House Gorgeous

By Jean Home, FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Monday, July 2, 2007

There are designers who believe that the interior of a house should be calibrated to its location, and there are those, like Selma Sherman, who look to a family's needs, since, as she says, "good design is a way of life." A philosophy that's kept her busy with every aspect of making houses into homes for some 28 years.

The cosmopolitan couple with busy careers and a young family fell in love with the venerable Shadyside abode because "we could see our children playing there." To say nothing of its great big bones, 12-foot ceilings and bright, spacious interiors with spectacular views of the gardens that spoil you before you can blink. Then they turned for help to Sherman who embarked on a year-long renovation project that reorganized the rooms, improved the flow and made every inch of space livable -- in a design they wouldn't outgrow. She also converted it into a smart house: the newly computerized lighting, sound and security systems can be controlled from a laptop anywhere in the world.

Lying seductively behind the formal French Provincial exterior is the warmth and charm of the Mediterranean countryside, her clients' expressed wish. And you can feel the sunlight in every room. If a great rug is crucial to good design, it can be said that the home is carpeted in Persian masterpieces, beginning with the monumental Ghom in the two-story entrance hall, a theatrically scaled space that's particularly party friendly.

Plump seating, a sun-paled silken Tabriz carpet and a polished palette give the living room a sophisticated sheen. The room's focal point is the variegated gray marble fireplace to which Sherman added a faux-painted wooden frame for greater impact. She echoed its deep color in charcoal paint on the opposite wall, an elegant foil for the Steinway baby grand and a chandelier of pure whimsy that's fashioned from amber Swarovski crystals. Soft blue drapery panels patterned with taupe leaves in Kravet Couture velvet over linen sheers puddle extravagantly on the floor. The twin custom sofas and Greek chairs are by Baker. Nothing is overdone, nothing is superfluous.

Rich, wall-to-wall cherry paneling warms the English sensibility of the masculine library and its imposing mahogany hand-tooled Henkel Harris desk, a nerve center for the man of the house. A striking element is the magnificent 500-pound, solid alabaster French Empire chandelier which the couple found in a New Orleans antique shop and the ceiling had to be raised for its huge scale. Blue wingback chairs and a chestnut leather Henkel Harris sofa on the jewel-toned Serapi carpet create a remarkable visual impact.

The heart of the home is the sweeping family room that flows into a dream kitchen. The doorway and wall separating the rooms were removed and the ceiling reinforced with steel beams. Here, the abundance of Grand Canyon granite on the family room's large fireplace with it's flat-screen TV and on all the kitchen counters becomes a silky palette that's highlighted by the new glass stair guards and leather banisters leading to the second floor. The look is open, airy and seamless and Sherman uses natural light as a building block.

Creamy porcelain tile flooring of the maintenance-free variety for tricycle-riding tykes carries through to the kitchen. Although grandly sized, the family room seems intimate by virtue of an excellent floor plan that uses deep, cushy furniture to separate and divide the sunny spaces that are pure Tuscany ... spaces that open themselves to the far-flung patio, swimming pool and gracefully landscaped gardens.

Because the couple's passions are family, cooking and entertaining, Sherman totally redesigned the kitchen with all the conveniences a modern chef could hope for -- which also meant raising counters to a comfort level for the tall couple. The refined Rutt cabinetry is a study in contrasts: light maple for the top cabinets and dark for the bottom drawers that warm food and chill bottles of wine. Fretwork was repeated on the free-standing, bronze glass-top table that extends for extra seating.

Downstairs, beyond the children's playroom, Sherman designed the ultimate wine cellar, one that would make Bacchus weep for joy. A serious oenophile, the hubby has laid down over 800 bottles -- trophy vintages that are displayed like works of art in the remarkable, thermostatically controlled vault that does everything but pull the cork. The heavy custom iron door with its grape-and-leaf motif was hand-forged by Cantera.

Sherman has infused a sense of timelessness in these understated rooms that will never date. It's an urbanite's dream: no sirens, no soot, just comfort. Where a dual-career couple can drop their briefcases and pick up their lives.

trib live