At Nell Hill’s, we love to help people decorate in a manner that celebrates their style and brings them joy every time they walk in the door, no matter how many individuals call the space home. So we were thrilled when the Pi Beta Phi sorority at the University of Kansas allowed us to work with them on redecorating their chapter house. Our goal was to preserve the storied tradition of the sorority, which has been on campus at KU since 1883, yet update the chapter house so it better reflects the tastes of the young co-eds who live there today. Come see what we came up with!

When Diane, a Pi Beta Phi alumna and member of the KU chapter’s house corporation board, told me the Pi Phi’s wanted to redecorate their house and needed our help, I was ecstatic. In addition to helping individuals decorate their interior spaces, we also do interior design work for large living groups, corporations and even hotels. It’s an exciting challenge to be able to take their vision and bring it to life through carefully chosen furnishings, textiles, artwork and accents. Since Diane is loaded with talent and knew the girls best, she took charge of this redo, which included the chapter house’s main living area and an upstairs study room.

As with any redecorating project, whether it’s a home for one or dozens, the first step toward a successful design is to first answer a few key questions: How will the space be used?  What style or feel should the space evoke? What existing pieces of furniture, artwork or textiles will stay, and what will go?  What’s the budget? You have to know where you’re going before you start the journey.


A grand entrance

Since the rooms we were redecorating were the first that guests would see when they entered the house, Diane knew the space needed to pack a powerful punch. She wanted something that was elegant and grand, yet warm and welcoming. She nailed it with this beautiful vista, don’t you think?


A place to entertain

The key to decorating large rooms is to use furnishings to create several smaller, more intimate areas. At any given time, this bustling home is filled with dozens of girls and their guests, so it was essential to visually divide the room into several seating areas to accommodate them all. Diane decided to make the first area formal and have the subsequent galleries become increasingly more casual. This drop-dead gorgeous settee and set of winged back chairs face the grand piano, ready for a concert. I really like how Diane selected traditional furniture styles, then gave each piece a fresh take by covering it with updated fabrics. The tufted ottoman slid under the piano offers an extra seat in a pinch or a table for a study group.

Not wanting to let one inch of this big room go to waste, Diane created a little seating area in an empty corner behind the piano. The upholstery fabric is a nod to the sorority’s colors of wine and silver blue.

Diane refused to “child proof” the girls’ space, knowing that if the room was beautiful and elegant and a source of pride, the girls would take good care of it. This delightful chest of drawers, and every other tabletop, is tastefully appointed with pottery, books and ceramic lamps.


A place to talk

After a long day on campus, the women of Pi Beta Phi need a place to put up their feet up and talk with friends. So Diane made the middle section of the large room into a conversation area, placing two identical sofas opposite one another. These Chesterfield sofas are one of our biggest sellers at Nell Hill’s because they look so stately, yet are incredibly comfortable. They are covered in a light but durable nubby herringbone fabric that serves as a blank canvas for the dynamite custom pillows that spice up the room. The floral fabric matches the drapes, and the cute monogrammed pillow shows this space was custom designed.

A great way to create visual dividers in larger rooms is to use tables, which act sort of like walls, and area rugs, which define the sitting area. Since seating was key in this room, Diane covered two cute benches in a complementary coral fabric and tucked them up against the sofa table.


A place to watch TV

The last furniture grouping is a spot for the girls and their visitors to watch TV. Notice how Diane once again used a sofa table to define the space. On the opposite wall, a gorgeous cabinet hides the TV from view so the electronics don’t detract from the elegance of the room. Don’t let the space on top of tall cabinets go to waste – use it to hold clusters of accents. The blue and white pottery is a perfect pick because the pieces are large enough in scale to not get lost up high.

The goal of this area was comfort, so Diane picked a cushy camelback sofa and two well-padded chairs with arms the perfect height for throwing your legs over. The colors blend wonderfully with those in the other sections, yet are different enough to make this space unique.


