Interiorssneak peeks

A Philadelphia Home & Studio with Clean Lines and Detailed Vignettes

by Erin Austen Abbott

One thing I really love about writing for Design*Sponge is the storytelling we do through home tours. I love learning about what went into a room renovation, what sparked the idea behind the decor, the backstory on the hand-me-downs or thrifted goods, and finding out the history of the home. Today’s tour with Nicole and Adam Cole, based in Philadelphia, PA, is rich with that sort of history, filled with stories of furniture pieces that have become family heirlooms, along with found collections and lots of handmade gems (such as the fireplace and headboard in the couple’s bedroom). These all make up a deeply personal story.

Nicole grew up the daughter of a sailor, never staying in one place for long. She went on to join the military herself as a Surface Warfare Officer until her duty was up, then worked as a private contractor. Nicole met her husband, Adam, in college, while they were both attending The University of Kansas. He too joined the military before becoming an automation engineer. Both felt the need to put down roots and stop moving for awhile. The couple moved to Philadelphia, sight unseen, and haven’t looked back once in the two years since they moved to the city. Pennsylvania marks Nicole’s 15th state to live in and through all that relocating, they have moved family furniture, items the couple found together and a lot of plants. “Our plants have moved all over the country with us, from California, to Florida, to Nebraska… when we came to Philly, we had to rent a U-haul trailer to move all of them. We just couldn’t bear to part with them, they feel like part of our family,” Nicole says.

Soon after leaving the military, Nicole realized it was time to build her own creative business. “I missed the curiosity and creativity that I enjoyed as a child,” Nicole shares. That’s when she started vestige HOME, a woodworking line of home goods and also an interior design service. When the couple began looking for their home, finding a space for Nicole’s woodworking business was important to them. While their 1925, two-story home isn’t very big at 1,500 square feet, the layout afforded them all the space they needed. Nicole converted the home’s detached garage into her studio.

When looking around their home, it feels as if each room flows seamlessly from one to the next. That might be the rich tones and clean lines found throughout, or the fact that Nicole had the idea to paint all the window frames black. “I use my intuition as my guide to design,” she begins, “I like to see what the house tells me it wants to be. It’s also taught me to take risks. I was initially worried painting the frames might look weird but could also be fantastic… turns out, it’s pretty fantastic.”

Their home didn’t need a lot of renovation when they moved in, but Nicole has worked hard to get the decor to where it is now, never wanting anything to feel too precious. “Sometimes I think that people confuse beauty with preciousness, but most of our stuff has worn spots, dog hair and dust, and it doesn’t make it any less livable or beautiful for us,” Nicole says. Like most creative people, she will likely not be “done” with the home’s look for a long time, always contemplating ideas for what could be different. As an interior designer herself, Nicole’s able to use her own home to experiment. “I don’t try to make it all ‘go together,’ but rather follow my curiosity and ask what if. I also think that the items we’ve chosen to put in our home tell a lot about us.” Please scroll through and enjoy the tour of this stunning home. —Erin

Photography by Kyle Smith Born, Stephanie Scott, and Will Spears / @kylesmithborn @stephaniescott @we_spears

Image above: “A broader view of our bedroom from the entry and where Shelby spends 90% of her time… the small brass chandelier is from a design project I worked on in Jacksonville. The owners didn’t want the vintage fixture in their space — my gain,” Nicole shares.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I made the headboard out of some locally sourced ash,” Nicole shares. “The nightstands were my uncle’s and provide great storage for our sundries. The modern sconces are balanced with a vintage oil painting from England.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“Limewash from Portola Paints gives a soothing feel to our bedroom. We found this solid walnut antique dresser for a song when we lived in Jacksonville, FL. A favorite modern glass lamp and a tooled leather purse that was my great-grandmother’s provide decor. Also, a fan because our beagle snores SO LOUD. Our cactus, Jonathan, has moved a couple times with us,” Nicole shares.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

Nicole notes, “The handmade tiles from Fireclay tile make this fireplace feel like it’s been here for a while. We didn’t have the budget for an actual fireplace so I created one from an electric insert and built a mantel and hearth. Another bonus is a beautiful mantel to play around with decorating vignettes. I used the Ardex finish on a piece of wood to create the hearth. My love of modern elements is ever present with this soft pink orb chair.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I love the way this mirror reaches up the wall and reflects light around the room. My sweet friend Ashley created this stunning arrangement to celebrate the completion of this faux fireplace, which took me almost a year to complete,” Nicole says.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

