Designer Showhouses

Three designers, three unique styles. Here’s how they did their homes (just in case you want to do the same).

The dining room’s sidechairs are painted in
the Swedish Rococo style while a pair of
carved mahogany armchairs flank the table.
The seats are upholstered a subtle mix of
stripes and checks.

Photographs by Tom Nutter

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A Model Home
For years, Jenny Powell was a top model whose image beautified the pages of fashion magazines.

These days, she’s creating lovely homes—starting with her own.

The owner of Somethings Unique, a provider of furnishings and design services in Greenville, lives in a large, open home in Landenberg with her husband and three young children.

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“It’s a great party house, and we love to entertain,” she says.

Jenny Powell

But the Powells didn’t sacrifice style in order to have a home that’s suited to family life. Choosing the right mix of materials laid the groundwork for a house that is elegant, yet friendly to kids and pets.

“My mother always made a wonderful home for us, so it seemed quite natural to me,” she says.

Born in Sweden, Powell came to the United States to visit her parents, who had relocated to Florida. She was introduced to her future husband, Doug, there, on a blind date at a golf club.

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“Three days later, we decided to be together forever,” she recalls.

At the time, she was living in Switzerland. But she followed her heart to America, where she continued to model for the Eileen Ford Agency. She decided to switch gears after the couple started having children.

“I’ve always been a homebody,” Powell says. “The thing I’ve wanted most of all was to have a family.”

When she and her husband first discovered their current home in a sylvan development near a lake, it had the gracious proportions and open floor plan that was an important part of their wish list.

But the dark wood floors and icy white walls didn’t suit Powell’s Scandinavian sensibility.

“The first thing we did was lighten the floors,” she recalls. “Then we painted the walls in my colors. I had to get a little bit of my soul up there.”

Finding relaxed, European-style pieces to play against blonde floors and pale walls warmed with pastel yellow and beige proved to be a frustrating challenge.

“I searched everywhere for things, but I had a hard time finding them,” she recalls.

A portrait of Powell as a girl, painted by her father,
hangs above the sofa.

She met with some success shopping in New York and Florida—and struck gold when she and her mother, designer Neta Burstam, went to Europe on a buying trip.

“We wound up filling a container and shipping it back,” Burstam recalls.

The women realized they could find enough furniture, accessories and antiques to fill a store, which they did. The result is Somethings Unique, a 6,000-square-foot, two-story retail and design center located in an artfully repurposed police station.

At home, in the Powell living room, is a pair of fauteuil chairs made in Spain, brought home from that first European shopping trip. The carved arms and legs of the chair are stained in a soft gray-blue glaze that is a signature of Scandinavian design. The seat and back are upholstered in bold striped linen.

“I like to have the old look, then funk it up with a nice stripe,” she says.

At the windows, relaxed panels of silk cascade to the floor. The fabric is deep gold on the top three-quarters, segueing to a wide band of pewter on the bottom.

“I wanted something very elegant, yet casual, and using two colors helps to keep things interesting,” she says.

A child’s chair upholstered in a tan-and-white check, came from a designer in southern France.

“We have them in the store, and I just had to have one,” Powell says.

A pair of bronze dupioni silk bolsters is a contrast in color and texture to a tailored chocolate brown sofa with softly flared arms. The upholstery is sumptuous microsuede, a fabric that offers the tactile pleasure of the real deal but without the rigorous upkeep.

“Microsuede needs a little soap and water, nothing else,” Burstam says. “You can wipe off black marker.”

The Powells added granite countertops and new
hardware to raised-panel cabinets in the kitchen.

Above the sofa is a portrait of Powell when she was a girl and a student at the Royal Ballet in Stockholm. The exuberant study in orange and green was painted by Bo Burstam, Powell’s father, whose work is displayed throughout the house.

His series of richly colored still life paintings hang in the dining room, illuminated by a large chandelier dripping with sparkling crystals. Painted sidechairs in the Swedish Rococo style and a pair of carved mahogany armchairs are grouped around a cherry table. The seats are upholstered in a subtle mix of stripes and checks.

“I don’t like things that are too perfect,” Powell says. “I like a surprise here and there.”

She is fond of flowers and greenery because they instantly infuse a space with a sense of life and freshness. The lush topiaries in the dining room do the trick, but don’t require much fuss because the plants have been preserved.

“Who has time to run around and water plants all day?” she asks.

Her favorite space is a light-drenched sunroom where the family gathers for informal meals around a pine farmhouse table—“a great piece that no one has to worry about banging up,” she notes. Chairs are dressed in skirted cushions in a floral print trimmed in a neat check. The same patterns and fabrics are repeated in simple, tailored curtains.

