From Agony to Ecstasy: Home Repair with a Twist

After severe water damage, a Kennett Square home gets a delightful makeover.

The big, elegant house in Kennett Square was only 12 years old, but it already was awash in woe. A pipe burst while the family of five was away, causing extensive water damage. Then a storm swept through, flooding the house again. “It was a disaster, absolutely overwhelming,” the homeowner recalls. She and her husband quickly realized they needed help beyond a remediation crew. She called in Kate FitzGerald-Wilks of Timeless Design in Landenberg, Pa., whose work she had admired at a friend’s home. The two women surveyed the house, standing amid dripping water, warping floors and crumbling ceilings. FitzGerald-Wilks instinctively took the home-owner’s hand. “This is way too much for one person to deal with,” she said. “I am here to help you and your family through this.”

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Soon, creative ideas were flowing. The family would not merely repair their home. They would make it better. “Living through a renovation is not fun,” the homeowner says. “The saving grace was that it was an opportunity to make the house into what we truly wanted.” The kitchen got an update with white, Shaker-style cabinets; milky, gray-veined Carrera marble countertops; and a large center island with contrasting black cabinetry.

Upper cupboards were extended to the ceiling. The additional tier of storage is outfitted with glass fronts to display a shimmering collection of mercury glass. “That foot of space on the top of cabinets is just a collector for dust and grease,” the homeowner says. “Now, it’s a functional space.” A built-in desk—“a pit for clutter,” she notes—was replaced with a wine fridge and sleek bar area. There’s a large farmhouse sink, wall ovens, a professional-style cooktop and a warming drawer.

Polished nickel bin pulls, faucets and pendant lighting are the “jewelry” in the room. Wood floors are stained a deep, rich walnut. “The floors really pop against the white cabinets,” FitzGerald-Wilks says. Shallow space on the outer side of two floor-to-ceiling cabinets was transformed into useful cubbies with the addition of paneled doors mounted to the cabinets with hinges. Open the door to reveal the family calendar, kids’ homework assignments, bills and other correspondence. Close the door, and the paperwork vanishes.

Photographs by John Lewis

The parlor features an antique secretary handed down from the homeowner’s great-great grandparents.

The kitchen got an update with Shaker-style cabinets and Carrera marble countertops.

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The kitchen is open to a family room and casual dining area with a distressed wood table and flexible seating that combines a long bench and individual chairs. To transform the Plain Jane columns that define the family room into architectural elements, the designer added applied moldings and trim. The finishing touch: a coat of crisp, white paint. Plantation shutters on the windows echo the geometric lines. Built-in cabinetry hides electronic components.

A sectional sofa upholstered in gray tweed looks sophisticated, yet is durable enough to accommodate three active kids, as well as company. Pillows covered in cable knit are embellished with oversized wooden buttons. “We love our sweater pillows,” the homeowner says. “They are so comfy.”

Instead of a large cocktail table, FitzGerald-Wilks suggested two smaller leather ottomans, which can readily be reconfigured for multiple purposes. “You can sit on it, you can put your feet on it, or you can flip the top and use it as a tray,” the homeowner says. “And there’s storage inside, which makes it even better.”

A sectional tweed sofa looks sophisticated, yet is durable enough to accommodate both kids and company. 

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Shiny accents—mercury glass lamp bases, an aluminum occasional table and a hammered metal tray—provide a subliminal design link to the polished nickel in the kitchen. “I used to go out and buy accessories, and after two years, they would wind up in the basement,” the homeowner says. “Kate brings me pieces I really love, things I never get tired of.” It’s a congenial collaboration involving frequent texting of images between the designer and the homeowner.

FitzGerald-Wilks also suggested other updates, starting in the foyer, where she painted the staircase banister and the interior of the front door with a smart coat of black paint. A builder’s grade chandelier was replaced with a dramatic carriage-style light fixture. A carpet runner was removed from the stairs and the risers were painted white. “It’s hard to step back and take a look at your house when you live in it every day,” the designer says. “It’s always helpful to have a fresh set of eyes.”

Some rooms, like the formal parlor, required only a few tweaks. It’s relaxed yet elegant with a linen sofa trimmed with nailheads, botanical prints, a sparkling chandelier and an antique burled secretary that was handed down by the homeowner’s great-great grandparents.

In the foyer, staircase risers were painted white.


Firmly into makeover mode, the homeowners pressed on to complete other improvements, including adding a spacious deck and stone outdoor fireplace. “We realized that it will be quite some time before we renovate again, so we figured we should do as much as we could while we were at it,” the homeowner says.

A large Palladian window on the landing leading to the second floor is now framed in drapes in a large graphic print. “When we were choosing fabrics, we would hold them up by the window, then look at them from the foyer below because that is the perspective most people will see the drapes from,” FitzGerald-Wilks says.

Upstairs, in the master suite, wall-to-wall carpeting was replaced with hand-scraped hardwood floors. “The floors are beautiful—and the kids and the dog can’t scratch them,” the homeowner says. After many sleepless nights, the couple treated themselves to a king-size gel mattress, “so comfortable we miss it when we are on vacation.” The bed is sumptuous, with an upholstered headboard, tailored duvet and pastel blue and gray throw pillows in contrasting sheens and textures.

A sitting room in the master suite got an upgrade with crown molding and a petite chandelier. Open shelves flank the fireplace. Textured wallpaper installed behind the shelves provides a backdrop for framed photographs, books and mementoes. There’s a chaise for reading and relaxing. “Before, it was a yellow box,” FitzGerald-Wilks says. “Now, it’s part of a lovely, serene retreat.”  

Hand-scraped hardwood floors were installed in the master suite.

A sitting room in the master suite is a fine place to read and relax.

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