A new house is not a home. It’s a bare canvas. The thought of personalizing a new property—a five-bedroom, 5,200-square-foot Toll Brothers colonial kind of property—can be intimidating.
Intimidating, that is, unless you’re a petite but gutsy mother of three like Linda Mulvihill. Four years ago, when Mulvihill, a consultant at GB At Your Service!, and her husband, Mark, an anesthesiologist at Christiana Hospital, bought the Chesapeake-style house, they became part of North Star Chase, a new subdivision with a Newark zip code and a Pike Creek feel.
Decorating duties fell to Linda, and all went smoothly—until she halted construction.
“I said, ‘Stop. What are you doing?’” seconds before builders pounded wooden spindles into the steps of her two-story, grand staircase, Mulvihill says. She nearly ripped the drills from their hands. “I wanted wrought iron and I was going to get it.”
Indeed, Mulvihill got the wrought-iron spindles. Then she opted to carry the element from the inside to the outside, distinguishing the home from other similarly sized properties in the neighborhood. Wrought-iron gates now surround a garden of roses and wildflowers, then guide a curved path toward the columned portico entrance. The iron is reintroduced in the foyer’s staircase, so when you enter the home, you feel as if you’ve brought a bit of the garden with you.
Mulvihill’s goal was to combine Asian and Italian influences for a casually elegant feel. To make it happen, she hired Joyce Keeney, senior designer and founder of Interior Concepts in Hockessin. The two found ways to blend the cultures with color and texture. Mulvihill loves red, so Keeney blended strong hues with subdued colors found in carpets, throw pillows and drapes. Keeney and Mulvihill created cohesiveness by purchasing most of the furniture from EJ Victor Upholstery, based in North Carolina, and most of the lighting fixtures from Fine Art Lamps, based in Florida.
“I always try to make things comfortable, but they end up looking more formal than I want,” Mulvihill says. “Joyce helped me blend the formal with the comfortable.”
Upon entering the home, the eye is drawn immediately to the living room at right, where a jeweled chandelier hangs over a black Yamaha grand player piano. The living room is formal yet warm, appropriate for entertaining colleagues and for sipping hot chocolate with the kids.
Page 2: New–And Instantly Improved
An all-wool, custom-colored Oriental carpet picks up shades in the Oriental tables, hutches and the olive silk sofa. Lush embroidered silk draperies in green, by Kravet Couture, puddle the floor. Family photos and paintings are framed in antique gold. A 24-karat gold leaf coffee table is representative of chinoiserie, a Western European and English decorative fashion that employs Chinese ornamentation and structural elements from the 18th century.
“Chinoiserie can be mixed with formal, traditional or contemporary furniture,” Keeney says. “So when Linda wanted an Italian feel to match the Asian feel, as opposed to a casual European feel, the table was perfect.”
The formal dining room stars a handsome mahogany table with burled piano finish, and a china cabinet filled with Lenox dishes. (Both pieces are from EJ Victor’s Newport Mansion collection.) An Italian crystal chandelier with antique gold accents plays a principal role. The sconces, custom finished in antique gold, are superb supporting players.
But there’s a twist. The room is wallpapered, an idea some think went the way of rec-room paneling. Scalamandre silk paper works here, as it does in The White House. But hanging Scalamandre is a tedious and expensive process, one that requires hangers to cut small pieces, then matching them with other small pieces. The result is the look of textured paint, but more luxurious.
Dark wood floors and Oriental runners define a pathway from dining room to family room, and the same columns under the portico guard the drop-down family room. The structures are impressive until you see the 11-foot Maitland Smith console table with stone top. The table weighs 1,000 pounds. How did they get it in? Mulvihill would rather not think about it. “It was so stressful, I had to leave the room,” she says. “I think it’ll probably stay with the house.”
A large painting of Venice framed in antique bronze hangs above the table. But there is art behind the art. The walls, painted by local artist Gary Paiement, are faux-finished to look like Tuscan plaster. Paiement, known for metallic coating finishes, rendered a soft neutral sage with copper undertones. The result is soothing and exhilarating.
A series of black-and-white family photos adds contrast to the greens, reds, golds, and rusts in the oversized sofas, throw pillows and heavy velour drapes. Thick walnut curtain rods act as bookends for the floor-to-ceiling fireplace and walnut mantel. A palm tree grounded by a lion-faced planter sits to the right of the fireplace. French doors open to an expansive double deck, and below that, to a pool and fire pit. The view of Pike Creek Valley is breathtaking.
Mulvihill’s gourmet kitchen, which opens to the family room, came with many builder upgrades, but furnishings make the room. A Guy Chaddock table and chairs sit next to a second fireplace. It’s a homey spot for family meals and homework. The room shimmers with chandeliers: a large crystal and gold fixture above the table, and several small, dark bronze chandeliers above the granite island. An original landscape painting in oil and embroidered drapery panels by Beacon Hill boasts Tuscan colors.
The home’s wayward child is the golf-themed office, which doesn’t speak to the Italian or Oriental motif, but does honor Dr. Mulvihill’s hobby. Delaware artist Tracy Berger created a wall-length mural of Pebble Beach, the doctor’s favorite golf spot. The work was a birthday present from Linda. A large bay window onto the valley allows for glorious displays, especially in autumn. A few tasteful pieces fill the small room: a mahogany desk with brown leather top from Lloyd Buxton, a black wall unit from CTH Sherrill and chairs from Theodore Alexander.
For Mulvihill, the job of decorating never ends. She’ll continue to add pieces and she’ll always seek advice. “I couldn’t have done this without Joyce,” she says. “If I’m about to make a mistake, she’s not afraid to tell me.”
Keeney admires Mulvihill, too. “She has wonderful taste,” Keeney says. “Linda communicated to us what she envisioned for her home and trusted in our skills and expertise that we would make that dream a reality. Linda knows what she wants.”
A few builders on the job would probably confirm that.
Page 3: Get the Look
Want to blend cultural influences into a cohesive style? Do it with color and fabrics. Pick the strongest hues of each culture for large pieces, such as sofas or chaises. Then add accents such as throw pillows and drapes that are more subdued in color. Choose carpeting that has bits of the strongest colors. Oriental carpets can be custom designed and custom colored.
Create a universal theme. Home design flows nicely when furniture or lighting fixtures come from the same designer.
Create a smooth transition from exterior to interior by finding a design element outside, at the home’s entrance, then repeating it in the foyer. Wrought iron makes for a handsome garden gate, as well as unusual spindles on grand staircases.
Go gold. Gold can enhance almost any style and be finished in various ways to create a classic and artful appearance. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Start by framing all artwork and family photos in a variety of gold finishes, such as antique gold and bronze gold.