The experience can be best summed up in a word: overwhelming. That’s how Tara Wahl felt six years ago when she and her husband, Ted, moved from their Philadelphia apartment to a traditional colonial in Bryn Mawr. “We had this big house we had to furnish,” says Wahl. “And we had nothing to fill it with.”
Professional help was a foregone conclusion. Wahl went to Gina Whalen of Bella Home Décor in Paoli. “I’d seen Gina’s house, and I loved everything she’d done,” says Wahl. “When she started to tell me everything that could be done, I was excited.”
But Wahl didn’t let her excitement get the best of her. She had a growing family, and the thought of a long-term construction zone was daunting. So she and Whalen decided to break up the project. While the majority of changes were cosmetic, some things—like creating a functional mudroom with cubbies for Wahl’s three kids and turning an unfinished bonus area into a playroom/study—required serious work.
Built in the early 2000s, the bones of the house were in great shape, but the interior wasn’t. Most of it had dated wallpaper. In the family room, all walls and the ceiling were covered in a dark paisley print. “Overall, the home was really outdated and über-traditional,” says Whalen. “We had to bring a modern flair to it.”
Prior to Philadelphia, the Wahls lived in New York City and La Jolla, Calif. Whalen took inspiration from both locales for her designs—especially a coastal California aesthetic, which she used for the formal living room. Whalen commissioned Reading-based artist Bruce Becker to paint the beach scene of the La Jolla cliffs that now holds a prominent position over the fireplace. She pulled colors from that painting for various upholstery fabrics and furniture. To create a comfortable, entertaining space, Whalen chose two curved sofas in silver sheen velvet, separating them with an antiqued mirrored coffee table. Tufted ottomans in an apricot shade sit on opposite ends.
For a time, it seemed that most homeowners were forgoing formal living rooms. But Whalen has seen an uptick in requests. “People want to utilize them now, because it’s valuable space,” she says. “They want the space to have a less formal feel, but still have it be beautiful and comfortable.”
Once wallpaper-laden, the family room also benefitted from a coastal-style makeover. A soft, ivory metallic grasscloth wallpaper provides a refreshing alternative to the outdated paisley. Whalen reupholstered an existing sectional in a cream-colored fabric. In a nod to tradition, Whalen went with a walnut-paneled accent wall and arched built-ins in the same dark wood that flanks the fireplace. “It pops against the light grasscloth wallpaper,” she says.
Whalen offset the wall with an over-scale contemporary looped chandelier from Currey & Company.
In the formal dining room, an existing crystal chandelier sparked the idea for a moody Manhattan-style Spanish restaurant concept. For the walls, Whalen chose red lacquered grasscloth. “Most clients wouldn’t go with that color,” she admits.
Not surprisingly, the owner wasn’t immediately on board. “I was nervous that it would look too dark,” Wahl says. “I’m so glad I listened to her. It looks awesome.”
Continuing the darker theme, a Restoration Hardware trestle dining table was painted black. But it is softened somewhat with six dining chairs upholstered in brown-and white stripes.
The NYC inspiration continues in the home office, where evidence of the Big Apple appears in the photos and memorabilia. A green plaid rug, a mahogany executive desk and dark built-ins keep the room feeling traditional. “Those two rooms are different from the rest of the first floor, but Gina worked her magic to make sure the rooms flowed and it didn’t look disjointed,” says Wahl.
The family gained lots of extra living space by finishing a bonus room on the second floor. “In this home, the master bedroom is on the first floor,” says Whalen. “So the second floor is all for the kids.”
They decided to split the space, creating an extra guest bedroom and a homework/study lounge for the children. Whalen took a bit of a risk with the flooring, choosing a navy-and-white check-patterned wool rug. “This room is its own separate space, so I thought, ‘Why not get fun with it?’” says Whalen.
She arranged quiet reading nooks and three desk vignettes. There’s also a hangout area with a sophisticated sofa and chair so adults feel comfortable, too.
Wahl loves all of the renovations, right down to the new mudroom. “We use each space now,” she says. “I definitely couldn’t say that pre-renovation.”
Interior Designer: Gina Whalen, Bella Home Décor, Paoli, (610) 496-9151, www.bellahomedecorllc.com.
General Contractor: Dan Diegnan, D Squared Construction, Inc., Broomall, (610) 842-7877, www.dsquaredrenovations.com.