“In the summer, we open all the doors so we’re at one with the outside,” she says. “We can look out at the trees, and in winter, when the leaves are gone, we can see the lake.”

In an expansive kitchen, the Powells replaced solid-surface counter tops with granite. Traditional raised-panel wood cabinets got a whimsical touch from new hardware, hammered metal in the shapes of various fruits.

The family gathers for informal meals around a
pine farmhouse table in the sunroom.

The kitchen is open to an airy gathering space, where a large sofa and chairs are arranged in front of a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. Chenille upholstery, ideal for snuggling, is warmed by a faux fur throw.

“There should never be anything scratchy in a home,” Burstam says. “Soft is so much nicer.”

A big coffee table is outfitted with drawers to store children’s games and puzzles. It’s subject to the occasional ding, which doesn’t diminish its function or looks.

“Life is about enjoying the family,” Powell says. “This is a house where everyone can be together.”

Mix it up. Team painted furniture with wood tones. Pair floral fabrics with checks or stripes. Interiors are most interesting when there’s an element of surprise.

Choose pieces that are touchy-feely. That means cozy chenille, soft microsuede, an inviting faux fur throw and other soothing selections.

Bring in the funk. Jenny Powell upholstered classic fauteuil chairs
with carved wood frames in a bold linen stripe. A big crystal chandelier gets an edge from its metal frame.

Take things personally. The Powell home is filled with art painted by Jenny’s father, Bo Burstam. Many of the furnishings are inspired by designs from the family’s native Sweden.

Spin your inner color wheel. Powell loves the pale, pure palette of Scandinavia, embracing pastel yellow, creamy beige and gentle gray-blues.

Girardi turned the den into an intimate media room.

Soaring to the Top
Edward Girardi has long been an advocate of high style—and high-rise living.

He makes his home on the 16th floor of a concrete-and-glass column of condominiums built in the 1970s, an urban tower that offers both the convenience of city life and stunning views of the Wilmington skyline and beyond.

“From the beginning, it had a contemporary feeling, and that’s just what I was looking for,” he says.

Girardi used his space-planning skills and tricks of the trade to transform a two-bedroom, two-bath unit into a place where he can live, work and play. That includes a compact, efficient office and consultation space. He also entertained 70 guests in the public areas of the condo at an engagement party for his daughter.

“People shouldn’t hesitate to have a party just because they don’t have a huge house,” he says.

Edward Girardi

The previous owner had subdivided an adjoining unit, picking up square footage for an intimate den, which Girardi set up as a media room.

“I’m nesting in here,” he says. “I read or just fall into a movie.”

The walls of his man cave are painted the earthly, purple-tinged gray of river rocks. He stirred white paint into the gray to create a shade that is a step lighter for the ceiling.

“I like to mix my own paints until I get just what I want,” he says.

It isn’t unusual to see a swath of fresh paint on a door or a wall throughout the condo. Girardi is always refining the sophisticated palette of neutral colors that forms the backdrop for his home.

He also painted the large, dramatic piece of art mounted on the wall behind a long sectional sofa in the living room. Girardi executed the painting on two panels, hanging them together to create an aqua-washed cityscape with bold flecks of purple.

“I wanted a big, contemporary piece with the feeling of Pollock or Kandinsky,” he says.

A large, square cocktail table was refinished and redefined to suit the angular, masculine vibe of the room. “When I first saw it in Philadelphia, it had a gold top, and the wood was whitewashed,” he recalls. “But I loved the fret work, so I started thinking of ways it could work for me.”

His solution was to replace the gold top with a panel of custom etched glass. He stripped the whitewash, then stained the wood a lush, deep mahogany.

Girardi keeps the top of the cocktail table and other surfaces clear, displaying an eclectic blend of artifacts that ranges from Japanese pottery to Lalique crystal fish on glass shelves in shallow, built-in wall units.

“I love pottery, that raw, hand-thrown look,” he says. “But I don’t collect anything in particular, perhaps because I’m always shopping for things for other people.”

The big sectional, upholstered in soft beige, anchors the space. Girardi follows his own philosophy of investing in neutral basics and changing accessories with his mood or the season, accenting the sofa with pillows in a lively purple print.

He installed a narrow shelf behind the sofa, where he displays pictures of his family and friends. He is an advocate of grouping portraits for maximum impact and minimal clutter. Another tip: Make certain pictures of growing children—and families—are kept up to date.

“Don’t have a high school picture in the dining room and a picture of your vacation in the living room,” he advises. “You might try putting all those photographs in that little place you didn’t know what to do with and watch that space come alive.”

Girardi retained the original parquet floors, as well as a mirrored accent wall. A massive chest-on-chest, a 200-year-old piece imported from Japan, provides additional storage.