Nicole and Adam Cole, in their home office, along with their two pups.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“Adam and I have recently dubbed this space the ‘upstairs living room’ since it’s so cozy and we tend to find our way up there on cold weekend mornings with a cup of coffee.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I love the way this mirror and silvery plant reflect light by the window,” Nicole says.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I created the pegboard out of local limed ash and my brother welded these collaboratively designed hooks to display items and serve as storage for guests. My friend Sara created the beautiful woven piece and a vintage charcoal hangs off to the side in a perfectly weird fashion,” Nicole says.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I love the combination of warm and cool tones in this space, it feels so soothing to me.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“Vintage details like this lamp from local Philly shop Scout and Annie add simple interest,” Nicole offers.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“The other side of the office boasts this soothing wallpaper mural, I [spend] a lot of time on the sofa (which pulls out into a guest bed) reading and writing,” Nicole shares.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I finished my office last fall and this 1940s secretary is the perfect place to pop open my laptop and work.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“Collections of some of my favorite things in my office, I am a somewhat obsessive collector of ceramics and am always looking for interesting ways to display them. I particularly love the way this collection of mostly white, glazed pieces pops against the deep green of the walls,” Nicole says.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“A view from our living room. This lucite table serves as the drop spot for keys, etc. A vignette of nature finds, heirlooms, and pieces collected from our travels is displayed above the table. The green velvet bench is the perfect place to put our shoes on in the morning; Shelby has also taken to napping there recently.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“This sofa is where we spend most nights curled up, watching a good show. The taller arms on the sofa are perfect for cozying up to. I hope we have this sofa for the rest of our lives…”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“One of our favorite rooms in the house, we call this ‘the stern’ because the windows remind us of the stern of an old sailing ship,” Nicole begins. “Our front door is to the left of the photo so this is the first room we walk into when we come home. The entertainment cabinet is something I built with my dad several years ago to accommodate Adam’s new purchase of the beautifully designed ZU speakers. Deep window ledges provide tons of space for displaying art, plants and our other collections.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“A nook of our kitchen is the perfect place to display some of my serving boards I’ve made and an original art piece from my friend Aftyn. That window is the perfect place for a few more plants.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I recently finished this project opposite the window side of the kitchen. It had sat unused for the last two years and may have originally been created as a spot for the refrigerator. I added some limed oak paneling and a small shelf for dry goods and was able to free up counter space by moving the toaster oven over. Spices and pantry goods are stored in the drawers of a walnut dresser from the 1800s,” Nicole explains.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“A view from the front of our house into the dining room. The tumbleweed from our time in Nebraska functions both as a chandelier and sculpture in our dining room. We used LED lights to keep the bulbs cool. I picked up the dining table from Goodwill years ago and refinished it in a lighter color. Our kitchen (to the right) is open to the dining room which is great when friends pop over.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“This is a nook in our dining room. These linen chairs have been such workhorses over the past eight years, surviving multiple visits from our niece and nephews, and spaghetti dinners! The clock on the top of the cabinet is a family heirloom from Adam’s grandma and still works,” Nicole says.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“This space had been partially rehabbed when we moved in but needed some personality. We added this beautiful wallpaper designed by Philly artist Carla Weeks. It coordinated perfectly with the color the previous owners had painted the tile. We painted the window frame black to match the others in the house and added privacy film since our windows look out into the neighbors.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“We added a recessed medicine cabinet (complete with hidden outlet for our bathroom electronics) and new lighting to refresh this space,” Nicole explains.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“A collection of kokedama adds simple interest to the corner of the bathroom and [they] love the humidity from our showers,” Nicole shares.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“Our sunroom, which is our favorite place on weekend summer mornings to sip coffee and chat. We love the big windows and vintage details. The grey velvet chairs were my great-grandparents’ (and also a favorite perch for Shelby) and the rug is vintage from my great-grandfather from his days on the ranch. We move a ton of our cactus and succulents from the outdoors into this room during the cold months of the year. We hope to tile this space this summer so the floors are easier to maintain,” Nicole says.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“The entrance to my studio. The doorway didn’t exist when we moved in so we added an opening and used a door that I brought from Nebraska — a touch of pink gives it some whimsy,” Nicole shares.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“Me, in the studio prepping some serving boards for a butterfly inlay,” Nicole says.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“When we moved in, the garage studio was a completely raw space. I spent months insulating, drywalling, and finishing the space to make it functional and cozy for my creative practice. An old dresser functions as great storage for smaller tools and sanding supplies.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I have a thing for old cabinets, and this mismatched look of them lined up on the wall. Smaller power tools fit perfectly inside.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“Another collection of mine is small drawers I’ve collected over the years,” Nicole begins. “They house everything from screws, nuts, router bits, extra blades and various other parts. Vintage lighting and my cow skull ‘Clive’ provide decorative touches, because workspaces should be aesthetically pleasing, too.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“I’ve been building my leaf wall over the past couple years. The walnut desktop is from a collection of pieces salvaged from a trip out to Kansas years ago.”

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

“Our favorite thing about our home is that it feels like a sanctuary, filled with love,” Nicole shared.

Nicole Cole on Design*Sponge

A look at the two levels of the Cole home.

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  • WOW! This home is one of my favorites. Everything is so appealing. Thank you for sharing.

  • What a peaceful home and studio! I wondered what kind of plant the “silvery” one is by the window – I would love to try to find one. Thanks for the tour!

