Constructed in 2004, the house previously featured deep coloring, fussy wallpaper and elaborate window dressings that didn’t match the new homeowners’ tastes. Sarah Hermans’ designs transform the house into a sophisticated yet serene space tailored to the homeowners’ needs.
The grand-scale home was almost new, constructed in 2004 and located in a lovely Newtown Square neighborhood near Episcopal Academy. The mature landscaping and established ambience were unusual for new construction.
Purchasing the home in 2019, the latest owners knew the house was too dark and too formal for their tastes. They didn’t have to look far for expert advice on lightening the interior and striking an aesthetic balance between traditional and transitional styles. Paoli-based interior designer Sarah Hermans had customized their previous home into a comfortable haven for the couple and their young son. “We really wanted to brighten things up and bring in some modern touches while keeping in line with the more classic design of the house,” says the owner. “We also wanted to make sure there was a comfortable, welcoming feeling throughout.”
The first order of business was peeling back the dark layers to create a fresh canvas for the new design. Out went the deep, saturated colors, fussy wallpaper, and heavy, elaborate window dressings. In came a pale, relaxing palette, elegant wall coverings, and tailored drapes and shades. Hermans’ design also included custom millwork that upgraded the home’s finishes and heightened its sense of quality and substance. “Overall, the home had grandeur but was lacking some finishing architectural touches,” says Hermans. “That called for wainscoting, built-in bookcases and decorative molding throughout the house.”
A stately coffered ceiling, raised-panel fireplace surround and wainscoting provide a formal infrastructure for the family room. The soft, touchable fabric on a sectional sofa invites gathering, and a tufted ottoman serves as a coffee table. Throughout the house, rooms are visually connected with various shades of blue. Trim blue drapes, hung ceiling to floor, frame the windows in the family room. In the foyer, a pair of sleek seafoam lamps are stationed on a sinuous wood console table. Deep blue graphic wallpaper infuses the primary bedroom with a sense of restfulness. “We gravitated toward blues—navy, soft teals, shimmery finishes in the wallpapers and lighting,” Hermans says. “The clients like being around water, especially lakes. But it’s not nautical. Pops of gold, white and grays temper the blue and add sophistication.”
In the dining room, Hermans enhanced the existing crown molding and arched doorway with a chair rail and picture moldings. Metallic patterned wallpaper was removed and replaced with creamy painted walls accented with fresh blue-and-white paper inset into panels. Instead of a huge, baronial brass chandelier, there’s a simple, contemporary drum fixture. Manicured topiary plants add to the airy vibe.
The owners moved into their new home just before the pandemic—and wisely, they had two home offices on their wish list. Hermans’ biggest challenge was the downstairs space, which is shared with the owners’ son. Adding gray built-in bookcases between the windows made the room feel sophisticated yet cozy, providing organization and storage for both generations of users. Open shelves are perfect for reference works and art pieces, and the closed storage hides electronics and other items the owners want kept out of sight.
The office on the second floor is a modern riff on a sedate study, with wood moldings on walls painted a bright and cheerful blue. A streamlined brown leather sofa and a pair of mid-century modern-style chairs make the space a peaceful place to unwind after work is done.
With fractures in the supply chain wreaking havoc with deliveries, well-connected designers can make a difference by suggesting alternative finishes, materials or furnishings. Hermans’ strategy also included a series of small unveilings as spaces were completed, rather than a big reveal at the end of the project. She minimized shipping delays by sourcing locally as much as possible. Phoenixville renovation and woodworking firm Iron Space Designs created the home’s millwork, also crafting a custom table from solid maple for the second-floor office.
In the breakfast room, Iron Space installed a dramatic vaulted ceiling of wood planks, echoing the simplicity and clean lines of the table and seating below, which combines traditional chairs with a casual bench. The space is a study in symmetry and tranquility, with ficus trees flanking the table. The leaves filter natural light that streams in through the divided panes of tall windows dressed in soft fabric shades.
The living room is now the family’s favorite space—a place where they feel immersed in beauty from floor to ceiling. The original carved fireplace mantle was retained, but its surroundings were updated with pale blue walls, white cabinetry, and a circular glass and brass chandelier. “The custom built-ins provide a wonderful space to showcase art and house books to read when we have a quiet moment,” the owner says. “The beautiful chesterfield sofa and wingback chairs provide a comfortably elegant spot for listening to our son play piano and enjoying a cup of tea with a friend or the occasional cocktail. And the chandelier is so beautiful, I never tire of gazing at it.”
An important part of the renovation process for the owners was conveying how they wanted their home to feel. “Sarah was able to help translate that idea into a concrete reality that we will be able to enjoy for years to come,” says the owner. “Working with Sarah was a wonderful collaborative experience. At times we had ideas that she helped elevate or fine-tune. Sometimes it was the other way around.”
That collaborative spirit is reflected in a design that’s sophisticated yet serene. “Working with this family never felt like a job,” Hermans says. “It was a joy.”