Girardi invests in neutral basics throughout and
changes accessories with his mood or the season.

“It was originally a place to keep cooking utensils or bed linens,” he says. “It looks heavy, but it isn’t. The two pieces come apart, and they’re made from Japanese yew, a very light wood, so two people can carry them easily.”

In the dining area, he took down a chandelier that obstructed the view, then created a clean sightline with a trio of recessed ceiling lights. The table—a glass top framed with chrome—also contributes to the feeling of spaciousness.

Two shallow built-in, floor-to-ceiling cabinets flank the entry to the room, forming a flush, wall-like expanse when the doors are closed. They open to reveal a sleek bar on one side and storage for china and glassware on the other.

Girardi enjoys cooking for friends and relatives in a jot of a galley kitchen that functions like a much larger space. Every inch has a function. Cabinets extend to the ceiling, maximizing storage. A flat-surface electric cooktop can do double duty as extra counter space when the surface is cool.

“I stuck to straight lines because that eliminates architectural breaks and makes a room look larger,” he says.

Surfaces are kept clean and simple. There are flat panels on the cabinet doors. The backsplash is made from 16-inch slate tiles, more commonly found on floors, in order to minimize grout lines. Stainless steel appliances provide sheen and an urban sensibility. The floors are cork—neutral, quiet and easy on the cook’s legs and back.

A contemporary pedestal bed is flanked by
mellow wood Shaker nightstands.

In the bedroom, Girardi paired sublimely simple pieces from two diverse eras, a contemporary pedestal bed in a pewter-tone frame, flanked by a pair of mellow wood Shaker nightstands topped with chunky, fashion-forward lamps.

The floor is softened with a dove-gray area rug. With the exception of an occasional border, Girardi chose carpets in pale, solid colors throughout his home. “Patterned rugs would have made the space look smaller,” he says.

He enhanced the cocoon-like feeling by painting doors and moldings the same gray as the walls, so the color envelops the room.

“If it’s a thick molding, beautifully carved, let’s highlight that,” he says. “If it’s just utilitarian, paint it the same color as the walls and make it go away.”

To make the most of small places paint moldings and doors the same color as walls to create a continuous visual line. Consider larger tiles to reduce grout lines.

Corral clutter. Narrow, built-in cupboards are ideal for storing china and glassware. Custom clothes closets eliminate the
need for dressers, bureaus and trunks. Display family pictures in groupings.

Measure, measure, measure. If you’re attracted to a large piece, make certain you have enough room for it. That includes the doors, staircases and elevators you will use to get the piece to its final destination.

Solid colors make a space look bigger, so consider that when choosing rugs, upholstered pieces and wall covering. Choose patterns for accents such as pillows.

If you work from home, designate a room for an office, if at all
possible—and don’t allow work materials elsewhere in your home.

The living room seating is arranged around the
baby grand and seats 11 comfortably.

California Comfortable
Coming home should be the best part of the day, an entry to a place where people feel sheltered, pampered and serene.

“I’m a big spa person,” says designer Biff Bartron. “I appreciate a peaceful, restful space.”

His home, an elegant California ranch, reflects that sensibility, proving luxury and simplicity can coexist harmoniously.

Bartron, a partner in BW Design Group, lives in a leafy neighborhood in Wilmington near the Delaware Art Museum, a rare enclave of contemporary homes, many built in the 1960s.

Biff Bartron

He was attracted to the house because of its fashionable location and modern design, in which the public areas and master suite are on the main level. Guest rooms are situated on a walk-out lower level, where each room opens to the garden.

But eight years ago, when his real estate agent first took him to the house, it was in such sad shape Bartron refused to get out of the car.

“Later, he dragged me back, assuring me it was the diamond in the rough I was looking for,” he recalls. “Once I took a serious look at the property I realized my agent was absolutely right.”

Instead of the existing warren of dark rooms, Bartron envisioned an open, brighter floor plan that would usher in natural light, as well as views of the verdant woods surrounding the property.

He decided to tackle the renovation in stages so he wouldn’t have to move out of the house during the construction process. His top priority: the kitchen and baths.

“Those are the rooms people use every day, so they go right to the top of the list,” he says.

An enthusiastic and accomplished cook, Bartron enlarged the kitchen to accommodate large-scale food preparation. To that end, he installed two dishwashers, as well as a bank of three microwave ovens.

The materials are modern and masculine. The main sink and a secondary bar sink are stainless steel. Counters are topped with granite. The floor looks like limestone, transplanted from a hip French bistro.

“Actually, it’s porcelain tile,” he says. “It has the look of natural stone, but it’s much easier to maintain than limestone.”

