Big Style, Smaller Space

Downsizing from a sprawling Main Line home to a city condo is an adjustment, even if that condo happens to be 5,000 square feet and located at The Barclay on Rittenhouse Square. Originally built in 1929 as The Barclay Hotel, this stately Pre-War style building was once home to many of Philadelphia’s most glamorous parties and celebrity guests. Although ownership has changed hands and the building was converted into condos in the 1990s, major renovations have helped it maintain much of its original character.

Catherine Lownes and Mia Miller, of EM Interior Design, believe that the interior design of any space should respect the architecture of the property. So when their long-standing clients decided to downsize into a city condo at The Barclay, Lownes and Miller set out to create a fresh, updated residence that also celebrated its traditional features. “We wanted the interiors to feel like a pre-war NYC upper east side apartment,” explains Miller. 

Lownes and Miller began by assessing the home’s interior details. “In this case, the ‘great bones’ of the condominium were in tact. It has beautiful moldings, high ceilings, and handsome woodwork. All of the doors are solid wood with heavy brass hardware. We were very lucky to have had so many great details to build on,” recalls Lownes.

Only a few architectural changes were needed. The fireplace in the living room was moved for symmetry and built-ins were added to the office and den. And since storage space is always an issue when downsizing from a larger home, closets were reconfigured to maximize storage. The master suite walk-in closets received full make-overs and a custom jewelry console was designed for the bathroom.

One of the most overwhelming parts of downsizing is deciding what furniture and decor to keep, and what to let go of. But Lownes and Miller know exactly how to guide their clients through the process. 

“We started with an inventory of all the existing furniture and decided which pieces felt right in an urban setting. We then incorporated them into the new design scheme,” says Miller. Fortunately, Lownes and Miller were simultaneously working on a Nantucket home with their clients, and some of the more causal pieces went there. 

The condo’s color palette was developed keeping the existing furniture in mind. The walls received new paint, and Lownes and Miller added a Maharam paper-backed textile wall covering to the master suite and a silk and abaca Lori Weitzner wall covering in the dining room.

When the design plan called for new furniture, “we selected items from bespoke manufacturers that handcraft each piece,” says Lownes. A foyer console table, for example, is from Formations. “They forged the base, and we selected a marble top from a local stone supplier.”

The art collection was curated by the client, who is herself an artist. Some of the art was from the previous home, while many new pieces came the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts artists and local galleries. “Color and scale play a big part in determining the art that is selected. We love mixing styles. It makes for a more interesting space,” says Miller.

Ultimately, the condo design integrates old and new in unique and interesting ways that are perfect for their clients. “We wanted to honor the past while updating the spaces for the present,” explains Lownes. And their clients couldn’t be happier with the results. 

Interior Design by EM INTERIORS

Architecture by KASS & ASSOCIATES

Project Management by SHAY CONSTRUCTION

Photography by REBECCA MCALPIN

Katie Groves