A place to study

One of the smaller rooms that branches off of the main gallery serves as a library. But who says a library needs to be stuffy? With its enchanting, color saturated chairs and vibrant water color paintings of the KU campus, this room is infused with energy.

In addition to showcasing some of the awards bestowed upon the women of Pi Beta Phi, the library’s built in bookcases now hold games, too.


A tribute to tradition

A room isn’t finished without great artwork. And the archive of fabulous old photos and documents at the Pi Beta Phi house gave Diane lots to work with. Historical treasures, like the 1886 composite photo of the house’s earliest members, hang harmoniously next to more current artwork.

Diane even found a way to display the sorority’s collection of silver trays, gifts from graduating classes through the years, by hanging them on the walls of the dining room.

Including such historical pieces in the montages of artwork that fill the walls gives the sorority’s current members a sense of pride and connection to the women that came before them.


Girlie touches

With the goal of creating a classically beautiful yet updated space for today’s Pi Beta Phi’s, Diane couldn’t resist finishing off with a few playful touches. This bench in the foyer is dressed up with pillows featuring shoes and more shoes.

The walls of the main floor powder room sport prints of vintage Barbies.

The upstairs TV room includes fresh pillows covered in fabrics selected by the girls themselves. The personalization of the pillows makes them even more special.


Next Week … Today’s bed frames are more beautiful than ever before. Come see what’s new.

P.S. I want to invite you to my annual Holiday Open House, November 2nd and 3rd! My historic home and garden will be dressed in holiday finery, and Nell Hill’s Atchison and Garrity’s will be filled with the hottest holiday decorating decor. The stores will be open 9-5 both days, and my house will be open for free tours on Friday, 10 to 4, and Saturday, 10-1. I can’t wait to see you there!


Don’t miss a bit of Nell Hill’s news – stay up to date on my favorite finds, new arrivals at the stores and all our special events by checking the Nell Hill’s Facebook page every day. You don’t have to have a Facebook page yourself to look in on the fun, but if you’re already on Facebook, “like” us today!

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22 Responses to “Nell Hill’s College Sorority Makeover Makes the Grade”

  1. Maureen Riley Says:

    My daughter is a Pi Phi at Ole Miss. I forwarded your email to her so she can see what a fantastic job that you did at the KU house. I’m sure she will be asking about the pillows.

  2. Susan (Between Naps on the Porch) Says:

    Beautiful makeover! I know they will enjoy it for many years to come!

  3. JoAnn Says:

    Lots of great ideas that even an MU fan enjoyed!

  4. Mary Beth Says:

    The sorority house looks beautiful! Not sure what it looked like before, but now…who wouldn’t want to live in that house!

  5. Jen Hoecker Says:

    Mary Carrol,

    It was so fun to see my beautiful old sorority house looking so current and fresh. I love the new look of the formal and informal living room. I am grateful for my wonderful memories, and expect the Pi Phis are loving this update in style as they make their own.

  6. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    How lucky are these girls! Beautiful job Mary Carol and Nell Hill team. I’m sure their parents are thrilled. Lovely.

  7. mi chelle reeves Says:

    Wonderful… What a great finished product. You must be so proud of this project…mreeves

  8. Sally Mize garrett Says:

    What a beautiful decor. I could move right in. As a former Kansas Pi Phi class of 1964, I
    Moved into the house when it was first completed. It is so nice to see it looking more beautiful
    Than ever after 50 years. Since I am from Atchison, I couldn’t be prouder of Nell Hills
    Beautiful design!!

  9. Cheri Scriven Says:

    The rooms are absolutely beautiful-elegant, yet welcoming-their warmth draws you in and all the elements work together so well.

  10. cindy king Says:

    Wow! How lucky the girls are to have such a welcoming and lovely ‘home’.

  11. Jeanie Says:

    I love what you did in this Pi Beta Phi house….I am a Pi Phi and once lived in the house at the University of North Dakota…U.N.D….wish our house looked as beautiful….Great job!

