Haven: Creative decorating magic on a budget

The studio in Kerri and Chris Nahas' Phoenixville condo. Leftover striped fabric from the ottomans was added to lengthen the curtains. Walls are decorated with canvases covered with cheerful fabric.
The studio in Kerri and Chris Nahas' Phoenixville condo. Leftover striped fabric from the ottomans was added to lengthen the curtains. Walls are decorated with canvases covered with cheerful fabric. (LUKE RAFFERTY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 08, 2013

Six months ago, Kerri Nahas made a bold move to brighten the "blah and boring" beige couch and matching drapes in the second-floor Phoenixville condo she shares with her husband, Chris.

She striped the drapes with turquoise paint and scattered a half-dozen multihued pillows on the couch. The new pillows and embellished drapes complement two contemporary floral-pattern chairs and complete the decor in the living area.

Kerri had already stained the coffee table mahogany; arranged photos, prints and paintings on pale pumpkin walls; and crafted seats for the black kitchen bar stools from a tweedy welcome mat.

By the front door, Kerri converted an 8-by-8 alcove into a stylish dining lounge with strawberry walls. She fashioned a high-backed bench from plywood upholstered in olive-green chenille. The bench and cushioned chairs flank an oak table covered in textured vinyl (wipeable) wallpaper.

The table is set with red place mats, red and white napkins, whimsical napkin holders, and white and ruby china. Miniature electric candles on a dozen corbel brackets add sparkle.

Living in such a vibrant environment "feels like being in Jeannie's bottle," Chris Nahas says.

Kerri, 27, and Chris, 29, grew up watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie, the 1960s TV sitcom about a genie released from a bottle by a hapless astronaut. When not making magic and causing chaos, Jeannie, the genie, retreats to her plush, jewel-toned home inside the bottle.

Kerri substituted imagination for a genie's powers to transform their small condo into a charmed space.

After she and Chris purchased their home three years ago, Kerri says, "I had different ideas for each room and a very tight budget." She furnished the condo with sale items, thrift-store finds, and family hand-me-downs enhanced with paint, paper, and fabric.

She had to be creative, she says, "to achieve the high-end look I envisioned within our price range."

To tone down the Arabian Nights decor in the living area, she and Chris filled the space above the kitchen cabinets with dozen of quirky-shaped bottles spray-painted white.

For the bedroom, Kerri chose a soothing aqua, white, and gray color scheme. She crafted a headboard from plywood and gray-and-white print fabric, and cut silver mats for oversize wedding photos. (She and Chris got married in April 2012; a bird cage that was used for gift cards at their reception has been transformed into a lamp.)

Kerri trimmed gray curtains with strips of white fabric and silk ribbon.

The striped motif is repeated in her studio. When she decided that the patterned curtains were too short, Kerri says, "I added the striped black-and-white fabric left over from the two ottomans I covered."

The ottomans are positioned in front of a black leather sleep sofa, for occasional overnight guests. Strawberry walls are decorated with a collection of canvases covered with cheerful black, white, and red print fabric.

Kerri has worked at home, from a computer on the round white table in the studio, since January, when she launched her own design business, Nahas Home Interiors.

Before establishing her company, she was a floor manager for a drapery wholesaler, then worked for a furniture company.

"My major was English," says the Temple University graduate, "but I've always enjoyed art."

Chris is an actuary for U.S. Liability Insurance Group in King of Prussia. Though his degree from Villanova University is in math, he is also a talented artist. Two of his abstract paintings hang on the wall in the living area, and a small religious icon he made in a college class has a place of honor on an etagere.

He helped paint the condo and hung the wrought-iron chandelier in the living room. Chris also accompanied his wife on several of her numerous shopping expeditions

Kerri found supplies and furnishings at area stores, including Jo-Ann Fabrics, Kmart, Home Depot, Walmart, HomeGoods, The Dump, Ikea, Lowe's, Boscov's, J.C. Penney, and Michael's.

"I became very familiar with all the home stores, from independent family-owned shops to big-name chains and online," she says. "The resources I gathered help me with my clients' spaces."

"Many people can dream up a fabulous space when there's no set budget," Kerri says. "The fun part for me is making it happen for less."