Designing a Greek Revival for a Family
Interior changes emanate an easy elegance, yet maintain the house's character.
- By Gretchen McKay
Filed under: Renovation, Mantels, Fireplace, Sun Rooms, Traditional, Design Style, Single-Family
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If Kevin Ifft had remembered to fill up his tank earlier that day, he might have missed his chance to own a sprawling, 130-year-old Greek Revival in Ben Avon, Penn.
Houses in the leafy, turn-of-the-century neighborhood along the Ohio River get snapped up fairly quickly, especially when they're big, architecturally interesting and priced lower than you'd expect.
But as good luck would have it that night in 2000, he noticed the "For Sale" sign as he headed toward a gas station.
"It was so striking, I immediately called my wife, Kim, and told her to get us an appointment as soon as possible," says Kevin.
"We were more curious than anything," says Kim, who called the Realtor at 10 p.m. on a Friday.
The moment the Iffts stepped through the tall front door, it was a done deal. Kevin was blown away not only by the size and height of the house's 12 rooms (the ceilings stretch 11 feet), but by the near-pristine tiger oak floors throughout the first and second floors.
Kim was enchanted with the second-floor sun room. With its beadboard walls, French doors and 6-foot-tall windows on three sides. "It literally took my breath away," she says.
Less than 24 hours later, they had agreed to the asking price of $149,900.
Three years later, they had nearly finished its renovation. The home reflects Kim's love of antiques and a decorating style that walks the line between relaxed and refined. Filled with comfortable furnishings and colorful vintage accessories, it exudes an easy elegance that embraces family living, but still maintains the house's historic character.
Built in 1872, the 2 1/2-story house is one of Ben Avon's earliest residences. Though it had been split into three apartments in the 1960s or '70s, it had been fairly well maintained over the years. The 7,000-square-foot house still boasted all seven of its original fireplace mantels and most of its original hardware and woodwork. All it really needed, Kim says, was to be given back its "dignity."
"This is a house that needs to be lived in and loved," she says. "We wanted to make it romantic all over again."
When the Iffts moved in, the living room was bare, with just a floor-to-ceiling orange brick fireplace as a focal point. At 18 by 21 feet, the room needed something big to make a statement. But what?
With the help of craftsman Dan Trobee, they eventually decided to plaster over the orange brick and build a mantel that mirrored the front staircase. Picking through piles of architectural salvage the couple stores in their garage, Trobee discovered a curved piece of wood with an elaborate medallion gleaned from an old restaurant. He added double-banded columns on either side.
A cut-glass chandelier hangs from a double-ring ceiling medallion that Trobee cast in plaster. The walls, painted a deep twilight tan, offer a soothing backdrop for the overstuffed leather furniture and many antiques.
The rustic dining room is a touch more dramatic. The couple decided they liked the rough texture of the plaster walls. It took them three days to tape off and paint the room's loose, espresso-brown stripes.
The dining room's real centerpiece, however, is a rustic, 9-foot-long table that Kim discovered. Used by a carpenter in the 1800s, it is covered with cuts and nicks — you can even see the holes left by a vise in one corner.
Her love of color comes through on the second floor, where a navy blue and soft taupe-painted hallway leads to three oversized bedrooms and a laundry.
Kemmer Jane's room is particularly charming. Kim and her mother hand-painted a light blue-and-cream checkerboard design on the walls and swathed the large windows with periwinkle-colored velvet gathered in poufs. Pink and chartreuse organza streamers drape from the ceiling over the metal bed and a collection of flower fairies hang from tulle ribbons tied to wooden pegs.
Down the hall, Alex's bedroom features built-in bunk beds and walls hand-painted with yellow and green diamonds.
The third-floor bedrooms of daughters Madison and Abby lie on either side of a jazzy yellow-and-royal blue polka-dotted and striped hallway. Madison's room features a cloud-painted ceiling, blue walls and a window above some built-in bookcases. Abby's room has purple walls and a headboard made from an old picket fence.
Another highlight of the second floor is the unique sun room. This sunny, windowed space serves as a sewing and art room furnished with rustic antiques and brightened by a moss green-and-cream painted wood floor.
"This is the most wonderful place to just sit and relax," says Kim.
The Lyons-Fisher family gets help organizing their cluttered master bedroom and adjoining office.
Greek revival home combines old and new elements in interior spaces.
A cluttered, generic-looking family room is remixed into a comfy country-style space.(7 photos)