It is a white world, one of clean expanses, arresting art, and, most of all, a sense of order — with style. It seems enormous but in actuality is only 1,250 square feet.
The interior landscape of Judy Munroe's condominium at the Rittenhouse Hotel and Condominium in Philadelphia is an adventure of discovery: a wonderful table here, a lamp that seems meant to be just where it is, artwork that makes a statement.
"I love detail as long as it's not overdone," says this Philadelphia executive, who has earned a national reputation through her branding company, Munroe Creative Partners in Philadelphia and New York. The company helps businesses define themselves through words and images.
While Munroe has homes in New York City, Florida, and the Jersey Shore, her most regular address is the Rittenhouse.
Recently she and Joy Brokaw of Interior Options of East Falls, longtime best friends, overhauled the same space Munroe moved into 25 years ago as one of the early condo residents.
Their synergy is remarkable in that they approach design somewhat differently — Judy with a love of style without a keen sense of budget and Joy pulling in the reins of practicality in both budget and function.
The yin and yang "sisters" somehow make it work, and the results are evident in this striking space painstakingly created from a white ceiling paint that inspired Munroe and that she had customized.
"It is the perfect balance of warm and cool hues," she says, delighted that when something doesn't exist, she is never hesitant to break boundaries herself.
Munroe credits Brokaw with holding in the reins.
"I do like dealing with the basics," Brokaw says, "like just how deep a sofa should be for comfort and how wide a coffee table needs to be for gracious entertaining."
The earlier decor of this condo was a bit more formal and even a tad more frivolous than it is now. Munroe typically can find several key objects that inspire and delight her and somehow set a theme.
In one such case, it was the painting/collage Ms. Cheetah, now above the living-room sofa as a focal point. Munroe spotted it at a Soho Gallery, and, in her words, "I knew I had to have it."
And there it is — a reminder of the sheer beauty of the wild.
Then there are the prominently displayed books by celebrated designer Vincent Wolfe, showcasing Wolfe's keen eye for beauty and drama throughout the world.
"To me, he is actually a painter, and his canvases are, to me, actually three-dimensional spaces in which I want to live!" Munroe says.
An admitted minimalist, Munroe grew up modestly in Manchester, N.H. As a child, she dreamed of living in the Plaza Hotel in New York, like the fictional Eloise.
She has — not necessarily deliberately — collected art that focuses on women who have a certain strength and look of power to them. Yet they are not unlike this condominium owner, who has specialized in work for high-level clients, from Comcast and Liberty Property Trust to Jefferson Health and Philadelphia International Airport.
One of Munroe's retreats is her tailored but still luxurious bedroom with spectacular urban views, where a closet in perfect order reveals her penchant for neatness.
Then there's her kitchen, which reveals yet another of the Judy/Joy design compromises. Yes, Munroe loves fine things and was about to splurge on very expensive marble kitchen countertops, but Brokaw led her to sparkling Ikea countertops that work perfectly, look terrific, and saved a bundle of money.
While outsiders wonder how best friends can work together so harmoniously, both women insist that their very differences make then such a terrific team.
For Brokaw, the secret is to speak up and speak out when she feels Munroe is not making wise choices.
For her client, it's the gift of knowing that Joy sometimes understands Judy better than Judy understands herself.
"This may not be The Plaza. It may represent some compromises," Munroe says, boasting that she once got a North Jersey caterer to reproduce a very pricey Plexiglas side table for her.
"And that table and those Ikea countertops bring me joy every time I walk in the door. And I hope they always will."