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The Haverford Carriage House: Part One

From the first moment walking into the Haverford Carriage house, the warmth and the beauty of the century-old space was apparent, as was the hospitality and graciousness of our clients. We were greeted with delicious biscotti on china plates and a sparkling beverage service, and the air was scented beautifully with low-burning candles. It was clear that our clients loved hosting, and their dreams for their home were born from a love of sharing its comforts.

BEFORE: Main room dining area

The Carriage house was a modest 1.5 story structure with a wonderful open concept main dining/living room featuring original wood rafters and windows with deep sills. The sense of history and possibility was palpable in this room. The rest of the home, however, was a series of awkwardly chopped-up spaces and a cramped second floor that was mostly angled walls and eaves. Our clients and their three children shared the 3 bedrooms and two full baths, a cramped but cozy situation that they made the best of while the children were small.

BEFORE: 2nd Floor - Angles everywhere!

Our clients loved their carriage house, and they loved studying the details of the other historical homes dotted around their neighborhood. For ten years, they raised their family in the carriage house and dreamed of what it could be: of opening up the flow, creating more space, and connecting the home more deeply to its historical roots. They had been working with an architect to explore the possibilities for renovating and adding on to the house when we first met with them. They knew they wanted to dramatically reimagine the first floor, including moving the staircase, which was dangerously steep and narrow. They wanted to add a primary suite with his and hers bathrooms, with a dressing room/office for her and a walk-in closet for him. Finally, they were adamant that the house needed a gracious porch to enjoy the expansive front lawn and to bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor entertaining.

Spoiler alert: Before, During, and After

In addition to their space and flow requirements, our clients had a rich, romantic vision for the design of their home that we quickly fell in love with. Their 40th birthday bucket-list trip to Scotland had been foiled by the Covid pandemic, but the thought of bringing the boutique hotel/Scottish Highlands experience home seemed an even better idea.

Their vision was an intoxicating blend of Frank Furness-style architecture, contemporary art and quirky folktale elements - 'I love anything with a critter on it' our client said during our initial design interview. The goal was to bring all of these elements together with sophistication and balance - and we took up the challenge with delight!

Materials and inspiration

As with all our projects, the first puzzle was the space plan. We used the architect plans as a starting point and began to problem solve for all the unresolved needs and wants. The first floor and tricky staircase were the main issue, but we also had a storage dilemma. The carriage house was built on a slab, so with no basement, we had a lot to fit into the ground floor.

First floor- before

The winning layout gave a much larger, more gracious kitchen with built-in breakfast nook and butler's pantry. We began by reorienting the staircase, allowing for a comfortable 36" wide stair that turned at a landing and opened into the main room, opposite the central fireplace. The old back door was transformed into a window, and the old back windows became a double French door with sidelights and a transom. We designed a furniture plan in the main room that had 3 seating zones: Living, Dining, and Fireside. Each was designed to maximize comfortable seating and facilitate social flow.

The staircase itself is a thing of beauty, made from stained white oak with traditionally detailed newel posts and balusters. It wraps through all three stories of the house like an elegant wooden spine. Our clients love traditional millwork details, so we leaned in by paneling the entire first-floor stair wall in white oak paneling, with a custom curved casing surrounding the arched passageway into the kitchen.

Second floor hallway

The new stairwell orientation allowed us to place a large coat closet by the back door, which is the family's new main entrance. We also carved out a very adorable Harry Potter-esque closet under the stairs with outlets inside for charging stick vacs and other household items.

As with many of our projects, a big priority for the first floor renovation was expanding and improving on the existing cramped, oddly laid out kitchen.

Kitchen Before

Our clients requested that the newly imagined kitchen space feel both rustic and grand, like a kitchen out of Downton Abbey. It needed to be polished enough to serve as another entertaining space and also play well with the "funky hotel lobby" vibes of the main living area.

Kitchen Roomboard

Though we had dreams of exposing the stone foundation walls in the kitchen, the reality that set in with exploratory demo was that the stone was not cosmetically appealing, and that the room would need a layer of insulation that exposed stone wouldn't provide. From there, we pivoted, and as the foundation for their design, we chose to install a tumbled brick veneer tile on two walls of the kitchen, wrapping the tile into the window well to enhance the feeling of a thick, old masonry walls.

