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Michelle Gage’s hunt for her forever home began like most real-estate searches do: with an aimless late-night Zillow search. When the Philadelphia-based designer and her husband, Alex, discovered the house that would eventually be their next big (and ideally final) move, it had only been posted for a few hours. The 1927 home, in the Villanova neighborhood, checked nearly all their boxes. Chief among them, it was a true fixer-upper

“We didn’t want to skimp on anything in this house, even if that meant waiting a little bit to do the work,” says Gage. She has very few commitment issues when it comes to design: From bold wallpaper to allover gallery walls, her house has seen it all. Read on for five ideas we’re taking away from her art-filled retreat.

Outsource Wisely

Gage and her husband learned a lot about what it takes to renovate a house in their last place. “We were flat broke when we bought our first home. We had no choice but to do all the work ourselves,” recalls Gage. This project presented new lessons. Discovery number one? Time is money. For this remodel, they were strategic about the tasks they hired out. The couple handled framing the wall for the dining room built-ins, for example, but then brought in a detail-oriented pro to finish it up. 

Make Your Mark With Art

The showstopper downstairs is undoubtedly the never-ending gallery wall in the living room. The arrangement isn’t just impactful, it’s also totally bewildering: How did she do it?  “I started with the collection itself,” explains Gage; it’s tough to create a display on this scale if you don’t actually have the pieces to work with. “I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but a lot of times, when people are trying to create meaningful designs, they don’t have enough stuff.”

From there, Gage lets everything happen organically. There’s no particular rhyme or rhythm to the display, other than that she aims for two inches between each piece to maintain a sense of uniformity. “I usually start from the center and build it outward,” she says.

Let Nostalgia Drive Your Aesthetic

Gage’s favorite piece is the vintage blue writing desk in her living room, mainly because it was essentially abandoned when she discovered it in the basement of her childhood home, covered in dust. “My parents had no qualms about me swiping it,” she recalls. The table wasn’t in good shape, but that’s what she liked about it. It spent the majority of its life hidden under a Brother fax machine but now takes up a prominent position.

“We didn’t want to skimp on anything in this house, even if that meant waiting a little bit to do the work.”

Edit Down Your Options Before You Shop

Never wanting a space to read too seriously, Gage always looks for wallpaper that’s sophisticated yet playful. “There are a lot of bad designs out there,” she admits. Given her dining room gets tons of natural light, the designer landed on a fancy-meets-fun, monkey-dotted citrus motif. In her studio, she stuck with paint. “I don’t believe there’s any wallpaper in the world that looks good against stone,” she adds.

“I don’t believe there’s any wallpaper in the world that looks good against stone.”

Turn the Office Into a Colorful Haven

Gage’s must-haves for checking off her to-do list? A workspace that’s welcoming and inspiring. So she brought in playful hits of blue and pink that make you want to pull up a seat and stay a while. “You have to go to it every day, so it better not be boring,” she says. With enough space to spread out swatches, take meetings, and create mood boards, the room is a designer’s paradise.

This story was originally published on March 12, 2019. It has been updated. 

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