Interiorssneak peeks

In Philadelphia, An Artist’s Home Filled With Light and Character

by Erin Austen Abbott

When David and Ronni Nicole Robinson got engaged, they decided to give up the life that had them living at a resort on Martha’s Vineyard for part of the year and at a different resort in Park City, UT the other half of the year. While it was a big adjustment, being near family in Philadelphia, PA was more important to the couple. When they moved to the city, they knew they wanted to live in the Rittenhouse neighborhood, but sacrificing space would be necessary, based on cost of living. Through an ad, they found a 650-square-foot apartment listing, built in 1890. They decided to check it out, although from the pictures alone, they weren’t excited about it — but it checked enough boxes (location, location, location) that David and Ronni decided they should at least see it. “Our appointment was in the evening, and the previous tenant didn’t use much lighting, and her furniture was awkwardly too big for the place,” Ronni recalls. “I think we appreciated the history of the building the most. The building was originally owned by John Thayer, who tragically died on the Titanic. His wife and kids survived. He was the Executive of the Rail Road Company. Although it was a tragedy, it felt a little romantic, especially since we had just gotten married. We didn’t have much to go by when we decided to just take it. I returned right after the tenant moved out, to measure windows and [the] bedroom. As I walked through the foyer into the living room, I immediately noticed the large windows facing me. I was completely soaked by the sun. I didn’t even recognize the place. It truly was ‘night and day.’ At that very moment it felt like home.”

Four years later, the apartment has gone from housing necessities for both David, a wine consultant, and Ronni, an artist, to truly reflecting the couple, both together and as individuals. “We don’t really think about if this goes with that,” Ronni admits. “But I will say that our home has become more cohesive over the last year. We both are doing what we love, so our home decor reflects that. Now that I’m pursuing my art full-time our walls act as my storage. Eventually that will change, but currently I hang them in an available wall space. Having my art on the wall, functioning the way I intended, has been an important factor in my growth as an artist. When I first started, my earlier pieces were more random in their floral design. I now have more direction and I’m much more deliberate in my design. When they’re hanging on my wall I can make mental notes about spacing and layout. My new ideas feel less forced and more natural.” The couple’s living room has multiple functions: it’s also an office, studio, and dining room. “My work is very physical. I hand roll the clay, even for bigger pieces. Larger pieces take up a lot of mind space. Everything about the design of my work has to be thought of in the reverse. Working from home, it must be a place of calm. Before I can start a new piece, I have to start from scratch. I need everything around me to be in their place, otherwise it’s a distraction,” Ronni says.

Living in an old building has also proved to be a bit of a challenge, leaving Ronni to think outside the box when it comes to wall decor, aside from her own work. She shares, “Most of our walls are pure brick and plaster, so it’s very difficult to hang pictures with a nail. You will notice that we don’t have a lot of framed art on our walls. That’s how we ended up with the kitchen wall. It’s my favorite, by the way. The blue paint was already there, so I decided to tear out some pictures from two of my old botanical books and tape them to the wall. It took all of 30 minutes, but I love it.” I love the quirkiness of this sweet space and how it truly reflects Ronni’s work. —Erin

Photography by Amy Franz / @ona__ella

Image above: “This is in our living room. I like to keep bright flowers on this table. We also like to store our books in both corners of this window. Even though David is not in this picture, he is. Most of the books are his. He is a sommelier, so we do a lot of wine studying here. And right behind that vase is our dear President Lincoln,” Ronni shares. 

Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge

“This is in the kitchen. I don’t usually like to take pictures, but I’m so happy Amy, my photographer, talked me into this one. This picture really sums me up perfectly. I mean really, look at it. Flowers, booze, sunlight, and coffee. The end,” Ronni laughs. “This is my favorite wall. I remember when we first moved in, I thought the blue walls were awful and needed to be repainted. There used to be shelves there, but our ceilings are so high, that I never could reach. We took them all down, because they didn’t really serve any purpose. At first we tried to hang up a few art pictures, but the wall is pure concrete or brick, so that wasn’t going to happen for us. Out of frustration, I decided to tear out photos from a few botanical books and tape them on the wall. Now it’s my favorite wall in our home. Also I think the blue is just darling.”

Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge

“This is [our cat] Liberty’s little eating nook. When we first moved in, we thought to get curtains, but instead David came up with the shelves idea. I wanted him to have a place that was for him. He puts all of his finds there. We like to save bottles, so they usually end up there. They are replaced when we have finished a new bottle of something. We are drinking enthusiasts… (blame it on being in the restaurant biz). We like to taste as much we can. So the bottle assortment changes all the time,” Ronni shares.

Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"This is our bedroom. Since we do everything in our living room, we did our best to keep our bedroom very simple. We figure it should be a place of calm."
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"Our working fireplace is now being used for our storage. If it’s a really cold winter evening, we pop a few logs in there. The two pieces on the mantel are my first big fossils," Ronni says.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
A closer look at the simple, yet calm bedroom side table.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"I love waking up here in the morning. Liberty, our cat, is usually on the red chair when we wake. We don’t usually need alarms in our home, we use the bright morning sun. The hubs suggested that we get darker curtains once, that obviously didn’t happen. I want the sun to flood in. I much rather wake up by the sun," Ronni shares.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"This is the flowers of the week sample. Every week I preserve a new flower," Ronni notes.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"I used our mantel for storage for my larger pieces. Also, that sweet little wooden box [holds the remains] of our dog Guinness. He was a great dog, and it feels good know he is still with us. Also he keeps an eye on these other little knuckleheads we have," Ronni explains.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"Like omg. This picture really makes me feel warm inside. How darling is our Powpow (short for Powder)? This is one moment that I’m so happy Amy captured. The fireplace in the background, the unfocused artwork and plants on the mantel, and Guinness above. I love this photo so much," Ronni muses.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"This is our living room couch. We spend a lot of time here. On most days, you will see all four of us snuggled on this one couch. This wall is one of the few walls that we can hang on. My larger fossils usually end up there too," Ronni shares.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"This chair is the most moved around furniture we have. When I have a large commission our place changes slightly. I have another work table that I use temporarily, so this chair gets moved to any available corner. Times like this is great, because when the fireplace is in use, this is the most comfy place to be. Talk about getting cozy. This is it."
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"This is our main living room wall. Since we don’t have much space, we have to be creative. Our dining area used to be where the work station is, but it’s safe to say that was a bad idea. It ended just being part of our work station. There weren’t a lot of solutions, so the only space available was next to the TV. Although the TV had to get smaller, this just made more sense for the layout. I think it’s important to have a place to eat a meal," Ronnie says.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"My work station is in the living room. It’s usually messy. Even for the sake of the picture, I didn’t clean it up because although it’s messy, I know exactly were everything is. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the messiest, I’m at a consistent 5. On my most busy days I’m usually at 7-10. David usually knows how my workday has been just by looking at the desk," Ronni laughs.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
Surrounded by windows and natural light, this feels like the perfect in-home work area.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
A close-up of one of the work station windows, complete with a landing spot for Ronni's work in the windowsill.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"Fresh Mistletoe for my ornament fossils I made for the holidays," Ronni shares.
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
"What I love most about our home is the natural light." - Ronni
Ronni Nicole Robinson on Design*Sponge
This is the floor plan of Ronni and David's 650-square-foot home.

Bed frame and comforter – Ikea
Wall art – Ron Nicole
Lamp – Target
Nightstand – Vintage find at market
Art on nightstand – Vintage find at market
Mantel art – Ron Nicole
Black Trunk – David’s Family heirloom going back to the 1800s
Red chair – Vintage find
Framed art – Freshlypressed 
Flowers of the week – Ron Nicole

Living Room
Vase – Ikea
Mistletoe ornaments hanging from the mantel- Ron Nicole
Art On Mantel – Ron Nicole
Table – Ikea
Wall Art – Ron Nicole
Art in windowsill – Ron Nicole
Curtains – Ikea
Letterpress -vintage find
Vase – dated back to the 1800s
Pillows –Ikea
Yellow Vase – HomeGoods
Wall Art- Ron Nicole
Table- Ikea
Framed Butterflies- Paper Source 
Throw- Anthropologie

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  • There’s a beautiful lightness to this home and the kitchen flower wall is gorgeous.

    • Thank you Sally. The natural lighting is so important for me and my art. Plus having my workspace in view of our kitchen wall provides me so much inspiration ❤️

  • Ronni Nicole— I’ve seen your work before and love the originality and elegant simplicity, so it is a delight to see the creativity of the environment where it was created. Fabulous!

    Could you post a wide-angle view photo and/or a floor plan sketch of the living-dining-studio area? I’d love to see the layout arrangement of how the three areas work together within the main room.

  • Stunning, peaceful, and simply beautiful. One of my most favorite interiors seen in the past several years. May you and yours continue doing what you love. And, may you always wake up to the light.

  • Beautiful! I live in an old building in Philadelphia too, small apartment, and I’m always struggling to make it look the way I want. Your home is an inspiration!

    • Thanks Whitney. I totally feel you. It was definitely a challenge in the beginning when we first moved here. I prefer old buildings too because of their charm, but I’ve learned that I have to be flexible in my design choices. There is so much inspiration out there, but I think it’s best to take your time when styling your home. I only like to buy one piece of decor at a time. I believe you should live with it for a while so you can be sure you really like it and want to make more decor choices around it. Plus it takes the pressure out of making my home look a certain way. I bet your place is beautiful too.

  • I love your home. What i like most is the originality of the decor ie the “non curtains” and the floral pictures on your kitchen wall. Oh and I forgot to mention the Sunlight coming through the bedroom windows.

  • I have the same floor plan but the bedroom and bathroom are switched around. I love the light colors and light coming into the house. Your art is beautiful and I know how important it is to see it viewed. My art goes on the floor so I love to change it around and create new projects for the floors. Thank you for sharing this lovely home. I’ve been thinking of how to lighten and brighten up my own 650 sq ft home and you have inspired me in many ways.