Cherry cabinets are sleek and unfussy, with minimal hardware, in keeping with the home’s contemporary vibe. Frosted glass panels were set into the doors of the upper cupboards to boost the light factor in the room. A large pass-through window to the adjoining family room provides additional light, as well as a view of the garden.

A Sub-Zero refrigerator is set into a slim bank of cabinets only 12 inches deep. To maintain a flush, unbroken line, Bartron came up with an innovative solution.

“The front half of the fridge is in the kitchen, and the back half is in the garage, on the other side of the wall,” he says.

The large dining table, topped with a sheath of acid-treated
copper, is home to a Japanese-inspired garden figure—at
least until dinner time.

In the rest of the public spaces, a variety of flooring materials—slate, wood parquet and tile—gave the rooms a choppy, cramped feeling. Bartron unified and grounded the layout by installing hardwood floors in a deep, rich ebony stain.

The big dining table, the seat of a large Japanese-inspired garden figure when no one is eating, is topped with a sheath of acid-treated copper, which is sealed to provide easy maintenance.

“It doesn’t gouge like wood and it never shows fingerprints,” he says.

A living room is sophisticated yet quietly pragmatic, seating 11 comfortably. The curves of a plush oval ottoman mirror the lines of a baby grand piano. An upholstered chocolate brown day bed is stationed in front of the raised hearth of the fireplace. A bay window is framed with tailored floor-to-ceiling panels of pale toffee silk knotted onto a heavy wooden rod.

Against this neutral canvas, the twinkling lights of the city below become part of the decor at nighttime. A dramatic sculptural art piece Bartron bought in Paris—“it looks like fabric but it’s actually wood”—takes center stage.

“My color palette and the simplicity of the furniture enable me to appreciate both my art and the view outdoors,” he says.

In the powder room, it’s best not to have a clear vista of the outdoors. Because they are small and closed off to the rest of the home, half baths also provide an optimum opportunity to introduce a jolt of drama.

When it came to decorating his own powder room, Bartron brought in an artist to paint an enveloping tableau of slender flowering bamboo shoots that covers the walls, moldings and doors and creeps visually on to the ceiling. He piled polished river rocks into the basin of a plain vanilla pedestal sink, adding an element of surprise.

“I stole this idea from an Asian lady who didn’t like the sound of water going down the drain,” he says.

The kitchen floor has the look of limestone but
is actually porcelain tile.

Because he adores spas, Bartron is partial to exquisitely indulgent baths. The centerpiece of the master bath is a large stone shower with a built-in bench where he stationed an oversized pot of bamboo and a tidy stack of snowy towels. “You can put folded white towels in any bathroom and immediately it looks like you’re in a spa or a wonderful hotel,” he says.

Guests can indulge themselves in a hall bath on the lower level that is outfitted with a steam shower, as well as a soaking tub. A circular mirror positioned above the tub is reminiscent of a porthole window. Bartron created grotto-like views for two small windows set into the foundation of the house, illuminating the window wells and mounting mask-like garden ornaments on the concrete.

The lower level also is home to guest bedrooms, each with French doors leading to a private garden. The doors that open into a once-dark hall are outfitted with frosted glass panels that allow light to filter through while preserving privacy.

Bartron utilized every inch of space on the level, borrowing square footage from a laundry room to accommodate a secondary kitchen for caterers. There’s also a zen zone for yoga and massage treatments.

Throughout the house, he upgraded the lighting with a smart system that enables him to illuminate rooms to suit the mood. He also installed a whole-house stereo system.

On the main level, he enclosed a one-time sunroom to create a family room, where Bartron hangs out with family and friends and his dog, Bentley. A creamy sectional and a big armchair are both upholstered in buttery yet durable leather. “Leather is a good choice for a room where you have food or pets,” he says.

One of his most recent projects was updating the facade of the house with an Asian-inspired front porch that serves as an open-air foyer. When he walks through the door, he takes a deep breath and enters a tranquil sanctuary, feeling the cares of the day slide off his shoulders.

“There are a lot of jarring experiences in life,” he says. “Home should be peaceful.”

Choose a restful, Asian-inspired palette of pale walls and upholstery set against dark woods and floors.

Let there be light. Consider adding frosted glass panels to doors on cupboards, as well as passage doors. Glass creates a less weighty feeling in cabinets and can also bring light into dark corridors without sacrificing privacy. Double doors imbue a room with a sense of grandeur.

Pamper yourself. Luxury baths and great kitchens are a daily joy, as are smaller indulgences such as posh linens.

Be at one with nature. Keep window treatments simple so you don’t obscure views of tree, shrubs and other plantings outside the house.

Be people and pet friendly. Choose hard-working materials such as leather and porcelain tile so family and friends—four-footed and otherwise—need not tread so care

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