The city’s Top 10 interior designers invite us inside the most extravagant projects they’ve worked on
Signature look: This veteran designer championed high-end Zen, green design, and the art of feng shui long before those bandwagons reached capacity. She’s been on Interior Design magazine’s list of giants since 1998, and helms a 15-person firm that shares an office with Harman Deutsch Architects. She describes her look as “refined modernism with an element of surprise.”
Most haute house to date: A current project on the Main Line that will have a Montana-like feel, with natural green slate and cedar-paneled walls. The furniture mixes Southwestern style with comfortable upholstered pieces and a 16th-century red tooled-leather console. All of the home’s windows open to endless views of the sloping green lawns.
Dream project: “I would design a home completely off the utilities grid, with solar panels and a concealed propane backup system. The entire home would have wi-fi access and computer control for sound, lighting, temperature and security. There’d be ecologically safe fireplaces in the kitchen, master bedroom and living room. Skylights and large windows would maximize the natural light. Part of the house would be built into the earth. The architecture would be straw bale or adobe brick, and would have a hacienda or Japanese Zen design philosophy. Floors would be Saltillo tile with area carpets, the walls would be polished plaster, and the lighting would be soft. I’d furnish it with a combination of Nakashima and Italian designer pieces.”
Barbara Gisel of Barbara Gisel Design
365 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, 610-649-1975, bgdltd.com
Signature look: This boutique Main Line firm was formed in 1979, but its soulful projects seem more current than ever, thanks to their multicultural details and a decidedly non-decorator-y feel. “There’s emotion and personality in our interiors,” says Gisel, den mother to the 13 women and one gent who make up her design tribe. She adds, “We like to put together a collection of art — something our clients love that can be the center of our design.” Travel-gleaned artifacts and edgy lighting are more signature touches.
Most haute house to date: A lake house in Ontario that’s small in stature but big on detail. “It is like a world unto itself,” says the designer. Because the owners love to entertain and fish, Gisel designed large terraces jutting out onto the water, with dining areas and outdoor fireplaces. Inside, storage is a big part of the design: “We had to build the interior like a boat.” Quirky elements include a tree trunk that’s a basin stump in the powder room, and a twig chandelier in a bedroom. Decorative pieces are a combination of old and new: A Japanese cabinet holds the TV, and Tibetan rugs cover the floor in the living room, where African artifacts adorn walls.
Dream project: “I would love to design an apartment where I’d live — either in New York or Paris — or a fabulous property on the water. It wouldn’t be pretentious at all. It would be pretty minimalist, actually, with lots of glass … comfortable. I would furnish with things I’ve collected from my travels: my antique Belgian chairs, a pair of Deco upholstered fireplace chairs everyone seems to love, and a Venetian mirror and table I found in New York about 30 years ago. For furniture, I’d want Swedish and Biedermeier.”
Trish Gorman of Patricia Gorman Associates, Inc.
4319 Main Street, Manayunk, 215-482-1820, patriciagorman.com
Signature look: With a degree in architecture, a second office in Aspen — and good looks that befit Seventh Avenue’s dazzling decorating set — Trish Gorman brings traditional European grandeur to her affluent clientele’s très affluent abodes. A typical project might begin at an estate in Gladwyne, then stretch to the house in Margate before moving on to the mountain retreat in Hotchkiss, or a 120-foot yacht in Florida. Gorman’s opulent spaces manage to be warm and inviting — despite their lofty ceilings, precious finishes and ample windows.
Most haute house to date: “We actually beat out New York’s Marietta Himes Gomez for turning an Aspen ranch into a full-time family residence with nine structures. The project had an unlimited budget and lasted four years. We had the liberty and freedom to shop internationally. It’s all about the hunt — and we scanned the world for this one.”
