Size matters: How to Live Large

In an enormous Georgian townhouse, a family infuses warmth amid 14-foot ceilings and 18th-century antiques, with a little dose of neon and foosball

When you walk into Georgeann and Roger Ballou’s vast ­circa-1810 Society Hill townhouse — some 7,500 square feet, with ceilings scaled for Shaquille O’Neal, and rooms sized to accommodate the bewigged founding fathers and gowned women who once attended parties here — you are met with an immediate impression of warmth. Even, dare we say, coziness. This is surprising, considering that the Georgian house is filled with glossy antiques bought at Sotheby’s or in Europe, and is in every way grand, evoking some storied London mansion rather than a modest Philly townhome. But in the living room, with its bar in a French buffet decor, and twin Queen Anne armchairs flanking a marble mantel, Georgeann Ballou, wearing jeans, casually pushes back the poufy silk pillows that take up most of the sofa as her dog Tucket — a wagging mix of beagle, terrier and Ridgeback adopted from a shelter in Nantucket — licks everything in sight. Sinatra’s “You Go to My Head” is piped in from invisible speakers somewhere near the fireplace, where gas-fueled logs are flickering, and the whole effect is one of dreamy relaxation. You find yourself sitting back, lounging, rather than perching formally, as you might have expected.

The trick, Ballou says, is to live, really live, with kids, dogs and life’s chaos, amongst 14-foot ceilings, antique rugs and French armoires. Despite the grandeur of the rooms, the Ballou house conveys warmth in two particularly effective ways. First and foremost, Georgeann Ballou’s down-to-earth personality instantly desanctifies the entire house (as does Tucket the dog). Plus, there is an English-style air of “yes-it’s-worth-a-fortune-but-go-ahead-and-put-your-drink-on-it” casualness in the decor of the rooms, which are comfortably outfitted with pillows, plants and objets d’art.

“We configured a family house,” explains Georgeann, 53. “The kids have grown up with antiques.” So while the Ballous’ son and daughter often join their parents for dinner at the 15-foot-long Regency dining room table, Georgeann has created many spaces throughout the house where they can throw down their backpacks, play games with their friends, and kick back in front of a DVD, including a cozy breakfast nook that features a country French table and a state-of-the-art flat-screen TV.

Upstairs, beyond the mahogany-banistered, wide-plank staircase, 13-year-old Grant Ballou is doing homework on his computer in the kids’ sitting room, where the TV is hidden inside an antique French bonnetiere cabinet near a foosball table, and green velvet chairs and sofas invite naps and giggling when his 10-year-old sister Mariza has friends over. With four floors of rooms full of places for entertaining or family lounging (five, if you count the wine cellar), parties and gatherings seem to organically occur in the Ballou house. “We had a Moore Brothers wine-tasting here last week that we won at a charity auction,” says Georgeann, gesturing through the living room’s open doorway into the dining room, where that Regency table perches elegantly atop three pedestals.