Empty Nesters Get an Expanded Master Suite in Montgomery County

Thanks to the help of interior designer Larisa McShane, the home’s second floor was completely transformed.



Photographs by Barry Halkin and Joseph Tutlo.

When clients hire Villanova-based interior designer Larisa McShane, the project almost always begins on the first floor, often with a full kitchen makeover and updates to the family and living rooms. Typically, everything else is an afterthought.

So it came as a surprise to McShane when she was asked to start upstairs at one Montgomery County home. “The second floor hadn’t been touched since it was built in 1972,” she says.

The extensive project took the entire level down to the studs. McShane reconfigured the original floor plan—six small bedrooms and three equally cramped bathrooms—into three spacious bedrooms, three expanded bathrooms and a vast master suite. “They’re now empty nesters,” McShane says of the owners, “so they wanted a larger master bedroom for themselves, bigger closets for more storage space, and comfortable rooms for when they have guests staying with them. They simply wanted the space to fit how they were living now.”

The Suite Life

The master bedroom was anything but a relaxing retreat before renovations. Floral wallpaper covered the walls, and oversized furniture crowded the space. Inspired by cozy European cottages, McShane used soft shades of the homeowners’ favorite color—blue—throughout the design.

Brightening up the once-gloomy room: the addition of two large windows, plus sliding glass doors that lead to a Juliet balcony. “They have a beautiful property, so that balcony allows them to appreciate their view,” says McShane.

The bedroom ceiling measured just eight feet, making the space feel small. McShane opened it up in the middle, exposing the existing attic rafters. She wrapped the beams with rough-cut veneers to match other cedar elements she incorporated into the room—like window and door trim. “Exposing those rafters not only gave some interest to the ceiling, but it also added about 15 inches to the room height,” she says.

A trio of floating shelves between the his-and-hers closets creates a focal point. Made from reclaimed wood beams, the shelves are accented with personal photos, natural elements and ceramic and metal vases. A wrought-iron canopy bed also makes the ceiling feel taller. A soothing blue-green grasscloth wallpaper adds color and texture.

For the luxurious master bath, McShane converted a former bedroom. His-and-hers marble vessel sinks sit atop a custom vanity with a quartz countertop. At the far end of the counter is a dedicated makeup table.

Wood-textured blue-gray tile lines the floor and continues up the wall, creating an uninterrupted backdrop for the sumptuous soaking tub. The open shower has no threshold or door. “Europeans have been doing showers this way for a long time, but Americans haven’t embraced it fully,” McShane says.

Be their Guest

As empty nesters, the owners now have more time to entertain, so they wanted guest rooms for their family and friends. The woman of the house opted for bolder colors to contrast the serene palette in the master bedroom. The first features an accent wall in a deep cornflower blue, while the remaining walls are a more calming sky-blue shade. A royal-blue sideboard, custom designed by McShane, grabs your attention. “I had a few different pieces made, and the designer called to tell me he was so excited to paint the pieces in colors,” says McShane. “He said most orders are for brown or white.”

Nature photography brings the outdoors inside, and a small desk allows the room to perform double duty as a home office. The color scheme continues in the adjoining bathroom. Blue-gray glass tile covers the interior wall of the shower above the bathtub, which is also exposed, with only a glass partition between the tub and the vanity. A custom smoky-gray cabinet is topped with gray-blue quartz and features polished chrome fixtures and a diamond-shaped glass-tile backsplash. Vertical sconces installed on the mirror add a contemporary accent.

In the second guest room, a white-frame canopy bed pops against an accent wall painted in a warm lavender. Floor-to-ceiling draperies brighten the space with their floral pattern. “The frameless lotus-flower photography above the bed brings the room’s colors and floral accents together,” says McShane. “It’s a very welcoming room.”

Like the rest of the second level, the existing floors in the guest bedrooms were refinished in a dark espresso, making the wall colors, bedding and upholstery appear even more vivid.

A curved stairwell is the final piece in the second-floor transformation. McShane rounded the wall, bringing a dramatic element to the functionality. She exchanged the outdated iron balusters for a wooden banister, painting the risers of the stairs white and the treads black, which gives the illusion of a floating staircase. A trio of sconces brightens the entire area.

“I’m really sensitive to how I feel in a room,” says McShane. “It’s all the elements together that affect you. When I stand in the spaces in this home, I just don’t want to leave. That’s exactly how I wanted my clients to feel.”

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