A suburban carriage home’s design pedigree comes alive, thanks to one interior designer’s playful aesthetic.
A painting by Philadelphia artist Murray Dessner, who studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, is the centerpiece of the living room, which Hayes divided into two seating areas.
Leslie Hayes loves a little drama in a room. “I think everyone wants the wow factor,” she says while explaining that high impact is something she has been testing out in the new Main Line home she calls a “laboratory for design.” Just a year ago, Hayes was approached to rent her Haverford home to a local sports figure and quickly needed to look for new digs and new projects. Surprisingly, the timing was perfect: Her friend Douglas Mellor was looking to move to Center City and asked Hayes to be the trustworthy custodian of an estate with just the kind of character that Hayes prized.
Fine-arts photographer Mellor had bought his carriage house, part of the La Ronda estate designed by famous architect Addison Mizner 29 years ago, and was ready for an update. Mizner had created homes for the who’s who in Palm Beach, including RodmanWanamaker. For years, La Ronda was the 17,000-square-foot home of Percival E. Foerderer, who ran a leather manufacturing business, and his wife, Ethel Brown.
Hayes made a bar cart pop with harlequin patterned wallpaper.
When Mellor bought the carriage house, it was merely a garage with two studio apartments. He gutted it but kept elements Mizner would have used in the original design. The outdoors remained classic Mediterranean Revival—Mizner’s signature—with its stone detail and stucco with a tile roof. Inside, he took out the second floor to create a double-high space and created a dramatic loggia of columns in the oversize living room. “Since there are no walls, the columns create the illusion of rooms,” says Hayes. The result is a dramatic, airy space, but one that is a challenge to decorate.
When Hayes moved in, she saw nothing but possibilities. Her palette became silver and gold against white walls with crystal and brass lamps decked out in dramatic black shades to light the loft like living space. She broke up the seating into two areas with a chaise (upholstered in a combination of textures—matte burlap sides with silver sateen cushions) in the middle to anchor the room and placed a Chesterfield sofa next to mirrored chests to create balance. “The furniture needed to be powerful and bold so it didn’t get swallowed up by the room,” she says. Above the sofa she hung a 10-foot-wide abstract oil painting by the late Philadelphia artist Murray Dessner.
A loggia of columns creates the illusion of rooms in the double-high living space.
Bold statements are everywhere, highlighted by the 300-year-old Italian console accented by two brass lamps. “I have Italian glamour, old-English formal along with designs from the ’50s and ’60s. All of those combinations are provocative,” she explains, pointing to two settees upholstered in a geometric pattern juxtaposed against proper needlepoint pillows with tassels. “You wouldn’t think they would go together, but they do, because the colors unite and the patterns are complementary.”
One recent project was a moveable dining room bar cart, which she covered in colorful harlequin-patterned wallpaper. “I think individualism is more important than ever before and I help clients push the envelope,” she says, emphasizing a philosophy that asks clients to reorient their relationship to their well-worn furnishings. That doesn’t mean that she makes anyone get rid of items they love. “If a client has a sentimental [attachment to a] piece, I like to use it in a fresh way—like using a traditional Fortuny fabric on a contemporary piece of furniture.”
A chaise by the gated pool is one of the favorite spots for Hayes’s guests (and her dog) to linger.
Hayes admits that this house, more than any other she has called home over the years, draws people in. The outside has all the patina and age of an old Tuscan villa. “It is a great party house,” she says, having hosted 150 people there comfortably. “People come in the summer, and we hang out by the pool on chaises. There are different outdoor rooms enclosed with shrubs near the gated pool. Guests can mill about the living room or in the courtyard that leads to the pool.” When the party is indoors, her office becomes a bar.
“No matter if visitors have a traditional home, are purists, or have a more eclectic style, they come in and like it but they don’t know why it works,” she says. “It is a space people love to be in because there is richness to it. They are always walking through looking to see more.”