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Kimberly Barr Turns Her Havertown Fixer-Upper Into a Welcoming Abode


The living room

Like many young girls, Kimberly Barr had a dollhouse as a kid. Hers, however, was unique. “My dad and I built that dollhouse, and I loved it,” says Barr, who recalls making design decisions like picking out flooring and paint for the walls. “All I wanted to do was buy furniture for it.”

She spent hours arranging—and rearranging—that miniature furniture to get the look just right. Once she did it, she’d start all over again. Barr didn’t realize at the time that perfecting the mini layout was actually preparing her for a career in interior design.

For the past 16 years, Barr has been working on the equivalent of real-life dollhouses, including her own fixer-upper in Havertown. In the five years since she and her family moved into their 1920s Dutch Colonial, she’s renovated the entire house to make it more suitable for modern living. “And there’s still projects to do,” she says.

Kitchen Dining room

The dining area; the kitchen

Suburban Living

Once Barr and her husband decided to start a family, it was time to make the transition from Center City to the suburbs. They found their first home together in Overbrook Farms. “We took baby steps to come out to the suburbs, because we’re both city people,” Barr says. “It was a Tudor that we totally redid.”

The search for their next home led them everywhere from Wynnewood to West Chester. But Havertown remained at the top of their list. “I just kept thinking how much I really liked Havertown,” says Barr. “It reminded me of city living, with the houses being close together.”

After touring countless properties, one Dutch Colonial stood out. “It was what I call the ‘Old Man’s Special,’” she says. “It was ugly.”

The avocado-green and burnt-orange carpets didn’t scare off Barr. In fact, the amount of work the house needed was one of its main selling points. “I was specifically looking for a house that needed to be torn apart,” she says. “I needed to put my own touch on it.”

Shelving and storage in the living room

Cozy Confines

When Barr first saw the house, she envisioned a quaint cottage. “As a designer, I truly appreciate so many different styles of homes,” she says. “For me, I always pictured living in a little cottage. Inside, I love the coziness of the space. It’s not too big or too small. I like the closeness of everything.”

The absence of a family area means the that the owners actually use the living room, a section of which is dedicated to kids’ storage. For Barr, the secret to living in less space is being extremely organized. “I always make sure everything is in its place,” she says.

Years of living in small city apartments taught Barr how to think outside the box when it comes to being—and staying—organized. “There’s always ways to get creative and gain space, even if you’re not adding square footage to your house,” she says.

A home built in the 1920s needed layout adjustments to suit a modern family with three children. Barr knocked down a wall between what was once a cramped kitchen and the dining room. Now, a spacious kitchen flows into an eating area. Upstairs, Barr took space from a closet in the master bedroom to enlarge the floor’s only bathroom. She also has plans to transform a walk-up attic into a bedroom.

The kitchen

True Colors

Though space was at a premium, Barr could always make room for color. “Once I see color, I’m so attracted to it,” she says. “I definitely have a lot of it in my home.”

That said, the kitchen is almost completely white, with a subway-tile backsplash, a farmhouse sink and butcher-block counters. Built-ins with glass doors, however, showcase her colorful collection of antique and vintage dishes and glassware. “It’s a way to bring color into the room,” she says.

Barr also made an impact in the stairwell with custom wallpaper in a faded-red damask pattern. The Philadelphia-based Paper Space, came up with the design. “Wallpaper is an easy way to add a lot to a space,” Barr says. “I knew it would bring interest to the stairwell—and why not be a little bit bold with the pattern and color?”

In the living room, a gray sofa is a perfect backdrop for Barr’s collection of colorful pillows. “That’s one of my favorite ways to design,” she says. “I love having a neutral palette and then bringing in color through the textiles and the art. You can easily switch things out.”

Above the sofa, a vintage mirror is surrounded by Barr’s artwork and vivid fabrics in vintage frames. “I do that for a lot of my clients,” she says. “There’s so much beautiful fabric out there. It’s another work of art.”

Barr hasn’t a single regret about taking a chance on her Havertown home. And just like her childhood dollhouse, it’s always a work in progress. “My house is my blank canvas to play with and try new things,” she says. “It’s the blessing and curse of being a designer.”

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