When the interior designer was asked to create an inviting space for an orthopedic surgeon, she started with the bones of the home: the blueprints.
“It’s great working with that blank canvas,” she says. “You don’t have nearly as much flexibility after the walls go up.”
Ellis improved the condo’s circulation by relocating the washer and dryer, which had been sited just off the entry to the unit. That created a grander foyer, where the homeowner could display a large bronze of a bison.
She also did a bit of reconstructive surgery on the floor plan, transforming a third bedroom into a cozy den. And the third full bath was reconfigured into a powder room, repurposing the space captured from the tub as a custom cupboard with deep pull-out drawers.
“The new layout is much more in keeping with the way the client lives,” she says. “He didn’t need a third bedroom, but he enjoys his den each and every day.”
The condo is located in Washington House in Newark, a new building on the site of the old Stone Balloon, the former rock ’n’ roll landmark on Main Street. It’s a pedestrian friendly site close to shops and restaurants.
But what sets the penthouse apart is a large, open-air balcony, which is ensconced in a leafy oak. It’s a tree house of sorts, a green and serene oasis high above the bustling street. The only reminders of the urban setting are views of the architectural moldings and mansard roofs on neighboring buildings built in the 19th century.
“You would never imagine this condo was in the middle of a city,” Ellis says. “It’s peaceful and tranquil.”
The condo has a loft-like upper level, which is outfitted with a circular oak table that does double duty on poker night. Flip the top, and it becomes a game table.
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To visually separate the gaming area from the lower level, Ellis installed a stained-glass panel with a coat of arms reflecting the homeowner’s Scots ancestry. The design is echoed in a custom-made circular rug.
“It really makes the space very personal,” she says. “A home should be suited to the people who live there.”
Even as a girl, Ellis was drawn to interior design. “I was always begging my mother to take me to model homes,” she recalls.
She was intrigued by fabrics and learned to sew, making clothes for herself, friends and relatives. “I like color and designing,” she says. “It was great fun.”
As a young woman, Ellis worked for a builder in Atlanta, where she learned to translate the wish lists of prospective buyers into real-life homes they would enjoy.
For more than 20 years, she has operated Mary Ellis Interiors in Newark, designing spaces for clients in Delaware and surrounding states. Her projects range from new kitchens to whole houses to custom furniture for homeowners who are disabled.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of special needs people, designing spaces that make their lives easier and more comfortable,” she says.
Creating a sophisticated space requires specialty craftsmen. For this project, Ellis assembled a trusted team of pros she has worked with for years, including Steve Smith of S&S Woodworking in Elkton; Advanced Home Finishes, a decorative painting firm in Hockessin; and Timeless Tiffany, Inc., an Elkton-based stained glass company.
In designing a condo for a doctor on the go, Ellis came up with a plan that was long on good looks, but low on maintenance. Hardwood flooring in the medium brown of a good steak cleans up easily and doesn’t show small scratches.
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The homeowner enjoys cooking on a six-burner Viking range, so she recommended a backsplash of large pavers, which are much easier to wipe down than small tiles. “With a large tile, there’s not as much grout to keep clean,” she says.
A double-bowl, stainless steel sink is extra large and extra deep, the better to wash large pots—and to keep mix bowls and utensils out of sight when food preparation is in full swing.
The kitchen also includes such niceties as granite counter tops and a wine refrigerator. The doctor, a clinical professor of physical therapy at the University of Delaware, spied a ceramic clock depicting a Blue Hen, the school mascot, on a trip to Portugal, so he took it to a new home over his kitchen sink.
Cherry cabinets are timeless and traditional on the outside. Inside, cupboards are outfitted with pull-out drawers to make the contents more accessible. Ellis suggested installing a second tier of cabinets for a total height of 52 inches. The upper cabinets provide storage for small appliances and large serving pieces that aren’t used daily.
Visually, the taller cabinet height gives the two-story living space a much better sense of proportion.
“You don’t want to be looking in from the living area and see nothing but a big, blank wall,” Ellis says.
A peninsula with bar-height seating separates the kitchen from a casual living room. The chairs at the counter are upholstered in a durable check pattern. The living room sofas are covered in brown leather with saddle-stitch detailing. The windows are treated with simple wood blinds.
“Because of the close proximity of the seating area to the cooktop, I kept fabrics to a minimum,” Ellis says, “and what fabrics we did use are sturdy and protected with Scotchguard.”
Dining is informal at the bar-height table and chairs brought in from the client’s previous home.
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The walls are treated in a soft, suede-like finish. Nine-inch crown molding in crisp white gives the condo a stately sense of age. The palette is warm and relaxed, made of the golds, greens, reds and terra-cotta the homeowner came to love in his travels throughout Europe.
He has collected an expansive and eclectic array of art, ranging from a colorful LeRoy Neiman painting of runners to a vintage poster of a matador to an exuberant portrait of Snoopy. Sculptures are artistic interpretations of body joints. He also is fond of family photos and sports memorabilia.
To showcase the sculptures, Ellis designed mahogany bases that elevate the pieces, literally giving them a greater sense of stature. Photographs of relatives and other memorabilia are organized in vignettes, unified by matching mats and frames.
The master bedroom is streamlined and tailored. Trim, floor-length drapes provide privacy, as well as a pop of color, through a whirled pattern with hints of purple.
“It’s whimsical, yet masculine—and it works with Snoopy,” Ellis says.