Style Home: Creating City Slickness

Moving to the urban riverfront requires a shift in thinking—and style.


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Photographs by John Lewis


Months before her home was built, Helene Lotierzo peered at the blueprints and identified a visual roadblock—a wall that would obscure a vista of the Christina River from the kitchen.

“The only place you could see through was a tiny pass through,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Knock out that wall. Nothing is blocking my view.'”

Building from the ground up also enabled Lotierzo to configure her home to suit her lifestyle, which includes lots of entertaining and extended visits from friends and relatives.

She turned over a new leaf in terms of style, as well, shedding the saturated colors and country French decor that defined her former home in suburban Chadds Ford, taking on a hipper, more urban look in keeping with her current digs, a townhouse at Christina Landing on Wilmington’s evolving riverfront.

To help her define that sensibility, Lotierzo brought in designer Edward Girardi of Wilmington. Together, they chose new furnishings, found ways to integrate a few choice pieces the homeowner had cherished for years and developed a strategy to minimize clutter.

“When you’re going for a contemporary look, there needs to be a commitment to keeping things out of sight,” Girardi says. “That was never a problem for Helene because she was ready for a complete lifestyle change.”

Indeed. Lotierzo bought the three-story, 2,350-square-foot townhouse in order to be closer to family and city life. The development’s proximity to the train station also provides ready access to Philadelphia and New York.

But her choices were aesthetic as well as pragmatic.

“The look and feel of my home are incredibly important to me,” she says. “I know how to read blueprints, and I’m deeply interested in decorating, so I felt comfortable taking an active role in the process.”

The result is a cool, citified space that is elegant in its simplicity.

A large leather sectional sofa with taut, tufted seats defines a conversation area. Cobalt blue throw pillows echo hues in the waterscape painting that hangs over the sofa. An oversized ottoman serves as a cocktail table, as well as additional seating.

Architecturally, the focal point is a fireplace. Recessed lights illuminate the artwork that hangs over the mantel, a rendering of a glamorous woman surrounded by stars by Art Deco master Erte.

“It’s traveled with me from house to house because I love it so much,” Lotierzo says.

In deciding what to keep and what to pitch, she chose to retain classic pieces and a sprinkling of mementos acquired during a globetrotting career, such as the Egyptian silver bowl that Girardi suggested she display in a shadow box. The big-screen television in the built-in media center is her sole visual compromise in the townhome’s public spaces.

“That’s my concession to other people, mostly guys who like to watch football,” she says.

To frame the view, she and Girardi settled on dramatic silk drapes in an oversized plaid, mounted on leader rods and drawn to either side of sliding glass doors.

“It draws your attention to the outdoors,” the designer says. “And the drapes are a real knockout with the plaid, the black and the beiges—very smart, very timeless.”

Because there are few walls, spaces are defined by subtle variations in color.

“When I first suggest we paint a back wall one color and another wall in a different shade, people think I’m crazy,” Girardi says. “When they see it, they understand.”

To choose an understated, sophisticated palette for the townhouse, Lotierzo and Girardi traveled to the Marketplace, a for-the-trade-only design center in Philadelphia.

“I had color confusion and needed someone to point me in the right direction,” Lotierzo recalls. “We looked at paint chips and Ed said, ‘Pick everything you like.'”

From an initial 30 colors, the pair whittled down their choices to three complementary hues: saffron yellow for the kitchen, toffee beige for the living and dining area, and terra cotta as a bold accent on the fireplace wall.

They decided to wrap the space in those colors, rather than to define the woodwork and doors in white or a contrasting color.

“It’s a much more enveloping effect,” Lotierzo says. “Painting the doors the same color as the walls makes them disappear.”

She asked the painter to apply several coats in order to ensure depth of color and a velvety finish. She also specified a finish that stands up to scrubbing.

“All my paint is washable because of the kids who visit,” she says. “I have lots of company and I don’t want anyone to worry about smudges.”

An accomplished cook, Lotierzo wanted a kitchen with enough room to bake for a crowd. Double wall ovens and an oversized island with a prep sink make that job easier. Cool granite adds to the contemporary vibe.

“I love parties, with people gathered around the island,” she says. “This is where I pretend I’m Paula Deen.”

Like the cooking show host, Lotierzo appreciates the details that help a kitchen function smoothly. Pull-out storage makes it easy to reach pots, pans and mixing bowls. The 42-inch-tall cabinets maximize storage.

Lotierzo created a jot of a dining area off the kitchen, a charming vestige of her longtime affection for country French design. Black-and-cream toile lines the glass-fronted tops of two sleek cupboards painted black. A circular glass top on the dining table is finished with a crimped, pie-crust edge. The seats on a pair of black iron chairs are covered in a cheerful black-and-white check. “This is my little bistro,” she says. “I love Paris.”

The feeling throughout the living space is spare, clean and carefree. Accessories are kept to a minimum in order to maximize their effect. A rotund male painted figurine was brought home from a business trip to China. A trio of huge sculptural pears provides a touch of whimsy.

“You have a life to live,” Girardi says. “Why spend your time primping?”

Lotierzo took an enthusiastically hands-on approach during both the construction and decorating. In order to determine the best layout for walls, closets and fixtures, she blocked out areas with blue painter’s tape.

Extra storage throughout the townhouse provides a place to stow toys and games for visiting children, as well as the vases, ceramics and serving pieces she now keeps out of sight. To create a floor-to-ceiling wall of storage, Lotierzo put up wire shelving herself, threading curtains with grommets on a rod for camouflage that is both quick and pretty.

“Entertaining is a perfect time to bring out all the goodies you keep tucked away,” Girardi says. “It makes a statement as to who you are and where you’ve been.”



Photograph by John Lewis


Get the look

To establish the clean lines and neat surfaces that are hallmarks of contemporary décor, beef up storage elsewhere in the home so you’ll have an organized place to keep things out of sight.

Paint the doors and woodwork the same color as the walls to minimize visual breaks and make
surroundings feel smooth and seamless.

When examining blueprints, pay special care
to the way in which walls impact views of the
outdoors, as well as the flow inside the home.

Put yourself in the picture when laying out space. Helene Lotierzo used blue painter’s tape to block out the fixtures that would be installed in the
master bath to determine the best layout.

In an open floor plan, resist the temptation to paint the entire area white or cream. Instead, use subtle variations in paint colors to define spaces.

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