before and afterInteriors

Before & After: Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home

by Lauren Chorpening Day

When Grace announced to our little team that 2019 would be the last year of Design*Sponge, we started brainstorming how to make this an incredible year of content. One of the first ideas we had was to revisit homeowners that we’ve previously featured on the site. Immediately, I thought of Michelle Gage. Her family room renovation was a huge transformation without a huge budget. Luckily for all of us, she’s since moved and has gotten down to business reworking rooms in her new home. Her vibrant, playful and modern style shines through and I’m absolutely in love with her living spaces.

Michelle and her husband, Alex, spent three years fixing up their previous home. “We loved our first home — and had no real reason to move — but we quickly learned it wasn’t our ‘forever home’ and we had run out of projects,” Michelle explains. “We wanted to make sure that this didn’t become a habit — moving every three years — so we spent months really looking for the right fit. We made a very long (and somewhat unrealistic) list of ‘needs’ for this new house. We saw a few contenders and put in a few offers, but nothing seemed to pan out.” They kept moving forward, looking for old homes with potential, and found the perfect one nearby in Villanova, PA. “One night, while Alex was away for work, I found this home listed on Zillow. I sent him a link and told him this was ‘the one.’ It checked almost all of the boxes. The home was old and in desperate need of repair, which is ultimately what we wanted. It was built in 1927, had a stone exterior, large yard, a butler’s pantry and separate studio space. Alex returned home from his work trip the next day and we set up a showing right away. The home was in pretty terrible shape, but it had wonderful bones and we just fell in love with its quirks.”

Michelle and Alex had tackled most of the renovation projects in their previous home themselves. They learned a lot but also learned that they’d like to hire out more of the labor in their next place. Michelle considered which projects they’d be hands on with, and which they’d let someone else handle when coming up with the renovation and design plan. They wanted the spaces to be comfortable for everyday living while also special for hosting. The living room‘s built-ins, fireplace, doors and beams remained the space’s focal points while getting a bright and airy facelift. For the dining room, there was hardly any architectural interest so they added it in with molding, built-in shelves and wallpaper. She’s balanced unfussy design with statement pieces like the pendant lights in the dining room and a gorgeous mix of mismatched seating in the living room. Michelle has been able to layer in such amazing texture, pattern and color into her spaces. These once neglected rooms are now beaming with interest and style. Scroll through the images for Michelle’s design process.Lauren

