A Midwestern family revels in Main Line manse living.
The Main Line was a foreign place to Joanie and Bob Hall when they moved here from the Midwest 13 years ago. Joanie was raised in Indiana, her husband in Illinois. Neither was even remotely familiar with the rich tradition and deep history of the area. But the two shared an affinity for historic homes—and there was no better way to settle in than to call one of the area’s older homes their own.
Their starter house was in Villanova. When they were ready to move two years later, the Halls took great time and care to pick just the right house. After a two-year search, they’d found a Haverford address to call home. Designed in 1922 by renowned Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, the colonial revival house and stable are architectural gems. It was Trumbauer who designed the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the storied Ardrossan mansion, as well as estates throughout New York, Washington, D.C., and Newport, R.I. Trumbauer’s Haverford design had all the character that always attracted the Halls to older homes throughout the Main Line. An architecture buff, the previous owner had restored much of the house to its original grandeur.
A busy lifestyle and three kids prevented the Halls from doing any major renovations for a few years. When the time came, the dated kitchen begged for an update, so that was the first room on the list. “I love cozy, intimate rooms,” says Joanie Hall. “I am completely the anti-great-room person.”
The space was comprised of five areas: the main room; a corner breakfast room; a small room designed as a butler’s pantry complete with a bar; a laundry room; and a narrow passageway leading to the home’s main hall. “People thought I was crazy for not combining all of these spaces to create one large kitchen with a gigantic island,” Hall says. “That’s exactly what I didn’t want.”
Hall called in Frank Bedford IV of Custom Woodcraft in Villanova to do the renovation. Bedford, who’d done work on her previous home, is Hall’s go-to guy for home improvement projects. “It’s great working for Joanie; she has such a flair—especially when it comes to home design,” says Bedford.
The use of white throughout most of the kitchen (pictured above), with subtle natural wood accents, gives the kitchen a crisp appearance. Hall chose Kountry Kraft’s Judy Kling White for the cabinetry. “I didn’t even see the shade, but I knew if it had Judy Kling’s name attached to it that I would love it,” says Hall of the famed Main Line interior designer. The cabinetry, combined with white carrera marble counters, makes the room appear more open. “Everyone fought me on the decision to use marble for the countertops. They said it would chip and stain,” says Hall. “It has done all of these things, but I wouldn’t have made another decision. Using marble fits this house.” A mantle hood and a subway tile backsplash—also in white—are used above the stainless steel Viking stove.
A furniture-style island, with butcher-block countertop, is spacious enough to seat everyone in the family. There wasn’t originally a fireplace in the kitchen, but it was something that Hall had always wanted. Bedford and his team accommodated her desire by installing a gas model. Hall has temporarily taken over the breakfast room as her pseudo home office with hopes of it one day serving its intended purpose. The narrow hall was left alone, as it housed two historic items that reflect the character of the home: an old-fashioned water hose and a candlestick phone with oak ringer box.
The butler’s pantry was an under-utilized space that Hall knew could be put to better use, so she made it a home office (pictured above) for her husband. The small space lent itself to a dramatic design. “I knew I wanted to use knotty pine wood, but that was all I knew,” says Hall.
Just a few days before work was to begin on the space, Hall and her husband were sitting at the Boathouse restaurant and bar in Lambertville when it dawned on them: They could replicate the Boathouse’s coffered ceiling. Bedford executed the design just the way the couple had hoped. Instead of using authentic knotty pine wood, painter Mark Sweetman re-created all the new woodwork in a knotty pine faux finish from the walls on up to the coffered ceiling. The cozy space holds a desk, two leather chairs and a new wet bar.
NEW JERSEY RESTAURANTS AREN’T typically the source of Hall’s design inspiration. “I’ve memorized every page from every home decorating magazine I could find since I was 10 years old,” she says. “I have stacks of tear sheets for different rooms, which I go to for ideas.”
Though Hall is too modest to admit it, a penchant for great design is in her genes. Her mother, Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, is a founding partner of the wildly successful quilted handbag phenomenon that is Vera Bradley.
