Fit for a King

An interior design team spruces up a Bryn Mawr bachelor pad.

When you’re an interior designer on the Main Line, most of your residential projects involve families. But every once in a while, one comes along that demands a vastly different aesthetic. Such was the case for Deb Ruben and Maria Viola-Kuttruff, who were hired to transform a bachelor’s Bryn Mawr home from stodgy and traditional to sophisticated and contemporary.

A professor in Drexel University’s Department of Architecture and Interiors, Ruben initially thought she’d only be doing a few touchups—a new chair and artwork for the office, a sofa in the family room, and accessories for the living room. But as soon as she realized the project would be more involved, she called on frequent partner Viola-Kuttruff, who has her own interior design firm.

The designers shifted the living room’s existing furniture setup to a more asymmetrical layout to de-emphasize the long, narrow space.“The homeowner kept subtly vocalizing dissatisfaction with his house,” says Viola-Kuttruff. “He kept asking our opinion about existing things.”

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The previous interior was designed with an older couple in mind, especially when it came to the furnishings in the living and dining rooms. “Our client has a lot of style and great taste,” says Viola-Kuttruff. “The old design didn’t reflect that. It was in no way befitting of who he was—or his lifestyle.”

So the designers found a way to bring his personal style into the French Mediterranean home—though plans for a more sophisticated, updated interior did come with some stipulations. “He wanted there to be limited disturbance to the house and a limited span of time when the space would be unusable,” says Ruben. “This presented a challenge that made the timing and execution of the project more complex.”

To avoid any major renovations, the pair worked with existing elements. “We’re doers,” says Viola-Kuttruff. “We think there’s a solution for everything, and there truly is. The more thoughtful you are with a project, the better it turns out in the end.”

The client preferred a more minimalist, modern style, so the three began the makeover process in the design showrooms of Manhattan. “He fell in love with so many things that we had in mind for him,” says Viola-Kuttruff. “He is someone who truly appreciates quality and well-made pieces.”

“The living room is about encouraging conversation,” says designer Maria Viola-Kuttruff.They came away from their trip to New York with two distinctive side tables—one made of zebrawood; the other, snakeskin—and a pair of russet pony-hair stools with silver patina legs. The pieces helped define the look of the contemporary, chic living room. And since it’s the first thing that greets visitors when they arrive at the home, the space had to make an impact. “It has a long, narrow shape that offers limited options for furniture arrangement,” says Ruben.

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So the designers changed the existing furniture setup, which had been focused on the fireplace, to a more asymmetrical layout. The move took the emphasis away from the room’s long and narrow shape. “Facing the furniture out really opened up the space and placed more emphasis on the central seating area,” says Ruben.

Along with the pony-hair stools, the living room includes an upholstered, gray flannel sofa finished with nail-head trim along the base and arms, and accented with red leather piping along the bolster pillows and back cushions. Nearby is a set of upholstered lounge chairs in a subtle geometric cream-and-gray print. Every piece adheres to the contemporary style—from the clean lines of the custom-made Christian Liaigre cocktail table topped with a gray linen, to the Italian sideboard with a dark oak base and a striking green-blue glass top.

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“The living room is about encouraging conversation,” says Viola-Kuttruff. “You can have six to eight people talking in here comfortably.”

One design dilemma involved the fireplace, with its mauve marble surround. “It was a very traditional-looking element in a room that we were making very contemporary,” says Viola-Kuttruff.

An ebony console table by JS Olivia is a chic focal point in the foyer. So they simply de-emphasized it with a polished bronze sculpture on a blackened steel base, its tempered glass back acting as a screen. Above the fireplace hangs a handsome bronze mirror with subtle, black Swarovski crystals channeled into the frame. “The great thing about the sculpture is that it’s a freestanding piece that could easily work in other rooms in the house,” says Viola-Kuttruff.

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The designers also had to work around four columns bordering the foyer. Since ripping them out wasn’t an option, they called in artist Carol Pascale to faux-paint them a rich, dark walnut. Since the client preferred the walls neutral, artwork provides the color. “We needed to warm up the space,” says Viola-Kuttruff.

Original works by up-and-coming artists showcased in local spots like Ardmore’s Merritt Young Gallery join an original Picasso on the walls—but not all pieces are hanging. The sideboard was reserved for an unusual, red “light art” piece from the Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia. “Our client was very excited that we were introducing him to these new technologies married to art,” says Viola-Kuttruff.

The foyer features a sleek console table by JS Olivia in a beautiful Macassar Ebony wood. The designers wanted to make a statement with the cupola, so they commissioned Pascale to apply a lustrous silver-leaf finish, which is complemented by a three-tier chandelier with custom-made silk shades from Kay Lighting in Conshohocken.

“Before, when you first came into the house, you didn’t really notice the cupola, because nothing was drawing your eye up,” says Viola-Kuttruff. “Now, it’s something people stop to admire as they come in.”

In the dining area, a nondescript square glass tabletop is offset by a strikingly minimalist dark-walnut base with a stainless steel accent.A contemporary style also flows into the dining room. To make the space pop, Pascale was called on to faux-paint the tray ceiling bronze/metallic. “Dining spaces are about food and family,” says Viola-Kuttruff. “We wanted to bring a warmer, dressier feeling into the room, and the tray ceiling was the perfect start. It also helped to make it feel like the height of the ceiling was brought down.”

The designers kept the square glass top from the existing dining room table and designed a simple dark-walnut base with a stainless steel accent. “Round or square tables are really nice for the dining experience,” says Ruben.

For the utmost comfort, the pair chose armless upholstered chairs in a textured chenille fabric. “We were able to fit eight chairs easily around the table,” says Viola-Kuttruff. “We wanted guests to feel relaxed during and after dinner.”

The polished nickel chandelier with six small silk shades came from a New York showroom, and two existing corner cabinets with large, built-in mirrors received new anigre-wood fronts with dark-walnut borders. Spotlights above the cabinets help brighten the dark corners.

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Viola-Kuttruff and Ruben were also charged with bringing a more masculine vibe to the master bath. “Bathrooms are oftentimes a challenge because of their size—and this bathroom was no exception,” says Viola-Kuttruff.

New amenities include a small, mounted flat-screen TV, a shaving mirror and a telephone by the toilet. The custom-made dark-walnut cabinet benefits from nickel hardware and a limestone counter. The blacksplash’s small, oval matte-finish glass tiles were also used on the floor of the shower. The list of high-end materials was rounded out by honed limestone on the bathroom floor.

“The client allowed us to do more cutting-edge design than your typical Main Line home,” says Viola-Kuttruff of the project. “Some men fall into the ‘old-boy library look.’”

But not this client. “The combination of the three of us together worked out really well,” says Ruben.

The client agrees.

“I wanted a contemporary yet sophisticated environment that pulled in many different elements and materials—and we accomplished this,” he says. “A space should take you away from your normal life environments and make you feel like you want to stay in that environment.”

Finally, our bachelor has a home that tells a story about the person who lives there. And the story is his.

Interior Design: Viola Interior Design, Maria Viola-Kuttruff, Merion Station, (610) 664-4024,; Debra Ruben, Berwyn, (610) 220-3924
Decorative Painter: Cave Painting, Fine Decorative Painting and Murals, Carol Pascale, Media; (610) 892-9309,
Woodworker: Bergs Craftsmanship in Wood, Dan Berg, Mohnton; (800) 856-7095,
Cabinetmaker: A Cabinet Affair, Ralph Juliana, Phoenixville, (610) 935-2260

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!