A house with concrete walls can be a cold place. And so it was with the 96-year-old Mosser mansion in Upper Macungie Township. Empty and up for sale, it seemed forlorn, almost forbidding a month ago.
But not anymore.
Using every trick in the book, the 24 interior design wizards assembled by the Society of the Arts (SOTA) for its biennial Designers Showhouse have worked powerful magic. They have pulled a sumptuously delightful, warm and inviting contemporary house out of a relic.
There's a lot to admire and learn here. A step into the foyer begins the tour.
Ethan Allen designer Hulya Akman took the once-cavernous entryway and made it a place to linger and relax.
She adopted a divide-and-conquer approach, splitting the foyer into two manageable spaces: A small welcoming area with a round table and chairs by the entry doors and a larger but infinitely cozy sitting area with a gorgeous view by the floor-to-ceiling window-doors.
Primarily, Akman explains, the intimacy is created by the color palette of cream and vaporous blue she chose and by lots and lots of fabric.
A look up reveals a swag with contrasting pelmets that adorns the crown molding over the doors. Then the eye naturally falls to catch the shirred-on-the-rod panels that frame them. She essentially swaddled the wall of glass and white wood in soft comfort.
She also softened the dark hardwood floor with two thick carpets -- a smaller Oriental near the entrance and a white area rug piped in complementary blue beneath the love seats and ottoman.
The space will invite tour guests to linger for a restoring cup of tea or hear the history of the house before continuing on the decorating tour, which the Society of the Arts produces to benefit the education endowment fund of the Allentown Art Museum.
What's often referred to as the Mosser mansion, the traditional Georgian structure was built by George Keck Mosser, grandson of James K. Mosser who, with the colorful Gen. Harry Trexler, founded the Lehigh Portland Cement Co. Hence, the cement as building material of choice. It is built on the site of George's grandfather's tannery business, now across from the Lehigh Valley Velodrome.
The nine-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot house is for sale and was most recently inhabited by John H. and Judith M. Body, now of South Whitehall Township.
All the designers who responded to SOTA's call for talent were given a space to transform this year, says Stuart Dubbs, director of publicity. Co-chairs Deb McGinley and Dot Ervin felt confident the colors would coordinate from room to room because creamy yellows and muted, light turquoise blue are so popular this year, Dubbs says.
Your Morning Call preview of the tour this week will take you through several of the master rooms in the house, including kitchen and bedrooms. Next week, we'll visit the occasional rooms, including the dens and the dreamy spa.
From the foyer, the tour route leads through a den into the kitchen. Lia P. Fraccaro, a designer and owner of House Splendid in Emmaus, says her biggest challenge here was working around the existing cabinetry. One floor-to-ceiling cupboard in the kitchen mirrors another in the adjoining pantry.
But the cabinets that frame the kitchen sink, dishwasher and stove were vintage 1950s maple and didn't coordinate very well, a common problem in many kitchens.
"I scrubbed them and then began sketching some ideas and it all came together," Fraccaro says.
She ultimately conferred upon the kitchen a country garden feeling, starting with the creamy yellow walls and blue ceiling. Crimson appliances contribute to a cozy feeling that's reinforced by coordinating fabric on the kitchen and pantry windows and on the lining of the skirt around the metal sink in the pantry.
A wine tasting "cave" is tucked behind the kitchen on the left and the planning room tucked just beyond the kitchen sink.
This little room once housed the washer and dryer, but Jane Meehan, owner of Real World Decorators in Allentown, turned it into a serendipitous space all painted the same crimson as the kitchen's appliances.
It was a happy coincidence, say Meehan and Fraccaro. They didn't plan it that way.
Meehan tried to make the room look larger by making everything the same color.
"It's the perfect place to sit and look out the window and plan parties," she says.
From the kitchen, you continue the tour up the back stairs to a little girl's room that almost compels you to giggle and say, "Ooooh, look!"
The checked fabric of the fanciful wall-draped bed canopy is neither pastel nor frothy but sophisticated and tasteful to the point of knowing whimsy. Yellow and blue dominate the walls and furnishings.
But it's the accessories that make the room here.
Designer Michelle Olson of M Interiors in Allentown says her biggest challenge -- after she pushed the electrician to his limit putting the chandelier in through the concrete walls and ceiling -- was tracking down lampshades she remembered from years ago. On the dresser and a corner floor lamp are gauzy petticoat lampshades she wound up making herself because the vendor she had known went out of business.
Sitting saucily on a wall fixture is a straw hat made specially to be a lampshade. It won't burn, she says.
A child-sized upholstered chair looks to be wearing a dress, replete with bow in the back.
Continuing the tour to another second-floor bedroom, we find that designers Laurie Liedel of Liedel Designs and Lisette Dell'Apa of First Impressions, both of Bethlehem, channeled their inner princess to transform the guest boudoir into "the room you always wanted as a little girl -- all grown up." The testament to their intentions is the lipstick-stained martini glass they've set on the glass-top table by the window.
Their biggest challenge was the former powder blue wall color of the room, Dell'Apa says. They went with yellow instead.
Both women had a bit of wall envy, Dell'Apa says, since other paint crews finished up in a day. She and Liedel did the painting themselves -- all four coats not including the tinted primer -- which Dell'Apa refers to as "the never-ending paint job."
The room's crowning glory is the gold-domed ceiling: It's concrete formed in what Liedel calls, "a lovely curve."
The room is warm from the inside out considering the warm yellows and golds accented with bits of mango-colored accessories, the gossamer canopy that floats like a halo around the four-poster bed, the textured silk at the windows, the lambswool rug at the hearth and the sisal rug on the floor.
The framed photo propped on the mantel is an extra special treasure. It's Dell'Apa's and Liedel's daughters, who were photographed on a spring afternoon blowing rose petals at the Rose Garden in Allentown. It's a reminder that personal treasures make a room.
"The room was a labor of love for us," Liedel says, "We wanted something elegant and lovely with beautiful things. We wanted to have fun with it."
The tour route goes from the princess room and into a master bedroom truly fit for reigning monarchs -- monarchs, who, as designers Gail Dunn, Jamie Leisy and Audra Hill of Accessories Etc. in Bethlehem thought, need to be able to retreat and relax.
The browns, sky blues and greens reflect the nature visible from the room's picture window. A bird theme also brings the outdoors in. The designers filled the room with bookcases because they imagined a couple that love quiet time. The rich muted tones continue through the master bath and dressing room.
After viewing the master bedroom suite, it's down the grand staircase for another view of the foyer and then onto the living room and dining room.
Designed by Eric Schmidt of New York City, formerly of Hellertown, the living room is very modern, in contrast to the rest of the house. He did a nice job bringing the copious woodwork up to a warm lustre. He and his crew cleaned and buffed it about 15 times, he says.
His biggest challenge was the volume of space in the room, which he filled with silk, linen and chenille furniture, a white baby grand piano and white cowhide rugs. Expecially piquant and intriguing is set of acrylic antlers over the mantel.
The dining room, decorated by Doneckers Fine Furniture in Ephrata, Lancaster County, features mostly classical elements with some bits of exaggeration that highlight the room's grand style.
No fewer than nine area landscapers had a hand in taming the outdoor elements of the SOTA house, including Phoebe Floral of Allentown, which turned the barn into an extension of SOTA's third floor gift boutique.
Next week: Tour the mansion's occasional rooms, including the spa room, kitchen keeping room and planning office, sitting rooms and the nanny command center.