Philadelphia interior designer Phoebe Schuh thanks the lavender walls for deterring so many prospective buyers from purchasing the 1840s historic home that she snatched up two years ago. “The only reason we got this house is that no one could see past that paint,” she says.
She, however, saw potential in the original wood floors, exposed wood beams and brick fireplace, which had also been painted over with the flowery purple hue. Using iconic midcentury modern furniture and art collected from her previous years of owning a gallery, she tricked out the living room so it embraces the traditional elements but also lays down a bit of funk—no purple required.
AFTER: Schuh approached the overhaul carefully, building on the design one step at a time so that everything blossomed organically. First she painted the area around the big back window a darkish gray-blue to give it the rugged look of iron. She liked it so much that she painted all the trim the same color.
To contrast the trim, she painted the walls a creamy white with just a hint of green. Then came the art and furnishings. It would have been easy to keep highlighting the traditional elements, but Schuh pulled back from taking the room too much in that direction. “I got two superfunky, big Italian contemporary drum-shade chandeliers, and that was all it needed,” she says. “It popped into this cool, eclectic vibe that was way more me.”
She then brought in iconic midcentury modern pieces from auctions and stores. The TV console is a 1960s black lacquer piece with brass handles by Jens Risom Design. A custom mobile by local artist Rob Cortez hangs above. “I try to shoehorn them into every single one of my designs,” she says.
Trim paint: Mark Twain; wall paint: Asiago, both by Valspar
Schuh designed the coffee table herself and had it fabricated as part of her own furniture line. An original Radcliffe Bailey painting hangs above the sofa. To draw attention to the striking white-framed painting, she painted the white wall behind it the same grayish blue as all the trim.
The swivel chairs on rosewood bases are originals by Milo Baughman. Schuh had wanted them for a long time, but could find them only in high-end furniture galleries for $8,000 a pair. Luckily, she discovered a pair piled in the back of a Palm Beach store for $800, and re-covered them.
The side table to the left of the sofa is a handmade 1960s piece with a slate top and a mahogany base. The side table to the right is a turn-of-the-century African stool that Schuh bought when she was 21. “I couldn’t afford rent, and I was buying really expensive, weird furniture,” she recalls.
When you walk through the front door, a 1950s pushcart bar below color-coordinated books greets you. The top of the bar slides out, doubling its size, for a cool mobile bar station during parties.
The floor is original, wrought with countless nail marks that form somewhat of a zigzag pattern. “There may have been another floor over it, or it was salvaged by the people that built it,” Schuh says. It’s red pine, a mysterious species commonly found in old Philadelphia homes. “I hear people say it’s extinct,” Schuh says. “Others say you can still get it.”
While the feedback on her home has been positive, Schuh wasn’t sure of her designs. “As a designer, you never really trust your own instinct that it’s finished or it’s great, or people are seeing what you want to see,” she says. “So this is fun way for me to think, ‘OK people do like it.’”