A Stately Victorian Where Family-Friendly Meets Formal
Designer Mona Ross Berman transforms a historic house outside Philadelphia with an abundant use of color and pattern
When a home has history, character, and grand architectural details, such elements deserve to be showcased. But what happens when its residents include three active boys under the age of 10? Such was the dilemma facing interior designer Mona Ross Berman, whose clients—a working couple who loved to entertain—had purchased a high-ceilinged Victorian in an exclusive suburb on Philadelphia’s Main Line. “The house needed to work for a family of five, so part of my directive was to help create areas where everyone could relax and be themselves,” says Berman. “But the more formal spaces had to feel special—a little bit ‘wow.’”
Thus began the process of decorating a residence unlike any other in Berman’s portfolio. Known for her fresh and innovative take on a tailored sensibility, the Philadelphia-based designer was game for the challenge. “Most of my work has an interesting interplay of patterns and colors, a mix of modern and traditional elements, and bit of the unexpected to balance everything out. This project had all of that—but even more of a mixture of styles and period references,” she explains. “The architecture and feeling of the house required that we do something that felt a little off: as if it had evolved organically over a longer period of time.”
Taking an aesthetic risk requires establishing clear parameters. In this case, a dominant color palette—what Berman describes as “a mossy-ferny green and a rich navy blue”—provided a cohesive element throughout. “The green is something you might see on Downton Abbey, and there’s nothing more timeless or elegant than navy,” she says. The combination also lends itself surprisingly well to the presence of bolder pops of color, such as the fuchsia throw pillows that enliven the pair of vintage French bergère chairs in the living room, which were reupholstered in mottled navy leather.
Across the foyer from the intimately scaled parlor is the dining room, home to the project’s most showstopping feature: custom handpainted wallpaper by Gracie. “The craftsmanship is unparalleled, and the company has such a rich history in the design world,” says Berman. A self-described “textile and pattern super-fan,” the designer turned those elements into a visual narrative about the home itself. Curtain panels and valances crafted from “bohemian-leaning” Lulu DK fabric is juxtaposed with a custom supernova chandelier by Lou Blass in living room. An overscaled ikat by Quadrille covers the walls in the first-floor powder room. Off the dining room, Berman turned a bland butler’s pantry into a stunning small space by painting almost everything—cabinets, walls, trim, and ceiling—in a high-gloss blue from Fine Paints of Europe. Brass hardware brings in a bit of gleam, and the antiqued mirror backsplash provides glimpses of the ornate pattern in the adjoining area.
In contrast to the front of the house, the back entrance—which opens onto a mudroom that leads to an eat-in kitchen and playroom—is looser and less formal. Here Berman interpreted the home’s ornate elements in even more playful ways. A blue-and-white China Seas wallpaper in the mudroom sets up a subtle link to a custom bench upholstered in Katherine Rally’s Haveli fabric in the kitchen. The playroom evokes what Berman calls “a British Raj vibe,” with map-inspired wallpaper behind built-in shelving and oversize custom beanbags made from Schumacher fabric. “It’s fun and kid-friendly but also a little cheeky and worldly, so grownups get a kick out of it too,” says Berman.
Upstairs, the kids’ bedrooms provide variations on a theme. The palette becomes, in Berman’s words, “a bit more lively and preppy: the navy more maritime, the green more Kelly.” The mood is age-appropriate but versatile enough to transition through the teen years, with striped headboards and a houndstooth chair setting off crisp custom drapery and a flush-mount shelf lined with the boys’ favorite reads. “It’s a great way to show off beautiful book covers, small action figures, and stuffed animals that are too cute to stuff in a basket,” explains the designer. The imaginative space feels part and parcel of the house yet distinct in its functionality, and entirely appropriate to the mélange of periods and styles. Says Berman, “Much to my delight and, more importantly, the delight of my clients, I think it reads pretty much exactly as we’d envisioned”—a modern interpretation of a grand old home.