Interior Designer Takes on a Special Bryn Mawr Home

One half of McCabe + McCabe becomes her own client.

One of the best things about coming home is that we get to bring all the insights we’ve gathered along the way with us. For Christina deForest Keys, that meant infusing a stately Colonial Revival residence in Bryn Mawr with a fresh perspective honed during her years as an interior designer in New York City. 

“We loved living in New York, but it felt quite natural coming back to the Main Line and moving into a home that’s very much like the house where I grew up,” she says. 

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With her twin sister, Katherine McCabe Juhas, she founded McCabe + McCabe, a successful design firm that focuses on translating clients’ visions into lovely, livable spaces. When deForest Keys and her husband, David, relocated to a three-story stone home on a leafy street in 2014, she became her own client, putting the business on hiatus and devoting her talents to creating a place of comfort for their family.

Built in 1940, the house was blessed with abundant architectural details, including divided light windows, built-in cabinetry and elegant moldings and mill-work. Pediments crown portals and doorways in the ground-floor spaces. “We wanted to preserve the home’s wonderful features but make the house function better and feel lighter,” deForest Keys says.

A subway-tile backsplash fits the kitchen’s clean aesthetic//photography by john lewis

 a sleek soaking tub implies utter relaxation in the guest bath.

Original charm, enhanced flow

To provide the expertise and craftsmanship required for renovating a vintage home, the deForest Keys turned to E.C. Trethewey III Building Contractors, a Downingtown firm that focuses on historically correct custom projects.

Over five months, the home underwent an expansive renovation—one that retained its original charm while enhancing the flow for an active family. “Because of her design background, Christina understood the process and made decisions quickly,” says Ann Trethewey, the firm’s spokeswoman. “She had a clear vision for the way she wanted the house to look and function.”

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That started with the front door. Reeded glass in a divided-light window was replaced with clear glass that ushers in natural light and offers a glimpse of the outdoors. A smart coat of black paint and an antiqued brass lock set give the door a traditional look.

It’s a large house—a tad over 6,000 square feet. And this young family and their guests enjoy every room. That includes an updated basement with a playroom for the kids, as well as a recreation area for parents, with a stone fireplace, a rustic floating-wood floor, a gathering area, and a bar with wine storage. “In a house that doesn’t have a designated family room, a basement provides that casual space,” says deForest Keys.

for game nights, the family congregates around a lacquered linen coffee table in the formal living room. 

Formal but relaxing

The formal living room is relaxed and inviting. A neutral, streamlined George Smith sofa is paired with vibrant purple embroidered pillows by Holland & Sherry. The draped corners on the fireplace mantel—a new addition—echo the moldings that surround the windows. All the trim is painted in what the owner calls “a magic color,” shaded white by Farrow & Ball. “We use our living room all the time,”  says deForest Keys. “We make a fire and play board games.”

The games are stored in a streamlined mid-century chest. Play unfolds on a large cocktail table finished in lacquered linen. “I love big tables you can keep books under,” she says.

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Throughout the house, deForest Keys responded to how her family lives. Much of the second floor was reconfigured to create rooms with en-suite baths and large closets for the children. She added a second-level laundry room, and a sumptuous guest bath features marble flooring, a steam shower and a slipper soaking tub.

The third floor is devoted to a serene master retreat. An enclosed sun porch is now a cozy den, the ideal space for the smaller-scale furniture the couple brought with them from their New York City apartment. 

The dining room

Full circle

Like the homeowners, several pieces in the house have come full circle. The mahogany sideboard was made in Philadelphia and found its way to the home of David deForest Keys’ parents in England. Today, it’s the perfect fit for a niche in the dining room.

The space has the elegant feel of a room that has actually evolved over time. Overhead, the elaborate moldings in a Greek-key pattern are original to the house. The deForest Keys added a lantern-style chandelier and sconces, plus crisp, white wainscoting. Deep-blue grasscloth wallpaper and a sisal carpet lend some texture. The hip oval dining table is a classic mid-century piece.

With professional-style appliances, two sinks and a large footprint, the existing kitchen was a great fit for the family. DeForest Keys simply enhanced the aesthetics, removing pendant lighting and replacing a tumbled-stone backsplash with subway tiles.

an enclosed sun porch doubles as a den

Seamless transitions

To improve the flow on the first floor, the wall in the casual dining area was opened up to create a large portal between the kitchen and living room. Trethewey’s team of craftsmen cased the opening in trim work that reflects the Colonial Revival architecture throughout the house.

Expert carpentry was essential in maintaining the seamless sensibility of the home, down to precise replicas of the original covers on radiators. Extending the run of the banister and spindles on the graceful staircase to the entrance to the third floor was a rare change ordered during the renovation. It’s an impeccable transition, with the new millwork blending imperceptibly with the original. 

“It looks as if it was meant to be that way—which is what we were after,” the owner says. 

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!