Tuesday Morning Makeover
“ALL RIGHT EVERYONE, LET’S REFOCUS,” says Mary Anne Whalen, clapping her hands together, her voice cutting over the din in a house that’s rarely this loud at this time of day, especially in peaceful Berwyn. It’s 9:39 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and a meeting of the Tuesday Morning Design Group is in full swing.
At the moment, the 14 pairs of eyes in the room are not all resting on Whalen, their appointed leader, despite her attempt to focus them. This is not a sign of disrespect, nor a disregard for the task at hand (where is the best place to position the couch without blocking the view of the stone fireplace?). This is just the normal, energetic chatter that steadily hums throughout the group’s mornings together.
Two women stand near the kitchen sipping coffee from white porcelain cups, snacking on fresh strawberries and pastries as they catch up on the latest news; another trio has trickled into the sunroom to examine the wicker furniture and discuss the issue of the blinding sunlight. Two more late arrivals call out hellos from the hallway just as applause goes up for a member’s insight in relocating a barely-noticed painting in the hallway to a focal point on the mantle, the blues and grays harmonizing as if it was custom-made for that exact spot.
It would be a strange scene, so many women gathered in this home before 10 a.m., peering into closets and exploring the basement for forgotten treasures, if that wasn’t exactly what they were there to do. Bound together by their passion for design, they’ve found friendship and fun for more than 15 years by entering a space and brainstorming, rearranging until they’ve discovered the exact spot the blue china plates would best be noticed or choosing a paint color for the dining room.
The roughly 20 women in the group come from different walks of life — some of them former nurses, social workers and bankers, others stay-at-home moms — but they share most of their Tuesday mornings (hence, the group’s name, or TMDG for short) tackling design projects in one another’s homes. They’ve done everything from window treatments to dreaming up fresh ideas for kitchen renovations to arranging new furniture at Crossed Sabres, the president’s house at Valley Forge Military Academy and College.
Fewer than one-fifth of the group have a background in design. “The rest of us are just blessed,” says Doren Connors, a longtime member.
Many of the women are alumnae of a “Surfacing Your Style” class taught by North Wales designer Denny Daikeler, who the group credits with getting them to think of design as personal, as more than just pretty rooms. “The way a person designs is so different when it comes from what they love,” says Daikeler, who was thrilled to hear that her Main Line students were still meeting years after her class ended. “So much seems to happen when these women get together and talk about what they love in life.”
Friendships formed over cups of coffee, design dilemmas and the occasional heavy lifting required to move a love seat, and the TMDG was born. “It’s very intimate when you’re going into people’s homes and opening closets,” says Martie Serrill, a group member for close to 10 years. “You really get to know someone.”
Over the years, the women have supported one another through more than new draperies and dining room sets, as illnesses, family deaths and life’s other bumps came along. No topic is off-limits at a meeting. “It’s like a support group for the first hour,” says Barbara Langloss, a member for 15 years.
DOWN TO BUSINESS
Of course, design is still the
focus. Right now, half the group has migrated into the barely-furnished living room, where a piano clings to a naked wall, the only other decoration a randomly placed gold mirror.
The ladies get to work. They rehang the gold mirror above the piano, creating a focal point for the room. Four members push an unnoticed sideboard from the dining room over to dress the side wall and Loraine Melich finishes it with a crystal bowl and a few books. Two members appear with a wing chair they discovered in the basement, not afraid to break a sweat for this project. MaryAnn Gerben removes the sorely outdated, faded pink-and-white-floral slipcover to reveal a cleaner, more classic striped fabric underneath, and everyone smiles.
“There are some houses that have un-be-liev-ably fabulous things in their basements and attics,” says Langloss. “We shop in people’s basements.”
If the group had bylaws, one would be Use what you have. The women never buy anything if they can use something they own instead, which makes the results they achieve all the more amazing. Connors recalls a day they transformed a tiny Swarthmore
cottage without bringing anything new into the house. “We brought stuff out of closets and the place was absolutely transformed. Her babysitter brought her kid back and thought she was in the wrong house!”
As the women work, you get a strong sense of their appreciation for what each one adds to the group: Serrill has a natural-born talent for fabrics, Beth Miller can hang just about anything up on the wall, Joan Shusterman helped the women reclaim their bedrooms (“Remove all your kids’ pictures!”), and “Hope is the queen of collections,” says Marilyn Sprague, sipping her coffee as she admires Hope Ulrich, who is scuttling back and forth across the kitchen, gathering the randomly placed copper tins and pots to create a dynamic cluster on top of the kitchen hutch.
“Everyone finds their niche,” says Whalen. “Some people see lines, some people see color, some people only notice the light in the room. Everyone sees something different. So it sort of works out.”
“We all have strong spirits,” says Ulrich. “But we also respect one another’s opinions.” Group members base many of their design choices around their stylebooks, something they picked up in Daikeler’s class. These books — some are simply large sketchbooks with thick white paper, others are scrapbooks, but all are bursting at the seams, the tips of magazine clippings poking out the sides — act as a blueprint for each woman’s style.
Every page is filled with magazine images that they loved at first sight, revealing aspects of design that they never knew they were drawn to. “They are very basic elements that are very revealing,” says Whalen. “I loved arches — anywhere. And I had no idea.”
From her book, Gerben discovered she prefers solid colors to patterns, warm colors over cool and an overall eclectic feel. “It helped my own style come into focus,” she says.
Even the women’s clothing seems to match their stylebooks. Ulrich’s home is colorful and vibrant and bustles with the same energy and welcome feeling that she exudes; Whalen’s love of architecture and strong lines reflects even in her crisply starched collars and elegant look; Karol Myers’ spring colors and feminine fabrics show up in her softly curled hair and pink-hued makeup.
Serrill credits her stylebook as the defining inspiration for her turn-of-
the-century Edwardian kitchen. “Every time I would cut out [a picture], you could see the repetition,” she says. “I hope I never have to move. It’s totally what I wanted.”
As the clock nears 1 p.m., a few of the ladies make arrangements for lunch at one of their favorite après-design spots, Buon Appetito in Wayne. They call out goodbyes and plans for their next meeting, leaving a beautifully altered living area in their wake. “We were just classmates and then we became friends,” says Myers. “We’ve helped each other with our homes and we’ve learned a lot.”