Framed 19th-century wallpaper inspired the master bedroom and sitting area in Barbara Eberlein’s neoclassic home.
A few years ago, interior designer Barbara Eberlein found herself in the same quandary as many of her clients: She had an empty nest. Her daughter and son, off to college and a job, had moved out of the house, and now it felt slightly too big and much less lively. She had adopted the home on Delancey Place 25 years earlier (at the time, she says, the interior was so ugly that the staircases were the only things she kept; the rest was demolished). But instead of packing her bags and downsizing, she planned another renovation that would reimagine the late-1850s structure, whose only remaining selling point was its address.
For 30 years, Eberlein has been crafting interiors for some of Philadelphia’s most esteemed properties, designed by many of its greatest architects—Horace Trumbauer, Frank Furness, Walter Durham—and is best known for her vast knowledge of and prowess in historical preservation. “I studied archeology, and I love history and classical beauty,” she says, “but I do contemporary work, too, and that keeps me facile.” In her own home over the years, she stayed true to its era and added period details, but she also opened up the living room to give it a more gracious feel.
For the building’s latest act, she turned her garage and playroom into a four-room work studio, then expanded the dining room to create an outdoor balcony, with a fireplace and dining area, adjacent to the kitchen. In her initial renovation, she’d moved the kitchen from the basement to the first floor. It now has access to the balcony and the dining room, making it perfect for entertaining.
The balcony also gives the dining room more light; in other areas with few windows, Eberlein used rich reds and blues on the walls. “The deep color creates reflectivity,” she says, “and the arches and other architectural elements we created keep it interesting.”
The living room is designed in a vintage yet eclectic style.
Eberlein is an avid collector of antiques, but she confesses that some of the pieces in her living room are reproductions. “I have things made all the time,” she says, pointing to a library and a built-in wet bar and tipping her hat to the skilled local artisans who have fashioned pieces for her home and those of her clients. “Philadelphia has always been an architectural powerhouse. At the turn of the century, the titans of industry wanted to build big, beautiful homes here, so they brought over artisans from Europe.”
For the bedroom, Eberlein picked up furniture while antiquing in her native Chicago and chose a Chinese wallpaper and Fortuny fabrics. She loves pulling together pieces for clients and has done so many times. “The hardest part of designing, either in your own home or for a client, is editing,” she says. “I could never be an antiques dealer in that regard. I really love the hunt.”
While she adores and misses her hometown, Eberlein still pinches herself that she lives in Philadelphia. “I love the breadth of architecture here,” she says. “Because there are so many great design schools in Philadelphia, there is a lot of design literacy and it elevates design in the city. There are so many people who really care about how the city looks.”
Eberlein spends much of her time serving on the boards of nonprofit art and architecture organizations. “If you love the creative process, you can’t help yourself,” she says, calling her work with the Philadelphia Museum of Art “enriching” and “inspiring.” She’s also president of the Philadelphia chapter of The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art and is developing a product line for The Royal Oak Foundation.
Ultimately, designing her Delancey Place abode over the years has been difficult and easy at the same time. “It was easy because I’m patient with myself, but when you have your own home, you have all these ideas you loved and didn’t use on other projects swirling around in your head. You can’t do it all. Ideas are the easy part. Editing is the hard part.” Eberlein Design Consultants, 1809 Delancey Pl., 215-790- 0300