conestoga Road in Villanova,” she says. “European homes in general are more modern in design. Houses are also much smaller—every space is used.”

Westby kept these European ideals in mind as she went about the renovation of her Cape Cod.  A modern, open layout was a top priority. “Light is extremely important,” she says.

The kitchen remodel boasts contemporary cabinetry from Bulthaup, with a solid wall of sleek cabinets and drawers devoid of handles or pulls. Appliances are hidden behind matching cabinet panels. A single glass cabinet houses a collection of Louis XVI and French Empire china. “Again, they were all found locally at thrift shops,” says Westby.

In the kitchen’s galley, a commercial-grade Gaggenau cooktop blends perfectly with the contemporary surroundings, and a glass door and skylight provide ample natural light. A door leads to the outdoor living space, with its canopied sitting area. “My husband and I love being out there in the morning,” she says.

A cream-and-beige palette brings serenity to the master bedroom suite. The only diversion comes from the dark hues in her “Self Portrait,” which is prominently displayed between the windows. “Our minds are always bombarded with images and thoughts,” says Westby. “In this room I wanted to feel peace.”

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Cream-colored marble and tile cover the spacious master bathroom, where a large, freestanding tub was positioned to allow for a view of the outside through a wall of windows. His-and-hers sinks complete the space.

To make a lasting impression in the foyer, Westby had faux painter Alix Jacobs execute a striking simulation of classic, dry-laid limestone blocks. “Chantal is taken with a formal French Empire or Directoire style,” says Jacobs. “This form of stone construction was typical for the period.”

With the help of two other painters, Jacobs used narrow tape—that is used by auto body shops to pinstripe cars—to define the joints of the stonework, making it easier to paint, stipple and shade the individual limestone blocks while leaving the joints untouched by the paints and glazes. “If expense wasn’t a concern I would have used real limestone in the front of the house instead of stucco,” says Westby. “This painted foyer is the next best thing to real limestone.” It was Westby’s idea to add a pair of regal columns framing the entry into the sitting area. Her attention to detail also lead her to request “hidden” closet doors that blend into the wall in the foyer that open by a simple push. “I didn’t want the beauty of the faux painting interrupted by a closet door,” she says.

Jacobs is in awe of Westby’s talent. “She literally took a sow’s ear and converted it into a silk purse,” she says.

With a studio space among the two guest bedrooms on the second floor, Westby can live, work and entertain in a home that inspires her. “I brought a soul to my house,” says Westby. “People can feel that it’s filled with love. That’s the highest compliment one can give me.”

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