At first, the 107-year-old Colonial Revival home looked like any traditional South Wayne residence. An impressive foyer greeted the visitors, with a formal living room to the right and an equally formal dining room after that.
Hidden in the back, however, was a sunroom stretching the width of the house. And smack-dab in the middle of the sunroom: a hot tub more suitable for a party house, which may have been the point. The place had been a rental property for Villanova University students.
“The first thing I thought was that the sunroom has to be ripped out,” says Alex Rice, an architect with Gardner/Fox Associates, an award-winning contractor and construction management company in Bryn Mawr. “It was awful. It was an unfinished, enormous waste of space.”
A couple with two young sons, the new owners had hired Rice to redesign the home to be less “frat house” and more family friendly. The owners picked a firm with plenty of experience on the Main Line. Rice and his associates have worked on at least a half-dozen homes in the South Wayne area, including the house right next door and another property a few doors down.
“People buy here because the houses are charming and have a beautiful street-front façade,” says Rice. “Many, though, are in need of updates.”
The owners wanted to work within the existing footprint of the home, which meant Rice had to get creative. After they transformed the existing garage into a carriage house for one of their mothers, a new attached garage was the only addition. “The footprint of the house is large,” says Rice. “We wanted to maintain the integrity of the formal rooms in the front.”
That in mind, the large formal living room remained intact. It’s believed that a section of the space—with its three large mirrors—may have been a ballroom at some point. “We never even discussed altering it,” says Rice.
The owners asked New Jersey interior designer Laurie Wolfson to assist them in color choices and furniture. “I’d worked with the couple on their previous house in Princeton, N.J.” says Wolfson. “I know their tastes pretty well, and I was excited that they brought me in on this project.”
The living room’s generous size inspired Wolfson to create a main seating area (with the mirrors), a more intimate arrangement in front of the fireplace, and a spot for the piano and an antique Victrola by the bay window. The owners prefer a clean-lined, almost contemporary look when it comes to furnishings, so Wolfson made every effort to seamlessly honor this preference within the home’s more traditional framework.
In the main section, a camel-colored velvet sofa and two end chairs in a soft, silvery blue make up the seating arrangement, while two Regency-style love seats face each other in front of the fireplace. Above each seating area hangs a modest crystal chandelier, reinforcing—in a subtle way—the room’s formal roots. “The layout of the furniture works, whether it’s just the family or a house full of guests,” says Wolfson.
Adjacent to the living room, a smaller three-season sunroom retains its original black-and-white marble tile floor. Wolfson stayed true to that checkerboard theme with a black wicker sofa, white cushions and matching chairs. In keeping with the room’s crisp and clean aesthetic, the fireplace and the wall surrounding it were painted white.
In the dining room, three new French doors with transoms lead to the outside living area, flooding the once-dark space with sunlight during the day. A Schonbek crystal chandelier hangs above a traditional dining table that came from the owners’ previous home.
As planned, the enormous back sunroom and its hot tub were replaced by a kitchen, a breakfast room and a family room. Gardner/Fox called in Blue Bell’s David Stimmel to design this hub for daily living. “Dave’s an incredible designer,” says Rice. “I can assign him the most awkward or bland space, and he ends up doing something spectacular with it.”
The new layout has the kitchen in the corner, with not a single window in the space. Its mostly white color scheme and a few intentional design features help to ease the owners’ original concerns that the space would be too bleak. The cabinets are topped with a Luce di Luna honed quartz, and there’s a sleek white Carrera marble tile backsplash. Appliances include a six-burner, stainless steel double oven and an under-cabinet wine refrigerator with a glass door. Under-cabinet lighting and lighted glass-front transom cabinets further brighten the space.
In the center of the kitchen, a large furniture-style island with an espresso base and quartz counter commands attention. The main sink was installed in the island so the owners can face the breakfast area as they work in the kitchen. The island’s two dishwashers are ideal for quick cleanup after a party.
A cutout window between the kitchen and the breakfast room serves to further open up the space. A nearby butler’s pantry has espresso-colored cabinetry and green marble counters.
The espresso theme carries through to the breakfast room, with its practical, handsome built-ins. Open shelving on the top provides a display area for family pictures and mementos; cabinets below offer additional storage space. Large cottage-style windows allow natural light to flood the room most mornings, and an original Bilco basement door from the home caught Wolfson’s eye, so it wound up on the wall. “I thought it would look great hanging,” she says.
Wolfson had a carpenter clean up the weathered wood and add antique hinges. “I like to juxtapose rough and smooth,” she says. “The table in the breakfast area is topped with a sleek slab of marble and the wood of the door is aged, so it’s a fun contrast. It adds a needed texture to the room.”
Completing the first floor’s back area, the family room boasts three walls with windows and a set of French doors that lead to the outdoor living space, with its in-ground pool, hot tub and play area for the kids. Furniture includes a leather club chair, a micro-suede tan sofa, a green armchair, and an antique chest coffee table. A red distressed-teak display cabinet from the previous house stands against one wall. “[The owner] wasn’t sure that she was going to like a red piece of furniture, but it’s now one of her favorite pieces,” says Wolfson. “It’s nice to have a pop of color in a room.”
Stimmel crafted an espresso-colored wood surround for the family room’s new fireplace, and additional color comes by way of the gray, green and blue hues on the walls. “The color seems to change, depending on the light,” he says. “It works perfectly for this room. Paint is the least expensive thing you can buy, but it makes the biggest impact in a house.”
Completing the renovation: a new rear staircase, a mudroom with an informal powder room, a walk-in pantry, a utility room, a desk area and a rear entryway. Now, a hallway leads from the foyer back to the kitchen, providing more convenient access to the everyday living spaces.
“I think the homeowners are thrilled, which clearly is overall the most important thing,” says Rice of the project.
And they definitely don’t miss the old sunroom—or that hot tub.
Architect/builder: Gardner/Fox Associates, 919 Glenbrook Ave., Bryn Mawr; (610) 525-8305, gardnerfox.com.
Interior design: Laurie Wolfson Design, Haddonfield, N.J., (856) 616-2978.
Kitchen design: Stimmel Consulting Group, Inc., Blue Bell; (215) 542-0772, stimmeldesign.com.