Living Room Photography by Kyle Born
Dining Room Photography by Rebecca McAlpin

Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"Alex and I loved our first home but were growing tired of our mistakes looking us in the eye every day. We bought our first home when we were 24 and didn’t really have a flushed-out renovation plan. We knew what we wanted to change about the house, but weren’t familiar with the total material costs associated with it – or the right order in which to do things. We sort of just renovated whatever room we felt like when the funds allowed for it," Michelle shares. "We went into this new home with a plan, which we revised dozens of times over the course of the year."
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"The living room was started with many, many tiny collected treasures – and very little furniture. This is the room where we planned to house all of our favorite artwork and decorative items. From there, I pulled together the necessary furniture pieces to complete the look and tweaked the space for several months, adding layers to create interest," Michelle says.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"I knew I wanted to introduce a rattan material into the space, breaking up all the upholstered pieces. I wanted the space to be rich with textiles and prints, so there was special attention paid to the pillows and throws in the room," Michelle shares.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"I wanted the space to be filled with only our most favorite items, which is what you see in the gallery wall," Michelle says.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
This vintage blue writing desk is one of Michelle's absolute favorite pieces.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
Michelle's beautiful combination of colors, textures, patterns and styles can't be replicated. She's found a way to create such a cohesive design out of eclectic pieces that make her spaces one of a kind.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"We started with a totally blank slate and completed the space as part of The One Room Challenge, which meant we had a strict six weeks to take the room from tragic to magic," Michelle says about the dining room.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
This space went from a plain box to a cool and sophisticated space to entertain.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"I have a mild obsession with the dining room wallpaper," Michelle shares. "The white bar cart is also a major favorite of mine – as are all of the moldings Alex added."
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"None of the moldings and architectural details (built-in cabinet included) you see were previously existing in the space. We had to add those elements into the dining room, whereas the features that make the living room wonderful (beefy wooden beams, wide plank hardwood floors) were already present," Michelle shares.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"For the dining room, I wanted to create a space that was worthy of entertaining," Michelle says. "It was the last room we finished at the end of 2018 and we had spent the entire year before eating from a folding table in the center of a box-filled room."
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"For our first year of renovations, we really couldn’t have anyone over. It seemed that we had renovation disruptions every day – roofers, plumbers, painters, AC technicians – and if a hired hand wasn’t here to help out, Alex was ripping down walls or sanding floors. In my mind, the dining room design was going to make up for all of that headache and we’d finally be able to host family and friends when it was completed. It all started with the whimsical wallpaper and from there a quirky and cheerful space was born," Michelle shares.
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"There is one major lesson that we learned in the last space and corrected in our new one – refinish your hardwood floors right away if you plan to touch them at all. It’s an extremely disruptive process that takes a toll on your sanity," Michelle explains. "Most people choose to move out while this work is being done – we did not. We didn’t touch the floors in the last house at all and realized we wish we had about 2.5 years into living there. It’s such a headache."
Bringing Personal Style to a Traditional Home | Design*Sponge
"Both spaces are artfully bold. They each hold an emphasis on print and pattern. They are quirky and cheerful spaces, suitable for entertaining. They are also functional and comfortable – proving that a home’s design doesn’t need to choose between being lovely or livable," Michelle says.

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  • My eyebrows nearly jumped off my face on the first before/after photo. #GALLERYWALLDREAMZ. WOW.

  • Where did you get everything!!?? I am in love with those striped living room chairs and that little leather magazine holder.

  • What an amazing place. This is PERFECTION in a good way: the art, furniture, colors, style, it all works together in the most amazing way; it’s personal though, and not looking like out of a catalogue. This is one of my favorite places on DS. Thank you for sharing it! Certainly something to aspire to.

  • I’m am curious about the infrastructure. I know this is a design blog, but we bought a 1930 bungalow and EVERYTHING was original, except for water heater. As in original windows, wiring, plumbing and NO insulation. Before we could even consider decorating we basically had to gut the house and put in all new wiring, plumbing, insulation, baseboard heaters, drywall and windows. We could not find an insurance company willing to write a homeowners policy for a house with wiring 80 plus years old. SO that sent us down the infrastructure upgrade path. I dont regret it, as now I know the house is up to code, safe, energy efficient and cosy, but basically left no budget for surface decoration or new furniture.

    Now we are thinking of moving (been here 8 years) and kind of dreading buying an old home again, as so many on the market have surface prettiness done for flipping, but no attention to the inner guts. But I love the quirkiness of older homes and the walkable neighborhoods and all that comes with that. So hard to commit to the expense and time of these overhauls!

  • Is the black metal leafy looking thing (pic #8) a lamp? Way cool!

    Great job of taking the ordinary into the extraordinary!

  • This entire house is right up my alley…I love everything. What makes the biggest difference, I think is the addition of the moldings in the rooms. They turn the house into such a sophisticated and elegant home while still being homey and livable. Nice job! The bar cart in the dining room is probably my favorite piece.

  • This is really gorgeous. I’d love to get the resource list. Loved the wall sconces, striped chairs, and the wallpaper. Please share if you have a minute. Tks

  • LOVE IT ALL!!!!! what a joy to see these images , the art… the objects, & the wallpaper !!!!
    thanks for the inspiration , lots of Love from Silver Lake !

  • Man, I think the coral paint that was originally in the living room would have really looked fantastic with the decor.

  • Oh My! This is simply stunning! It’s gorgeous and sophisticated without being too serious. This is one of my favorite DS tours to date.

  • Hello, do you remember the light grey wall paint color? It is beautiful. Thank you.