A curvy range hood, finished in limewash, tops the spectacular scalloped marble slab splash, itself a backdrop to the stylish Ilve range. The contrast of aged brick and the sweeping curves of Carrera marble embodies the home's balance between relaxed comfort and polished hospitality.

We matched the white of our cabinets exactly to the finish of the range for a seamless, continuous look. Typically, we choose to pair painted or stained base cabinets with lighter wall cabinets up top, which can help to create a feeling of light and openness. In this kitchen, however, the white base cabinets helped the room glow. We struck a perfect balance between the bright countertops and base cabinets below and the rich brick and warm white oak cabinets above.

To further emphasize the timeless look of this kitchen, we designed the wall cabinets to rest on the countertops, giving the look of a hutch rather than a modern kitchen with upper and lower cabinets. We were very intentional about the storage plan and managed to achieve our client's goal of hiding all small appliances away behind doors that pocket away for easy access.

Looking back at the original kitchen layout makes for a dramatic contrast. By turning the back door into a window and blowing out the interior walls, we dramatically improved the light and space, as well as the function of this eat-in kitchen. Hard to tell at first, but this (incredibly wonky!) "before" picture of this kitchen shows the same angle as the finished shot below.

BEFORE: Kitchen looking towards back door
AFTER: The same view

In the new space reclaimed by changing the back door, we created a breakfast nook, fitted out with what our upholstery workroom described as 'the best thing they had ever made'- a curved, channel-tufted faux leather banquette made to fit under the new back window. A petite custom dining table was crucial in making this cozy gathering spot complete. You just know that the family basically lives here in varying rotation throughout the day!

Another key element in this corner is one that might fly under the radar to most eyes- the soffits! In a home like this with no basement, utilities have to steal space in closets and soffits. This particular corner houses plumbing and hvac utilities, and getting to what you see below was a weeks-long process of site visits spent wrangling with the HVAC and plumbing contractors to negotiate inches back from them to allow for our light fixture and the general aesthetics of the room to be preserved. Once the inches were staked out, we designed the soffits with curved flowing lines to help them blend into the overall architecture without being an eyesore.

The last element of note in the breakfast nook is the folkloric fox wallpaper. We always talk about achieving 'mind meld' with our clients at DM, and truly seek to create an intuitive connection with them to help channel their design dreams. Sometimes, this works to a hilarious degree, as when we presented this paper to our client and she was absolutely delighted, asking us how we knew that one of her family nicknames was 'Foxy Loxy' from the cartoon movie 'Chicken Little'.

As part of the more rustic, casual side of the design, our clients requested a counter-height work table in place of a typical kitchen island. The separate butler's pantry provides enough extra storage that we were able to design the island as an open, furniture-style piece. We even tucked four little stools around it for the inevitable crowd that gathers where food is being prepared. A bespoke burgundy hutch in a slim, wall hugging profile gives extra dry goods storage within the kitchen.

Butler's Pantry Room Board

A few steps away is the full butlers pantry, featuring a a mix of closed and open storage, a beverage fridge, and an antique cast iron sink salvaged from a historic Philadelphia home. The sweet printed linen sink skirt does dual duty as a thing of beauty and a fabulous way to hide overflowing recycling bins.

To keep this small room feeling bright, we clad the walls in vertical shiplap painted a crisp white. Cabinets in charcoal paint with stained red oak countertops provide a rich contrast to the white paneling. Our poetic vision for this space was of someone meditatively trimming and arranging flowers against the serene backdrop.

Of course, we were designing the other spaces on this floor simultaneously, as well as the new rooms to be built above. If thoughtfully considered, a home can be a work of art, one that you move through and find comfort and nourishment within. In the Carriage House, we obsessed over the transition between spaces and the relationship between rooms. We've only just begun to delve into our obsession over the view from one area to the next, and we're excited to share more with you in the next post. Stay tuned for when we explore all the gorgeous details in the dining room, fireside, and living room of the Haverford Carriage House!

Until then, happy dream-home dreaming!

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin

Design, Project Management and Styling by Design Manifest


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