Two years ago, a young family with three active boys, plus a dog, transplanted from New Jersey. The businessman father had accepted a transfer and the whole crew settled into a sprawling, center-entrance Georgian-style red brick home in Bloomfield Hills.
Set into the neighborhood’s traditional bucolic landscape of rolling green lawns and spread-out estates, the home, built in 1961, holds its own among the gorgeously classic architecture, but visitors are greeted by something just a little different. A vibrant teal gate — whose color required approval by the neighborhood association — and a bright blue front door suggest that there’s some fun to be had beyond the gate and inside the door.
“My husband has been really good about letting my freak flag fly, and trusting it,” says the wife and mother. “I’ve never been afraid of color — I just haven’t had a lot of it in my previous homes.”
Things have changed.
“I really wanted to make this house feel like our house in New Jersey, which had been home for so long,” the wife and mother adds. “It was all pearly gray, really subtle, but we had one wall that was Rembrandt Red, which I loved.” The solution? She had a living room wall in her new home coated in the same painterly high-gloss hue by Fine Paints of Europe (see cover photo). Concerned about balancing the bright room with the other side of the delineated house, the homeowner contacted Fine Paints of Europe to see what they recommended for her dining room, directly across from the living room. An employee recommended Nelly Custer Blue. “So I called a specialist, because these really thick, high-gloss paints require specialists. He tore down the wallpaper, stripped the walls, and painted them while I was out of town. I came home, and I was like, ‘Oh! What have I done?’”
“The goal was to unite, without overwhelming. The bright walls shouldn’t be the focus, but they set the tone.”
— Lisa Petrella, designer
She immediately called designer Lisa Petrella, owner of Petrella Designs in Birmingham, who had been recommended by her realtor. “She was slightly panicked,” Petrella recalls. “We came in and saw these two really strong, highly lacquered colors, but everything on her Pinterest and Houzz pages was all clean and white. I asked her where these colors came from, and she let out a little shriek and said, ‘I don’t know!’”
“Lisa said, ‘OK, we can do this,’ ” the homeowner says. “She even said she thought this would end up being my favorite room in the house. We went to her office, and she had these gorgeous fabrics and prints and colors on her inspiration board, and I started getting really excited.”
The homeowner, says Petrella, is very traditional in many ways. She already owned a lot of antiques — some heirlooms inherited from her mother, others purchased during her years on the East Coast. “And they chose to live in a somewhat traditional neighborhood, architecturally. She’s a fantastic mom; she’s extremely organized, which you have to be with three busy boys, but she wanted to bring some fun and energy into the home, which is also her personality — but she kept bringing us back to very modern elements. I think she really liked the idea of a home that feels like the comfort of grandma’s house, but doesn’t look like grandma’s house.”
Petrella began by layering around the teal dining-room wall. She found fabrics to tie together the teal-blue and the Rembrandt Red in the family room, while softening the thick gloss of the blue. “We were combining a lot of elements, like the bright colors she had chosen, and integrating some of the antique pieces that she loved, but also putting a fresh, light spin on everything,” Petrella says. “The goal was to unite, without overwhelming. The bright walls shouldn’t be the focus, but they set the tone. Once (the homeowner) began to trust us, she wasn’t afraid of going all-out.”
Early on in the design project, trouble arose when the basement flooded with sewage. Petrella and the homeowner turned the problem into an opportunity by deciding to create a “locker room” for the homeowners’ sons — like their father before them, serious hockey players who travel throughout the U.S. and even abroad. Petrella designed cubbies where each boy can store his gear, and when they get home from games or tournaments, their mom sends them directly to the locker room so they can take off their wet clothing, shower, change, and come upstairs all cleaned up.
The homeowner was pleased with the results — she now has a home that is supremely usable for her family and their friends. “Every room had to have enough space for each member of the family, and then some, to sit comfortably, to play a game, or just hang out together,” Petrella says.
In the end, it was the idea of traditional family togetherness that drew the homeowners to this neighborhood and to this home. “I love it,” the wife and mother says. “And, yes, the dining room is now my favorite room in the house.”