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This Designer Transformed a Berwyn Colonial Into Her Dream Home

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Photos by Jon Friedrich

Interior designer Larina Kates turned a small brick colonial that needed a bit of work into a property with charm and flair.

Designer, Larina Kase, was looking for her dream house—and her dream kitchen—when she toured a two-story brick colonial on a leafy street in Berwyn. Most visitors wouldn’t have been impressed with the house. At 2,200 square feet, it wasn’t nearly big enough for Kase, her husband and their three active boys. Built in 1959, the property was showing signs of wear. And the layout was all wrong—choppy and lacking in flow.

So the interior designer grabbed a pen from her bag and started sketching on the back of her agent’s brochure. Within minutes, she’d drawn plans for a two-story addition that would encompass a second-floor master suite and first-floor family room, sunroom and office. The centerpiece is a large kitchen brimming with natural light and a joyful vibe.

Kitchen/living room

The kitchen was designed as the home’s centerpiece, offering a natural flow into the family room.

Today, the house is double its original size. The hub is a large open-concept gathering area where the family cooks, dines, plays games and talks. Sunlight streams through skylights and large windows. Kase’s home office has the artsy vibe of a literary salon, while her physician husband has his own contemporary workspace.

And Kase’s original design? “I didn’t change it at all,” she says.

Bathroom

The home’s bathrooms reflect the distinct personalities of the family members.

Vintage Meets Modern

To transform sketches into blueprints, the Kases hired architect Liz Springer of Dames Design in Bryn Mawr. Chadds Ford’s DiPasquale Construction executed the plan. And though the design has a spare and modern edge, it retains a vintage charm. “Liz loves old houses and understood my vision right away,” Kase says.

Kase comes by her appreciation for older homes naturally. Her father, an antiques dealer, restored a house in Rochester, N.Y., built in 1911. “I watched my dad stripping paint for years,” she says. “That’s why I always ask clients if they’re absolutely sure if they want to paint over natural wood.”

Kase’s mother is an artist and a docent in a gallery, her grandmother was a painter, an aunt is an interior designer, and an uncle works in fashion. At Cornell University, Kase studied interior design and how environments impact people’s emotions and behavior. She earned a master’s degree in business and a doctorate in psychology, ultimately specializing in the reduction of anxiety and stress in the workplace.

As a designer, she conceives interiors that reflect a single overarching goal: to make people happy.

As a designer, Larina Kase conceives interiors that reflect a single over-arching goal: to make people happy.

As a designer, Larina Kase conceives interiors that reflect a single over-arching goal: to make people happy.

Family Input

Part of Kase’s strategy for infusing the family home with joy is giving the kids—ages 12, 10 and 8—input. “My boys are very much into making design decisions, and I always run things by them,” she says. “They also helped demo the wall by the staircase in the foyer, working with their little hammers.”

Just off the mudroom, the powder room is the boys’ space. They chose bright-blue wallpaper, inspired by the locker room of the Philadelphia Union pro soccer team. The brothers also selected a coordinating tile in deep tones of teal. The result is a space that’s practical, attractive and all-boy.

Kitchen

The kitchen’s massive island is topped with Danby marble from Vermont.

A second powder room is exuberantly feminine, with vibrant floral wallpaper in coral and gold tones. The curtains are trimmed with pom-pom fringe. “It’s as feminine as I wanted,” Kase says. “Even my husband doesn’t go in there.”

The two home offices make life easier and more organized for two busy professionals. “During a pandemic, it’s priceless,” the designer says.

Her husband came up with the idea of placing tickets from trips and sporting events under the glass on top of his desk. Meanwhile, her office is a pleasant mashup of workspace and sunroom, where she can sit comfortably with her laptop, surrounded by a wall of windows. “I don’t see clients in my house too often,” she says. “But when I do, it’s a great place to meet them.”

Mudroom

A glimpse of the kitchen from the mudroom.

When taking on a whole-house remodel and extension, it’s important to plan the project as efficiently as possible. The first order of business: building the two-story addition and a basement with nine-foot ceilings. Alas, the existing red oak floors in the original house were beyond repair.

Kase’s design called for new white oak floors with six-inch planks, which went down after the original house was gutted, creating a seamless connection between old and new on the expanded first floor. Planks laid in a herringbone pattern create a sense of formality in the foyer. This formed the aesthetic base for an airy, relaxed interior. “I’m influenced by the California coastal look—a calm feel, all neutrals and soft blues and greens,” she says.

A “Magical” Kitchen

In this expansive space, a vaulted ceiling is defined by wood beams and a massive island is topped with Danby marble quarried in Vermont. The stone was chosen for both its beauty and practicality. “It’s more dense than other marble so it’s less likely to stain,” she says. “And it comes honed so you don’t have to pay for that.”

“I’m influenced by the California coastal look—a calm feel, all neutrals and soft blues and greens,” she says.

The kitchen’s white Shaker-style cabinets came from Beyond Stock, a maker of custom furniture in Ephrata. The simplicity of the design doesn’t compete with the verdant woodland view framed by three large windows over the kitchen sink. A commercial-style eight-burner range is crowned with an arched hood accented by metal strapping.

Vertical pullout cupboards are ideal for storing spices, baking sheets, cutting boards and place mats. Drawers provide most of the storage beneath the counters in a style imported from European kitchens. “It’s so peaceful—nothing too shiny, nothing too bright,” says Kase.

Nook

A nook for snacks and board games.

Table for Seven

The kitchen opens to a casual gathering area. At meal time, they assemble at a big round table crafted from maple by Amish artisans. “It seats seven—our family of five, plus my parents,” Kase says.

A formal dining area with a pedestal table and two balloon-style chandeliers is positioned between the foyer and the gathering area, providing a special space for holidays and entertaining. On a daily basis, it refreshes the eye, serving as a transition from the entry of the home into the core living area. “It’s like the sorbet between courses at a restaurant,” says Kase.

Upstairs, the master bathroom reflects that same light and spare vibe. The counters, walls and floors are all made from the same species of pale, gray-veined marble, which is cut in slabs, tiles and mosaics to create classic patterns. An oversized shower is equipped with an electronic starter that remembers a user’s preferred water temperature.

Chandelier

Touches of vintage charm like this elegant chandelier add pop to the home’s spare, modern design.

Seamless glass doors visually expand the space “and are way easier to keep clean.”

To keep on budget, Kase employed a time-honored designer’s trick of combining high-end touches with less expensive choices. The polished chrome fixtures that compliment the nickel hardware on the sconces above the sink cost 25 percent less “and are still beautiful.” The petite chandelier of antique glass crystals that hangs over the soaking tub was designed for a nursery. “Half the fun of designing a home is figuring out how to make it all work,” she says. “In the end, we got everything our family needs—and then some.”