  12. Barbara Mize McLenon Says:

    As KU Pi Phi alums (class of ’65 and ’70), my sister Sally and I agree that this makeover is truly beautiful! It was really fun to see the pictures of the spaces in which we have so many memories and we thank you for posting them. In fact, Sally was in the first group to live in the new house. We wonder if the current occupants realize how lucky they are to have an upstairs TV room! One of our favorite lounging spots was the basement luggage room. A lot of projects were accomplished in that unfinished space! Thank you, Mary Carol and congratulations to those involved in the project.

  13. Pamela Jo Says:

    Absolutely perfect! This is a great study for those of us who have large homes with sorority house sized rooms! Large rooms can be so intimidating, yet the Pi Phi house is a great example that I am going to follow in my own home which has stately rooms like this. Diane has succeeded in creating very useable inviting spaces in these big rooms. I have a living room slightly bigger than what is shown here and I have moved my piano all over the room and it just looks like a giant elephant stuck in the corner and always off balances the room. Now, I plan to try her “float” of the piece with an intimate seating area that can be used for performance or just for conversation or reading. Great idea, yet, rather than being a museum like “don’t go in there” room, she was able to create what appear to be very intimate spaces in the room when you do not have 40 people in them! We are empty nesters, and need these rooms on occaision, but often my decorating the “grand” spaces has left them feeling only cozy when 40 people are here! I can see my husband and I using our grand rooms more if we were to create the little intimate seating areas that Diane so aptly created. The colors are beautiful and the Pi Phis are very lucky to have such beautiful spaces. Bravo! Off to move the furniture and see what Nell Hill pieces I will need.

    One question, I noted that when she floated the piano, it is slightly off the rug, I have always considered doing that, but wondered if it is okay for the piano. It allows for more room, but I didn’t want to have the piano “offbalance” thinking that it might affect the piano in the long run. Is it okay for the piano to do that? I am planning on trying it either way, but don’t want to ruin my piano either.

  14. Kara Says:

    As a Pi Phi from KU and an interior designer for a large Kansas City architecture firm, I can tell you have a great eye for combining patterns and figuring ou the perfect style for you clients! Great work on this beautiful renovation!

  15. nancy kabonic Says:

    Absolutely beautiful. I love the colors and respect for tradition! Wish you would start a store here in Springfield, MO !!!!!

  16. Rene Verdugo Says:

    It is all absolutely beautiful. Makes me want to go back to my own sorority days. Ofcourse the Tri Sig house at Pitt State didn’t compare. I hope those coeds appreciate the beauty of their surroundings and enjoy every minute of their college experience. They are lucky girls to have such a beautiful home, even if it is only for a few years. Great job!!

  17. Cathy Says:

    The Pi Phi house is gorgeous. I love the red chair in the pale blue room. I know the girls will enjoy their house. Cathy, a Cal Gamma Phi Beta.

  18. Sue Burton Says:

    My daughter is an Alpha Chi Omega at KU. They had their house renovated this summer, also. It’s beautiful, but too bad they didn’t ask you to do it!! Being from Atchison, I’m proud that Nell Hill’s was chosen to do this!

  19. Julie McKittrick Engelbrecht Says:

    Your decorating of the Pi Beta Phi house was bright, clever, and wonderfully executed. As a Missouri Alpha, i am sending you a huge Tiger approval! Congratulations on an amazing job!

  20. Mary Carol Says:

    Loved reading the comments this week—what a pleasure this project was. Have a great weekend, see you next week!

  21. Brenda S. Moore Says:

    Nell, I have been asked by my daughter to decorate her sorrity’s house this year for the Holidays.
    Their colors are scarlet and olive green but more on the yellow side of green, I’d say more lime.
    Can you suggest some resources or have you done anything in the past that made an impressive but classy impact w/out going overboard. I love natural elements with silk and satin ribbons, white lights. Simple and elegant.Pine cones, wreaths hung over mirrors. I am sure they will want a tree with everyone’s name on it in some fashion.
    Look forward to hearing back.

    Brenda Moore

  22. Mary Carol Says:

    Please give me a call at the store Brenda @ 877-746-4320 and we can help you with your questions.

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