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An Urban Spin on a Villanova Home

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Ashli Mizell isn’t your typical match for a Main Line homeowner. The Philadelphia-based interior designer has a portfolio that leans heavily on chic Delancey Street townhomes and sleek Rittenhouse Square apartments. 

That urban aesthetic is exactly what was so refreshing to a particular Villanova client. “She felt that our work was just refined enough without feeling stuffy,” says Mizell. “She didn’t want anything overly formal or contrived.” 

Ensuring that the owners’ two young children were comfortable in the space was also a top priority. “That was the compass for us, in terms of the material selections and the layout—really everything,” says Mizell.

The owner’s affinity for classic European kitchens inspired many design elements for the space.//photos by Jason Varney

from left: the formal living room is spacious enough to accommodate two sitting areas;

 a powder room’s dramatic effect

From drab to fab

Mizell essentially worked with a blank canvas in this textbook Main Line home, with all the walls and trim shaded white and off-white. The complete renovation of the living room involved replacing the builder’s-grade fireplace mantel with a custom limestone surround. Although Mizell refrains from labeling her work, there are some signature elements. All the furniture in the dining room is custom, from the zinc table to the plush velvet seating. “We really focus our energies on tailoring each project to individual clients and their lifestyles,” she says. “While we want them to be elegant, refined and sophisticated, we’re not designing stage sets or museums—we’re designing spaces that are livable.” 

Another signature element: wallpaper on the ceiling. “I love dressing a ceiling because it’s sometimes a forgotten plane in the room,” Mizell says. “I like the idea of keeping your eyes moving throughout a space. I like your eyes to look up—and there’s a story to tell there.” 

Mizell likes to add unexpected elements to bring interest to a space. In the kitchen, the three stools that line the island are all vintage—two Machine Age, and the third a bright-yellow stool from a San Francisco trolley car. “The rough-hewn nature of those pieces fit because of how refined the other materials are—like the marble walls and the clean slate floors,” she says. 

Mizell took the same approach in the powder room, where she went traditional with the limestone sink and bronze fixtures. That way, she could be more daring with the metallic Maya Romanoff wallpaper, the dark-gray trim, and the plantation shades. “A powder room is a perfect opportunity to do something edgier and a bit bolder than you’d do in a larger space,” she says.

from left: an eclectic photograph from a personal art collection greets guests in the foyer;

 one of two areas in the formal living room

European flair

When it came to the kitchen, the owner wanted something airy and clean, with a European flair. “We’re not in France, though, so it had to look like it belonged in a home in suburban Philadelphia,” says Mizell. “We wanted something that felt classically inspired.” 

White marble statuary tile lines the walls behind the sink and stove, providing a neutral background for the open shelving. White cabinetry continues the clean aesthetic, while the island’s dark walnut top adds warmth. “I wanted to saturate the space with a few core materials, rather than trying to do too many things with lots of different ones,” says Mizell. 

The homeowner said she wouldn’t tire of the contemporary glass door on the refrigerator, and a pair of classic cage lights hangs over the kitchen island. 

In one corner of the room, Mizell designed a banquette area for informal dinners and homework sessions. Thick bluestone from Belgium covers the floors. “The antiquing of the stone almost makes the top look like leather; it has a tremendous amount of character and nuance,” she says. “It’s also super-durable.” 

blood-orange grasscloth wallpaper and black woodwork make a lasting impression in the formal dining room.

Dining in style

Mizell likes to craft a different experience for each space. In the dining room, bold, blood-orange grasscloth wallpaper covers the walls and ceiling. The richness of the space is accented with black trim and woodwork, plus a soapstone fireplace. “I wanted this room to feel like a destination off the kitchen,” Mizell says. 

A vintage chandelier from Spain hangs over the custom-designed zinc dining table, which accommodates 10 guests comfortably. Six French salon-style chairs, upholstered in a blood-orange velvet, line either side, while two oversized leather benches are set at each end. “Zinc was chosen for the table because it’s very resilient, and it also obtains a beautiful natural patina over time,” says Mizell. “It’s reminiscent of the pewter countertops you see in French cafés. It’s a little nod to the style of the kitchen.” 

In the end, the successful transformation from builder’s-grade bore to daring, thoughtfully executed showpiece was a matter of following the clients’ lead. “We worked with the environment in terms of the footprint of the space, and we let their lifestyle be the guide,” Mizell says. 

resources 

Interior design: Ashli Mizell Inc., 124 S. 19th St., Philadelphia, (215) 546-7606.