Dream project: “I would use my design experience to help create a warm, beautiful home for someone in need. We recently rebuilt a home for a family who were victims of Katrina. The storm reduced their house to a shell. We worked to rewire, replaster — and to replace everything. There was so much heartfelt energy that went into that project. But then again, a private G5 jet for a rock star or presidential candidate might be a kick!”
Ashli Mizell of Ashli Mizell Design
2336 St. Albans Place, 215-546-7606, ashlimizell.com
Signature look: After a decade working in SoHo galleries and Manhattan’s couture furniture and fabric houses, born-and-bred Southerner Ashli Mizell made Philadelphia her home. Since 2002, she’s earned a reputation for giving our better brownstones and the Main Line’s prettier colonials a fresh, fearless mix of classic and contemporary design with a globally modern bent. She emphasizes luxury — bespoke details, one-of-a-kind applications — but is also committed to creating rooms that are eminently approachable.
Most haute house to date: In conjunction with Wyant Architecture, Mizell is converting a commercial space in Queen Village into a single-family 7,500-square-foot home with a four-car garage, four bedrooms, custom dressing rooms, his-and-hers studies, steam and exercise rooms, a chef’s kitchen, and a Dakota Jackson parchment-top dining table. The large open living space has a Roche Bleu limestone fireplace, a Donghia sectional in silk velvet, and gray calfskin club chairs. The large, open room spills out onto a terrace overlooking private gardens.
Dream project: “There’s a private residence at 1914-1916 Rittenhouse Square, vacant for more than 20 years, that I have admired for some time. It’s now on the market. With a vast interior space, a carriage house, a ballroom and gardens, it has untold potential. It’s a truly inspiring architectural wonder — right off the Square. For this space, I’d have a BDDW slab dining table and Edelman leather floor tiles. Other rooms would be designed with French white oak floors in a herringbone pattern, with silk and wool rugs by Madeline Weinrib overtop. The wallcoverings would be Cole & Son, and the art collection would have to include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Henry Moore and photographer Tina Barney. The kitchen would be a La Cornue chef’s kitchen with a Roman-laid stone floor and wonderful luxuries like an automatic shaved-ice drawer. Of course, there’d be fresh-cut flowers in every room, and a mint-condition 1969 Mercedes 280SL in the garage.”
Louis Navarrete of Flourish
323 Arch Street, 215-923-4503
Signature look: When this former dancer traveled the world performing with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, he honed his eye for comfortable design of international import. Upon retiring his slippers, he exploited this sensibility — in the most elegant fashion — by attending Parsons, working under ever-stately Bunny Williams, and developing an impressive clientele in New York’s tony, large-housed Westchester County. In 2004, Navarrete made Philadelphia home, and opened a comfortably chic, furnishings-peppered Old City art gallery, Flourish. These days, his favorite Philly project is the Pine Street townhouse of kindred spirit Hilary Alger, development director for the Pennsylvania Ballet.
Most haute house to date: “In Katonah, New York, I outfitted a stone garage and office space for a man with a collection of 200 cars. I called it the ‘Bat Cave.’ It had turntables that held three to four cars each and resembled giant record players. It was very 1930s Art Deco/Jules Verne — with a little Machine Age tossed in.”
Dream project: “I would like to do a smart house on a private island. The style would be modern — but that’s a relative term. If you look at the Frick, it was modern for its time. I guess I would want it to be a modern Louis XIV house. And it would not have to be big. Big does not mean better.”
Creg Oosterhart of Creg Richard Design
2031 Locust Street, 215-557-0480
Signature look: Oosterhart’s unstudied sense of style, self-effacing humor and easy manner may be the upside to having worked at Ralph Lauren Home and owning a Vermont inn. He has championed grand traditional houses, many with a sense of history, and finds architectural flourishes and furniture that don’t shrink when sidled up to his clients’ major art. Still, he’s not afraid of the other side of the coin: He’s currently finishing a colorful, contemporary space in the Aria. He says, “Above all, I’d like to think my homes are livable.”