Back in 1982, Baekgaard and her friend Patricia Miller were traveling when they noticed a dearth of attractive feminine luggage. Upon returning home, they began designing totes and handbags in various patterns and colors. Two decades later, the brand has expanded into home décor, from rugs and furniture to linens and dinnerware.
Hall works for her mother in the merchandising side of the business. There are subtle traces of Vera Bradley throughout the home—like the place mats in the kitchen and the comforter in the sleeping porch. “It’s so funny because I lived with this brand evolving over the last 25 years. It’s not like I was born into it,” says Hall. “I’m not sure if people are surprised or not that my house is not entirely Vera Bradley.”
Nonetheless, Hall is not afraid to use patterns. Her dining room—wallpapered entirely in a red and cream toile—is evidence of that. “I’ve always loved toile,” says Hall. “In every one of my houses, I’ve had a room or space decorated in toile—a bedroom, a hallway and now my dining room.”
Once she found the wallpaper, everything else fell into place. “Much of my design works that way,” she says. “Usually when I buy a new house, I go to the local design center and begin pulling everything I like. Then I wait for a story to evolve.”
While red is a common color for dining rooms, it was a bold move for Hall. “My last few dining rooms have been green,” she says. “I just always thought that the color green made food look great, but I’m already used to the red.”
Hall’s preference for intimate rooms led to the two dining tables. “I try and make all of these big rooms as small and as comfortable as possible,” she says. “And I also knew I wouldn’t be able to find a table that would be so fabulous to take center-stage in this size room.”
A traditional dining table with unconventional seating options sits on one side of the room. Instead of using a set of dining chairs, Hall found a decorative bench, which she had reupholstered in the same red-and-cream toile. It seats up to three comfortably. Three muted, red-and-white checked skirted dining chairs sit across from the bench, and two red leather chairs are at the heads of the table. In contrast to the more traditional table, the second one is round. Another dining room highlight is the two arched, built-in China cabinets original to the house.
Across from the dining room and beyond the formal living room is the Hall’s most current project—the sun room. “It used to be floor-to-ceiling windows, which were painted over and couldn’t be opened over time,” says Hall. “It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, so we never used it.”
The old radiators were replaced, and radiant heat was installed beneath the random-width oak floors. “It’s a misconception that radiant heat can’t be installed under hardwood floors,” says Bedford, who did the renovation.
The dated mullion-glass-paneled windows were traded for classic casements that can be opened. In keeping with the history of the house, Bedford installed traditional V-groove-style paneling on the walls. “It’s like our family room in here now, which is great because we needed a place for our flat-screen television,” says Hall.
Off the master bedroom is a sleeping porch (pictured above)—a common feature in most homes built in the early 1900s. Surprisingly, the Halls didn’t combine the two areas into one large suite. Access to the sleeping porch comes though shuttered doors in the master bedroom. “The kids like sleeping out there if there’s a snow storm coming or if they have friends staying overnight,” says Hall.
On the sleeping porch, wicker chairs and a wicker couch with cornflower blue-and-white check cushions provide a quiet retreat from the activity of a busy family. A mattress suspended from the ceiling by four long chains makes for an unusual bed. “My mother’s brother has cerebral palsy, so her family always had a swinging bed because he liked the motion,” Hall says. “It became a family tradition for all of us to have a swinging bed somewhere in our homes.”
Like any older house, the Halls’ is a work in progress—and that’s fine with them. “We always have out-of-town family and friends staying with us,” says Hall. “I’m so happy to be able to have them here in this house. This is home.”
General Contractor: Custom Woodcraft, Frank A. Bedford IV 114 Kenilworth Road, Villanova; (610) 525-9799, customwoodcraftinc.com
Formal Gardens: Mario Nievera Design, Mario F. Nievera 223 Sunset Ave., #150, Palm Beach, Fla.; (561) 659-2820, marionieveradesign.com
Faux Painting: Mark Sweetman Painting Ardmore, (610) 642-7796
Kitchen: Kountry Kraft 291 S. Sheridan Road, Newmanstown; (610) 589-4575, kountrykraft.com
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