Swedish Serenity

Love for family and a far-off country inspire a Malvern renovation.

Ever since her first visit, Mary Ruggiero has been smitten with Sweden. “It’s a very family-oriented country, and one that is very focused on the home,” says Ruggiero, who studied there in high school. “My host family—who I still visit and consider family today—was very close. In their home, it wasn’t about how much stuff they had, but more about the family and spending quality time together.”

It’s a lifestyle she and her husband, Rob, try to emulate with their four children—right down to the Swedish décor in their Malvern home. It’s been eight years since the family moved into their all-brick, Federal-style abode, and it would undergo several years of renovations before the Ruggieros were satisfied. “When I look back, the house really didn’t fit our needs,” she recalls. “We needed an extra bedroom because we were having a fourth child. The people who lived here before were empty-nesters, so it really wasn’t a functional house for a growing family.”

Yet the home had many attractive qualities, including ample, secluded acreage. With her fond appreciation of gardens and landscapes, Ruggiero fell in love with the impressive 20-foot rhododendrons lining the driveway and the area surrounding the pool. “I immediately started to envision what could be done to make this house a home for my family,” she says.

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Ruggiero’s vision would require a complete renovation, including an exterior makeover from brick to stucco done in three stages over seven years. The project was the ideal outlet for Ruggiero, who’d decided to take a sabbatical from her pediatric practice to raise her children. “Medicine is very much an art as well as a science,” she says. “This was a perfect way for me to work the other side of my brain.”

She’d dabbled in a renovation project only once before, offering input when her practice redesigned its office space. “I remember they gave me a scale ruler at the end of the renovation because I used it so much,” she says.

For Ruggiero, it was second nature to take an active role in the makeover of her home. “I’m a very organized person, and I know what my family’s needs are,” she says. “I tried to make the designs as organized and functional as possible. I’ve been really lucky to work with people who’ve been open to a lot of my ideas,” she says.

Along with builder Mike McCorkle and architect Bruce Cavin, Ruggiero worked extensively with the talented Ritter family. She’d been especially impressed with an 18th-century reproduction dining table made by Bryce Ritter—one of several Ritter pieces she purchased or had custom made. “We worked together on the design of many of them,” says Ruggiero. “I love the collaborative process.”

Ruggiero also purchased rugs and decorative items from Ritter’s wife, Linda, who owns UpHome Ltd. in Glenmoore. And another Ritter played a major role in helping Ruggiero realize the look she was striving for in the kitchen. “I wanted something that was a part of me,” she says.

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Ruggiero hired Bryce Ritter’s son, Kevin, a cabinetmaker who’d recently branched off from his father’s business into kitchen design. “Kevin, like his father, is a true artist—and I knew he could create exactly what I wanted,” she says.

Her kitchen now boasts gorgeous custom cabinetry in Gustavian blues and grays with fully integrated appliances. “Although my house is more French Country, the colors for the interiors I tried to pick were more Swedish tones,” she said.

The colors in the kitchen and the adjoining mudroom were reminiscent of those in Ruggiero’s Swedish family’s summer house on the southern coast of Sweden. “I can look at this every day and feel like a part of me is there,” she says.

Ruggiero also took some of her design ideas from the work of Swedish painter Carl Larsson. “He inspired me with details and colors,” she says.

All that blue is a vast aesthetic shift from Ruggiero’s last kitchen. “It was white,” she says. “I wanted this to be child-friendly, so white wouldn’t do.”

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The Ruggieros wanted plenty of counter space so family members young and old could work together in the kitchen. Along with the large center island, Ritter added a detachable, table-height lower counter to provide an area for the kids to do homework while their parents cook dinner. The table can be moved if the family is having guests for a buffet or an outdoor picnic. Its surface is old pine barn flooring with a natural distress.

“I love the kitchen,” says Ruggiero. “We wanted something warm and inviting. Kevin was able to help me bring that idea to life.”

The work done by Ritter’s Timeless Kitchen Design is inspired by antiques. “We’re trying to recreate the old painted furniture—everything is custom made for the space,” he says. “The cabinet line is born out of my father’s furniture.”

Locally sourced antique wood is used for the facing of all Ritter’s cabinetry. He uses milk paint to complement the source material. Milk paint is non-toxic with no VOCs, which was important to Ruggiero.

While the space has an antique aesthetic, it functions like a modern kitchen. Used as a pantry, the Dutch cupboard has all the modern conveniences, including adjustable shelves, rollout drawers with self-close glides, and cleanable surfaces. “It has traditional ogee feet and hand-wrought iron hinges,” says Ritter. “And it’s built with antique lumber outside, so it looks old.”