Most haute House to date: An entire-floor apartment in the Lanesborough, which he took from cement and studs to Christmas-party-ready in a mere six months. He outfitted the 3,800-square-foot space neoclassically, with the finest silks, damasks and brocades, typically found in houses that exemplify “a certain quality of living,” along with magnificent period moldings, coffered ceilings and plaster appliqués. The proliferation of stone included French limestone laid on the diagonal in the kitchen, a sunken Roman tub in the master bath, and intricately inlaid Italian marble floors in the main gallery.
Dream project: “I have two dreams. I would either want to live minimally in a stone or cement one-floor home with lots of windows, great views and classic-lined furniture, or I would live in my house in Fort Myers, Florida, a 150-year-old yellow clapboard farmhouse with white trim, a picket fence and random pine floors. I’ve filled it with things I collected in Aspen when I used to spend summers there. It has overstuffed sofas and low ceilings, and it tilts here and there, but when you look out front, you see giant emperor palms. This house is not about what is in it. It is more about my soul.”
Rebecca Paul of Rebecca Paul Residential Design
8403 Flourtown Avenue, Wyndmoor, 215-836-1697, rebeccapauldesign.com
Signature look: From her own historic stone home in Wyndmoor, Rebecca Paul dreams up interiors that possess a distinctly refined yet understated elegance. Paul adores chunky moldings and great doors, the voluminous spaces of the pre-war era when no expense was spared, and luxe materials — linens, velvets, wools, long-staple cottons and silk.
Most haute house to date: A four-bedroom house for a corporate couple who craved lived-in-feeling creature comforts. She filled it with upholstered pieces in sumptuous velvets and wools, and yards and yards of Lee Jofa hand-blocked linen curtains. Paul bought antiques locally and traveled to New England for unique finds, added classic custom cabinetry, and designed lighting for the owners’ burgeoning art collection. “Each room had to be exactly perfect,” says Paul. “It was ideal because it was about totality and completion in the very best sense.”
Dream project: “I love the energy of New York, so I would do a pre-war apartment with good architectural bones. When you have history to play with, there is great opportunity. The formal living room — back in vogue now, and finally dressed up and grown-up — would have two seating groups: two sofas and four chairs in either custom upholstery or something from Hickory or Dapha. The pillows are Fortuny. On the walls: Rogers & Goffigon cashmere. Over the fireplace: a magnificent mirror for glitter and light. In the dining room: two chandeliers — if not antique, then Vaughan or Niermann Weeks — that can be both formal and modern, giving a very Chanel feeling. The walls should be sultry — maybe a lacquered chocolate brown. The dining room table would be big enough to seat all of my friends for a wonderful dinner party.”
Marguerite V. Rodgers of Marguerite Rodgers Ltd.
2131 North American Street, 215-634-7888, mrodgersltd.com
Signature look: While Rodgers has been much lauded in Architectural Record, Wallpaper, Condé Nast Traveler and Esquire for her residential and hospitality work, she still regards each project as a chance to make something original. True to her craftswoman roots, the designer loves working with artisans here and afar to put a unique stamp on her rooms. She did the interiors of the deservedly ballyhooed Loblolly House on Taylors Island, Maryland — designed by her architect husband James Timberlake’s acclaimed firm, KieranTimberlake Associates.
Most haute house to date: “It’s also my dream project. It’s one I’m working on now,” says Rodgers, calling in on an 85º Fahrenheit day from the Caribbean. “Site planning started in 2004 for a family compound with many houses. I recommended the architect, Ernesto Buch, whom I had contacted after seeing a story on the house he designed for Oscar de la Renta in the Dominican Republic. He is collaborating with Maria de la Guardia, based in Coral Gables. They are both masters at proportion and symmetry.