  • What a lovely and thoughtful place, without looking “decorated”. It’s modern, yet warm, and the owners have only the pieces in there that they love, that’s pretty obvious. I don’t like the word “curated”, but that fits this beautiful place well. Thank you for sharing.

  • Oh this is one of my favorite tours in a long time. although I’m experiencing a slight ache of envy now. Thank you for sharing this inspiring home!

  • I love this house! So cozy and lovely. I would love to know the color of the paint in the guest room. It is a beautiful green!!!

  • I also am really curious about the wallpaper in the guest room as well! I just love this house. It is definitely one of my favorites!

  • STUNNING! I love everything about your home. The colors oh my, and those sweet doorknobs. I’m giving a special shout-out to the tumbleweed chandelier! That won my heart. I gave my husband (who was raised in New Mexico) a tumbleweed years ago. It sits proudly in our family room and draws lots of questions. Turning yours into lighting was brilliant! But how on earth? I tried putting tiny lights in mine one year and the prickles won out. I am so impressed!

    • Thanks Beth, so happy to hear there’s another tumbleweed lover out there! We ended up putting three larger bulbs it it so that definitely helped with the prickles vs. lots of little lights. Have a great weekend! Nicole

  • I want to add another “Wow!” comment. This home is a delight to look at. I love your choices and the incredible placement of items; your home is an art piece as well as looking incredibly comfortable and functional.

    Can you give us the source of the ceiling lighting and the mural in the ‘upstairs living room’?

    • Thank you Joyce! The ceiling light is an old west elm piece, I gold leafed the interior shades. The mural is the “clouded mural” from Anewall. Cheers, Nicole

  • The tumbleweed chandelier is brilliant, and I like the use of more than one style of chair in the dining room. I like a few other aspects of this home, but find it to be, a lot of it to be mismatched and random. This is a millennial style that I cannot seem to mesh with. I do, however, love the cloud wallpaper, and have been thinking about doing this for years, but I’m still in a rent-controlled rental that I’d be foolish to give up. I also like the southwestern theme in one nook of the tv room, although I can’t for the life of me figure out how they watch tv with all of those windows, and no curtains or shades. LOL. They must only watch after sundown, and must live on a very dark street. The entryway is absolutely perfect except for that one questionable cushion on the velvet chaise. (I have the same issue with the cushions on the grey couch in front of the cloud mural. (Why not one-of-a-kind art pillows? Or pillows with sophisticated shapes and textures?) I also really love the one studio wall storage with the cow skull.

    The house itself would be a great space to work with and in, and I’m all about the natural light.

  • I find this to be beautifully balanced. As mentioned, it has the comfortable feel of homeowners creating vignettes and decor from the things they already own and love rather than fussing and rushing out to buy that perfect item. It lends to such a peaceful vibe.

    And I cannot get over the secretary cabinet/desk in the office. Stunning!

    • Thank so much Allie! Yes, we love just letting our place evolve with the things we find and collect. Thank you for your kind words. Cheers, Nicole

  • I am head over heels in love. The colours – the plants (the plants!!!!) – the everything!
    I will be coming back to this for seconds, thirds, etc.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • I love this house! You have an awesome collection of everything and I love the small drawers you’ve collected so far! There is so much in this studio to appreciate right from the wall colour to the sunroom, home office with glazed pieces and I love absolutely everything:)

    • Thank you so much Vritika! It’s one of our favorite things to collect and mix and match meaningful things to us in our home. Have a great weekend! Cheers, Nicole

  • I sighed so much while scrolling through this home tour that my boyfriend wondered aloud if everything was okay. Such great use of family furniture pieces to create a really lovely home!

  • Loved getting this beautiful glimpse into your cozy getaway-in-the-city, Nicole. What neighborhood of Philly are you in? (My husband and I live in Fishtown and have been hunting for neighborhoods within the greater Philadelphia area that are a bit more pastoral [we love going to the Wissahickon with our pup]).

    • Hey Julia! Thank you so much! We’re in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia. Roxborough, Mt. Ariy, East Falls, Germantown, and Chestnut Hill are all great Philly neighborhoods that have more green space and are so close to the Wissahickon. Cheers, Nicole

  • Thanks so much Nicole for giving us a glimpse into your home! I absolutely LOVE your work.

  • Wow, this home looks so warm and personal! I feel like I want to curl up and take a nap here – it’d be so soothing.

  • I love the dramatic dark gray lower wall that contrasts a lighter upper wall in the bedroom–I’m curious what the inspiration was for that bold move. I also find that the subltle texture of the darker gray to be just perfect.

    • Thanks Jen! I’d been seeing some two tones walls and wanted to try it for myself….I sampled a few colors before settling on that one. Cheers, Nicole

  • Love this house–so serene! Particularly enjoy the blend of dark paint colors and bright white (which might not stay so crisp in my house, but I can dream ;)

  • What a beautiful home! So much serenity and craftsmanship. I love the dark window trim color, what is it?

  • Your house is a piece of artwork. I really love it, especially the ‘sky’ wall. So beautiful!