The Knoll â€œBrunoâ€ chair at the desk
offsets the libraryâ€™s formal ambience
and ties the room to the modernism
of the rest of the town house.
"Reflection" by Edward McHugh
The master bedroom, featuring a jewel-tone palette
A portrait by Midwestern artist Wilfred Berg, located
in the study
Sleek Carrera marble was used to restore the fireplace in the living room
Mizell kept the living room formal with neutral colors but livened it up with numerous textures.
A professional couple in their mid-fifties who had recently moved to a fourstory town house in Rittenhouse Square approached Ashli Mizell with an unusual request. For their new residence—a wellpreserved Federal Style building with original moldings, plank hardwood floors, handcarved banisters and marble fireplaces—they asked the interior designer to provide a décor that was suitable for a subdued entertaining experience. Big, bold gestures and bright colors and patterns held no interest for them. The challenge lay in the rooms themselves: generous in size, with the living room alone 17 feet wide and 25 feet long with 10-foot-high ceilings.
Ashli Mizell in her clients’ third-floor master bedroom
“In the beginning of the design process, I showed them several different options for the living room, some of which included much more color and pattern,” says Mizell, a Tennessee native who worked in New York for nearly a decade before opening Ashli Mizell, Inc. in Philadelphia in 2002. “They were consistently drawn to a more soft, neutral palette. I don’t typically do rooms that are neutral to this degree. They were very trepidatious about the process of working with a designer. This is a couple who are avid travelers, who are active philanthropically and who support the arts. I wanted to create something luxurious and elegant for them. They are very warm people, so it was important to me that their rooms have an approachable luxury and not just be opulent-looking. ”
Introduced to Mizell by a mutual client, floral designer Michael Haschak at Pure Design, the couple was candid with her about the help they required. “They had collected pieces over the years and made a few design mistakes,” says Mizell. “When they moved into this home, they said, ‘We want to do it right. We don’t want to make expensive mistakes.’”
Beginning with the living room and a blank canvas, Mizell, known for her eclectic, tailored style, had a lot of space to fill. “Not a stick of their old furniture went into this room,” she says. “They have parties several times a year, so it was important to create spaces that flowed very easily, from one room to the next.” Mizell’s strategy emphasized a strong, functional foundation from which the design surprises and is pleasurable and sensory. Rather than place two separate seating clusters in the living room, an easy way to fill the space, Mizell says she chose the fireplace as the focal point and surrounded it with a subtle interplay of symmetry. Pairs of chairs, paintings, ottomans, tables and lamps all revolve around the hearth, and a massive six-foot table—formerly a Chinese bed—is placed in front of it.
This configuration was especially pleasing to the lady of the house. “She told me that she loves to sit by the fire in the winter, have tea and read a book,” says Mizell. “The room had to work just for her, in that scenario, but it also needed to work for the couple when they entertain 14 people without needing to rearrange big pieces of furniture.” A pair of ottomans nesting under console tables (custom-designed by Mizell, as were the sofas) can move to the table if extra seating is needed. If a party is catered, an oak console table just behind the sofa slides over and becomes a bar or a serving station.
In the absence of a bright palette in the living room, Mizell found a worthy substitute in texture. “We made sure that every single piece in that room is textually interesting,” she says. Indeed, this seemingly placid, neutral space is a hotbed of luxurious materials: silk taffeta curtains, silk damask upholstery on the ottomans, silk velvet on the chairs, cotton velvet covering the sofa, linen on the walls. Even something as deceptively simple as a lampshade could be tweaked and modified for stylish impact. “We didn’t need an overhead light in the room—there is already lamp light, sconce lights and recessed lights,” says Mizell. “The shade is a more decorative element than a functional one. It has a slight curve and gives off beautiful ambient light that everyone looks good in. I wanted the room to feel elegant but not traditional. I wanted it to feel club-like and sexy.”
It was important that the rest of the home not be an extension of the neutral living room, says Mizell. “I didn’t want it all to feel one-dimensional. I wanted each room to feel special, a destination.” There did, however, need to be cohesion. In the warm, clubby library, a vintage chrome Knoll “Bruno” chair is a nod to the living room’s modernism. Brass and oilrubbed bronze lamps in the library mimic sconces of the same materials flanking the leather-wrapped mirror over the living room fireplace. Mizell also had the benefit of working with some of the family’s furnishings for the library—a set of chestnut leather club chairs, marble urns, a coffee table from Africa and an art nouveau carpet in harvest tones which handily supplied the room’s color scheme (a teal sofa pillow, for example, picks up its notes of sky blue).
Separating the living room and library is a center hall that Mizell painted a dark shade of green known as Charleston Green. “The clients were very skeptical about the color at first,” she says, “but now it is one of their favorite parts of the home—they love the contrast and the way it flows into the lighter rooms.” Toward the end of the nine-month decorating project, Mizell even witnessed the couple growing more daring with color. “I pushed their envelope pretty far, considering where we started and where we ended up. The last room we did was the master bedroom. Most people like to play it safe with subdued bedrooms, but this couple turned out to be the opposite.” Their inspiration? “A pair of Emperor pillows with Japanese male and female figures on them,” says Mizell, “in red and bright yellow. ” Ashli Mizell Interior Design, 124 S. 19th St.; ashlimizell.com