“The buildings are mostly made of Coralina, a coral stone that contains fossils, imported from the Dominican Republic. For the first villa, we’ve been able to work with cabinetmakers in Italy and the Dominican Republic as well as Philadelphia. We designed a bathroom using sandstone for the mosaic tub, slab on the walls, a carved wall to enclose the shower — made in India — and a teak ceiling designed to look like bone inlay. All of the rooms in the current main house open up to large covered verandas on the edge of the beach. The great room is designed so that it’s comfortable for two people or for 40. For the pool house, we selected Southeast Asian antique carved panels for doors and windows. Behind the pool loggia is a courtyard where we designed a shell mosaic backdrop in the style of a sailor’s valentine. My next dream project would be to assemble the same team and do a residence or hotel on Italy’s Lake Como, or in Vietnam.”
Michael Shannon of Michael Shannon Designs
1315 Walnut Street, suite 1717, 215-717-1094, michaelshannondesigns.com
Signature look: Michael Shannon has an ebullient energy that infuses his design work, which he helms from his eight-person Center City firm. It’s telling that Shannon loves the absolutely optimistic mid-century period and the colors red and orange, which, he says, “always seem to peek into our projects.” He describes his rooms as lush and simple at the same time. We agree.
Most haute house to date: “A 6,800-square-foot one-floor house on the Eastern Shore, perched on the Wye River. It’s a Wright-style house with lots of roof and amazing views. We gutted and reorganized it. Now the house is open; it’s about community and family. It has a contemporary kitchen with travertine floors, and a raised living room with dark walnut floors and floor-to-ceiling glass. The dining room and master bedroom also have expansive glass. All three rooms have views of the river. Luke Tighe designed all of the lighting. In the bedroom, shoji-inspired screens were lit from behind to create a wonderful glow. It’s like a cocoon.”
Dream project: “I’d either build a 1950s contemporary or renovate an existing 1950s beach house with floor-to-ceiling windows. It would be on Barnegat Light, because I grew up going there, and I still love it. I’d fill it with art, first and foremost. I love to live with art surrounding me. The furniture and lighting would be classic and contemporary, from George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Mies van der Rohe and Florence Knoll. In fact, the house would take cues from Florence Knoll’s house in Florida, which appeared in Interior Design magazine. It was pure elegance: clean, everything in its place. I would also have a giant dining table to seat 10 to 12 so I could surround myself with family and friends, bare floors, and little to no window treatments. And a bed in each room for Jackson, my Jack Russell.”
Vincent Smith-Durham of Objects for Rooms and Gardens
1651 Embreeville Road, Embreeville, 610-486-6013
Signature look: Once a week, a driver ferries Vincent Smith-Durham and right-hand associate Harry Moorehouse, Vincent’s French bulldog, to showroom appointments in Manhattan (while co-associate Louie, French bulldog number two, holds down the fort at the trio’s mill house in Embreeville). Such stylish travel befits worldly Smith-Durham, whose exclusive portfolio includes Japanese teahouses, 18th-century drawing rooms, and even ’50s modern interiors. One recent international coup: reappointing the London home where Noël Coward lived from 1930 to 1956.
Most haute house to date: “My house in Greece. I found it eight years ago on the island of Patmos, where it sits on a high mountain. It was built in the 1400s, with additions from the 1600s. When I bought it, it was in a state of ruin, and was filled with 25 to 40 years of stuff that I had to edit back and decide what to do with. The house is very monastic, with 24-inch-thick walls, a fireplace in the kitchen, and roof terraces that overlook the Aegean Sea. I kept some Patmian furniture and brought in modern to mix it up: Corbusier with Artemide lighting and Turkish rugs.”
Dream project: “I’d buy my own island in the Aegean Sea, with my own heliport. The house would be very contemporary — 99 percent glass, and the other percent made of indigenous materials like wood and bamboo. It would have a roaring fireplace, a great library and music, wonderful paintings, futons, whitewashed benches, lots of lanterns with candles. There would be pergolas and terraces to enjoy the views, and Harry and Louie would be by my side."