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The White Library

In January 2011, I was honored to be invited to design a space in Stonebridge Mansion in Chadds Ford, PA to benefit The Oxford Arts Alliance. The house was then owned by investors who decided that this would be the perfect attraction for foot traffic in order to sell the property. When the all of the potential Designers hoping to take part in the Showhouse arrived on the snowiest day of the year, the house was completely empty, but the charm of the woodworking, floor plan and good bones of the house made it obvious that the home was outstanding even in the dark, cold state of the house at the time.

I had never participated in a Showhouse before, so the experience was fresh for me. It was a fun process that started out similarly to an audition process for theatre. The Designers who were interested in participated had to interview and provide their top three choices of rooms to design- in priority order with space plans, sketches and descriptions of what we’d propose to do with the room. Once we were finished walking through and pulling this together along with our portfolio, website address, business cards and information about our company we had an exit interview with the Board. It was really fun, and I was happy to learn that they were impressed with my ideas, drawings and seemed in great spirits with the possibility of me taking part in this huge project. A couple of weeks later I received the call from the Design Chair from the Board inviting me to participate and sharing that I was the only Designer who interviewed who was being given their first choice of space as they were very impressed and loved the idea. What an honor.

When I walked into my space for the first time, I knew it was perfect for me. It was dingy and cold, there were flimsy shelves on one wall, a sad shelf above an exposed radiator, the brass on the doors was filthy and tarnished, and there was absolutely no light in the space – it was sterile and uninviting. However, what I did see was an amazing view through the dirty windows, and beautiful french doors leading to a balcony. I could feel the history in the home, and this room was no different, however there was nothing linking this room to the rest of the house. I knew I wanted to bring in some substantial woodworking to make the connection, but I knew I wanted this room to be fresh with a curent flair while also being timeless in order to make sense with the rest of the house.

Due to the absolutely freezing cold weather, and being inspired by the beautiful white snow, I immediately realized this room was calling to be white. It needed warmth, and I knew that an all-white space was just the challenge I was ready to take on. Most people think an all white space is incredibly easy to do, and simple. However, it’s quite the contrary, it’s one of the most difficult palettes to successfully pull off even for Designers. You can read more about this topic here, where Houzz.com commended us for this very topic within this space. I was up for my own challenge!

The timing of my decision to make the committment to participate in this showhouse also had a lot to do with the concept and inspiration. My business was growing and we were loaded with work. I knew I was going to be spending a lot of long hours in the house to get it ready, as well as the three weeks I would be in the house showing it to the visitors. When I need to be focused and inspired while working I typically need to feel calm, serene, relaxed, and to be in a safe haven. These were all of the inspirational words that drove the design concept. White is a color that gives off a feeling of safety for me and most people. It signifies cleanliness, and I strongly believe that our minds are just as clean and organized as our spaces and vice versa, so white was the perfect choice.

Because we were unsure of who would be purchasing the house and whether a man or woman would be utilizing this space as their own, I wanted to design built-ins that would feel substantial, but to not have an obvious feminine or masculine dominance in terms of style. So, the design has a fresh and feminine color a delicacy within the thin clean lines, but with slight geometric aspects where the masculinity enters. Every wall, trim, built-in shelf, radiator, etc. are all painted with the same color, but different sheens to add a touch of detail. Even though the entire room looks white, it’s not all the same hue, and it’s not even all made up of white items or objects. I wanted the space to be about texture, materials, and how an all white space can feel warm and inviting.

The majority of our visitors walked into the room and immediately exhaled, and most even mentioned how they felt as if their blood pressure dropped as soon as the wallked into the room (men included). However, as soon as they would say “this is so serene and calming, I love it…” immediately following without fail was, “I could never have this room in my house unless I shut out all of my kids, husband and pets!” Of course it seems like this would be the case, but we were able to sway a lot of our guests into a new way of thinking. The rug for example, was made of wool and silk, was hand-knotted, and was a fairly light color – all things that most people would shy away from in a high traffic space. However, during the Showhouse we endured hurricane gusted winds with torrential rains to follow that swept pollen and all types of mud and dirt onto the balcony outside of our space that every single guest walked in before entering the Library. We had about 5,000 visitors, and absolutely no cleaning of the rug and it was perfect when it was returned back to our showroom. The upholstery is another example – although beautiful and decadent, all of them were stain treated or were made of fibers with inherent stain resistent properties. So, all of the furniture was just as beautiful as the day it was delivered as well. Quite frankly, the room was deceiving… the majority of the white that made up this white room was on the walls, the built-ins, and the accessories. Where’s the danger in having a white vase, white flowers, and white picture frames?

There was also a natural feeling within the room. I used a chandelier that was made of capiz shells and when the wind would push through the french doors it would fill the room with enchanting chimes. The views of the greenery over the grounds were acting as art for the space, and I pulled in some greenery within to tie the outdoors into the space by using a reindeer moss.

The lighting also played a huge part in the space. Since it was to be utilized as an office, I wanted there to be ample light under which one would work, however, I also wanted it to feel cozy and not washed out. I incorporated some hidden lighting within the built-ins, some table lamps and the chandelier.