A Sub-Zero 700 Series refrigerator sits behind a large armoire painted French gray. Other concealed appliances include double dishwashers, refrigerator drawers, a wine storage unit and a microwave. An appliance garage keeps everything off the counter.

Ritter shies away from upper cabinets because he feels they make a kitchen feel closed and ordinary. “I prefer to do a few free-standing pieces and leave a little white space on the walls to set them off,” he says. “It opens up the room that much more, and feels less like a kitchen.”

Of all the natural materials used in the kitchen—the antique wood, the beadboard on the ceiling, the milk paint—the most dramatic may be the deep-gray-blue soapstone used on the countertops, island and farmhouse sink. Soapstone is nonporous, so simply wiping it down with mineral oil eliminates any stains or rings. “Some people leave it the natural light- gray, but I like to finish it with mineral oil, which darkens it and brings out the veining. After a while, it fades back to gray and you just re-oil it,” says Ritter. “Over the years, all these surfaces will get warmer and more weathered, and develop a patina of their own.”

Another popular gathering space in the Ruggiero house is the breakfast room (pictured above), where many family meals are shared. A wall of windows allows for plenty of light and affords a picturesque view of the pool and greenery. The cream-colored walls were given a subtle depth via a sandstone technique (a plaster finish with a touch of grit to it) by painter Maria Greco. A cutout holds the room’s main piece of art, a portrait of the Ruggieros’ daughter, Elle, and a soapstone counter in the cutout serves as a buffet area for dinner parties.

Another cherished piece of art in the room is a newly acquired painting of a country scene by famed artist (Emily) Hortense Budell. Bryce Ritter’s aforementioned table is surrounded by six multi-colored reproduction Windsor chairs, and a brightly hued Company C patchwork rug from UpHome Ltd. brings a pop of color to the otherwise understated space.

Adjacent to the breakfast room is the more formal dining room (pictured above), accessible through paned French doors. “I wanted to be able to open up these two rooms, so when all our family is together at the holidays, we can feel like we’re all in one space,” says Ruggiero. “I didn’t want to create one huge dining room because we don’t use it that much.”

The room was painted a bright yellow-gold, and Greco was called in to apply a Scandinavian flower print on the crown molding. She repeated the same design on the inset of the china cabinet. The oval-shaped dining table was custom made with a base comprised of brackets from a Victorian porch. Hanging above the table is an elegant gold chandelier with clear, red and gold crystals.

For the nearby powder room (pictured below), Ruggiero asked Greco and Bryce Ritter to each make a statement. Greco opted for an Italian fresco treatment on the walls to bring texture to the space. The plaster’s brown color was a custom blend. “It’s the perfect technique to camouflage any imperfections,” says Greco.

Ritter contributed a distressed, light green vanity made with ornate hardware to support a large bronze sink. The airy, cream-colored linen curtain with floral accents was actually a dish towel from Anthropologie that Ruggiero transformed into a simple window treatment.

Outside the home, Ruggiero drew inspiration from children’s book illustrator Tasha Tudor. “She always had beautiful gardens in her illustrations,” says Ruggiero. “I wanted to transform the front of my house into a cottage garden like she illustrated in her books.”

With help from landscaper David Zawisza, Ruggiero welcomes visitors with fragrant, colorful peonies, roses, day lilies, Black-eyed Susans, irises and azaleas. Completing the cottage garden feel: an arched, cherry-wood front door designed by Ruggiero.

“I believe in leaving a space better than when you found it,” says Ruggiero. “And I can feel confident that this is exactly what I did here.”

Architect: Architectural Alliance, Bruce Cavin, 270 W. Lancaster Ave., Malvern; (610) 640-9000, archalli.com
Builder: Micon Construction, Mike McCorkle, West Chester; (610) 344-0293, miconconstructioninc.com
Furniture: Bryce M. Ritter & Son, 100 Milford Road, Downingtown; (610) 458-0460, bryceritter.com
Home Accessories: UpHome Ltd., Linda Ritter, 1247 Pottstown Pike, Glenmoore; (610) 458-3226, uphomeltd.com
Kitchen Designer: Timeless Kitchen Design, Kevin Ritter, 132 Pennsylvania Ave., Malvern; (610) 296-2775, timelesskitchendesign.net
Landscaping: David Zawisza, 520 S. Old Middletown Road, Media, (610) 566-8083
Painting: Maria Greco, Wayne, (610) 539-3281

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