before and after

Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion

by Annie Werbler

The Zevan family of Wynnewood, PA sure does love their books. Tracee and Steve, along with young sons Declan and Ronan, display all their favorite reads on the shelves of their restored ballroom living space within Redleaf Manor, located on the Pennsylvania Main Line. The historic 30,000-square-foot English Tudor Revival mansion was designed by architect Frank Furness and built in 1881. Redleaf Manor, named after the leaves of the ancient copper beech trees located on the property, was commissioned for Philadelphia millionaire William Henszey. In the modern era, the building has been converted into seven condominium units, of which the Zevan family occupies 1,080 square feet. Tracee, an interior architecture design assistant, envisioned expanding the existing floor-to-ceiling library look in the den and establishing an open, modern floorplan in the kitchen.

Once serving as the mansion’s ballroom when the manor was a single-family home, the space retains its 11-foot ceilings and leaded glass French doors and windows. The fireplace and crown moldings are original to the site as well. “It felt more like a Paris apartment than a condo in the suburbs,” recalls Tracee upon her first visit to the home. “It was love at first sight.” Other features needed renovation, like a poorly-patched ceiling layered in wallpaper, and a distinct lack of overhead lighting throughout. During three months of construction under the oversight of architect Mindy O’Connor, the Zevan family stayed elsewhere in the building to keep an eye on the project.

In the updated ballroom, the whole family can hang out, share a meal, play board games, and entertain friends. They forewent a dining room table in favor of extra couch seating — a series of IKEA chairs pushed together, often reconfigured based on need. They eventually plan to add pocket doors and many library ladders to accommodate the tall ceilings. “What we lack in surface space, we make up for in vertical space,” Tracee notes, “And I’d like to utilize that to its fullest advantage.” The all-white home provides a feeling of serenity, and the color scheme makes the rooms feel larger. Still practical for kids because “everything is slipcovered, so it’s a trip to the washing machine when covers get dirty,” Tracee shares. When the work is done, she loves to sit in front of the fireplace, looking outside at the pristine grounds, with a cup of tea and her pick of many, many good books. —Annie

Photography by Wendy Concannon

Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
Tracee and Steve Zevan's living room, once the ballroom of a historic Pennsylvania mansion, now features an all-white color scheme accented by the bright colors of beloved books.
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
The long white couch, a series of Kivik chairs from IKEA, has a flexible configuration and can accommodate 12 people.
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
The long and narrow living room benefits from the addition of mirrors to reflect the natural light and open up the space. "This spot is my favorite place to sit and look outside," Tracee says. "In the fall, the trees turn yellow and it creates a beautiful glow."
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
Tracee loved the original, elaborately-carved fireplace, but felt it was in need of a functional and aesthetic update for her own lifestyle. "The agate surround was old and cracked," she explains. "Instead of replacing the surround with new marble, I primed and painted the surround and mantel, and we replaced the hearth with the same Carrera marble that appears on the island and countertops."
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
Instead of occupying valuable real estate on the floor, a TV hung over the fireplace makes practical sense for the family.
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
"I love to cook and own many cookbooks," Tracee reveals. "I didn't want to hide them away on the bookshelf down the hall. They inspire me." She changes the books on display in the kitchen according to her mood, selecting vibrant jackets to add color to an all-white space.
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
The kitchen was previously enclosed within a small corner of the unit, so the Zevans opened it up with a functional floorplan for family life, including beautiful finishes and additional book storage. "Most of the inspiration for our home came from The Strand Bookstore inside Club Monaco in NYC," Tracee shares.
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
"The bookshelves are IKEA Ribba picture ledges that I multiplied and used to wrap the entire perimeter of the hallway," explains Tracee.
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
Hanging bookshelves the entire length of a wall draws the eye upward toward the ceiling and makes this enclosed space feel larger.
Before & After: The Redleaf Manor Ballroom Conversion, on Design*Sponge
White furniture and finishes, vertical expansion, and mirrors make the small family room functional for the whole family.

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  • WOW! What an amazing transformation. I could spend a many hours nuzzled in that couch spending family time. What an open inviting space to entertain. I love white, the mirrors, the spiratic dab of color the different books add. Beautiful transformation Mrs. Zevan!

  • I agree with one of the earlier comments that it is a crime to paint such an amazing fireplace.

    • I think “crime” is a really strong word to use. Not your cup of tea? Totally. But that sort of language is loaded with a lot of judgement and isn’t necessary here.


      • It’s just an expression, Grace and one that’s been used for many, many years without harm – sheesh! sensitive much?

        • Jennifer

          Treating everyone here with respect is our biggest priority. And yes, being sensitive to other people’s feelings is a part of that. I hope you can understand where we’re coming from, as I understand that your intention was most likely never to hurt anyone’s feelings.

          We want to create a comment section (and website as a whole) where people feel free to share their homes and personal spaces. It may seem like a lot to ask to phrase things with respect, but that effort goes a long way toward making everyone here feel comfortable and welcome. If that feels like too much to ask, I understand if you prefer to read elsewhere.


  • You did a fabulous job. Very tastefully done, you can still sense the character of the old space with the modern touches that were done! Beautiful!

  • It’s completely not my cup of tea, and the fireplace painting makes me sad, but I appreciate seeing something unique and idiosyncratic.

  • I was thinking that there was a lot of white in the after, mostly because I think I’d get those couches dirty really quickly, but I love how the fireplace looks. Going to disagree with those who think it shouldn’t have been painted. I like it painted! Makes things look lighter too me.

  • The ceiling height, the windows and the kitchen are just lovely. I wonder if the paint can come off the fireplace later?

  • Of course it wasn’t literally a crime to paint the fireplace– unless the area has truly draconian zoning ordinances! But it seems to me that the decorating scheme of white + colorful book jackets would fit just as well in any modern building. To my eye, it doesn’t take advantage of the historic setting. My preference would have been to leave the fireplace and add a few antique pieces to contrast with the comfortable, modern seating. (Of course, I realize it’s not my house.)

  • This is one of my favorite home tours ever!! I love the way the space has been modernized and reconfigured, love the all-white, and LOVE the floor-to-ceiling book ledges! Very creative! I am originally from the Phila. area and it is so cool to see this space re-envisioned and re-inhabited this way.

  • Although it’s difficult to discern from the “before” photo, the fireplace mantle had already been painted, many times over — prior to our renovation. The building is over 130 years old and many a homeowner have occupied our unit. You can imagine the state of paint over paint over paint that the fireplace was in before our renovation. It needed love and TLC. The agate was completely cracked and discolored (again, not easily seen from the photos). Another consideration was cost. The price to replace the agate surround AND the hearth would have been outside our budget. Our architect, who has an advanced degree in architecture from Harvard University, and also specializes in historical renovations, agreed that painting the fireplace, since it had already been painted many times before, would not disrupt its integrity. We love the way it turned out, but we also appreciate that others may not. Thanks to all for your comments/feedback. It was a really fun project, and after many months of planning and renovation, we are so happy to finally enjoy the space :)

  • Generally I’m also not a fan of painting things, but this remodel is fantastic. You can tell a lot of thought and care went into all the decisions. The new marble really works to bring out the details of the fireplace, and the new hanging lights really work to bridge the timespan of the room. Space went from clunky to cool, those windows really pop now and all the light is wonderful.