The first thing you notice in Michael Schulson and Nina Tinari's stylish condo on Philadelphia's iconic Rittenhouse Square is the sense of warmth and expansion: Victorian-inspired appointments, in subdued grays and taupes, are writ large on 2,000 square feet of open living space. Upon closer inspection, the spaciousness comes into sharper focus; yes, it's a big place, but just as notably, there's no clutter. It's the way many of us wish to live, yet precious few pull it off. So how do they do it?
Tinari and Schulson bought the apartment in 2015 as a raw space, then designed it specifically to be clutter-free. Their inspiration came in the form of a recent five-year stint living in a 1,000-square-foot apartment—along with Schulson's two sons, Jordan and Davin, and the family cat, Santo. "We were all ready to kill each other," says Schulson, 47. Appliances, tools and cords were forever in the way, and their home felt and looked chaotic.
The new apartment, at 4,200 square feet, was certainly a step up. "The raw space was really exciting, with these big, grand windows and views of the Curtis Center," Schulson describes. "It really gave us a blank canvas to do some exciting stuff." He and Tinari typically work with designers to build their restaurants, but since this project was so personal, they decided they'd do it themselves.
As founder and chief executive officer of Schulson Collective's 14 restaurants, including the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence–winning Izakaya in the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., Schulson needed a hardworking home kitchen. At the same time, design-wise, "We wanted the kitchen to be our focal point," explains Tinari, 40, president of Schulson Collective. Luckily, she had already begun kicking around some ideas amid the clutter of their former home. Chief among them: Why not create purpose-built cabinetry, complete with hidden outlets, to discreetly stow bulky appliances and gadgets?
That's exactly what they did. "All you have to do is just lift it out and put it on the counter and it's already plugged in and ready to go," Schulson says.
White oak floors, a taupe Chesterfield dining banquette, light-gray pine cabinetry and salvaged vintage details create a cozy, Old World mood. With 16-foot ceilings, Tinari designed extra-tall kitchen storage; the rustic upper shelves, with chicken wire–covered glass fronts, are accessible via a sliding library ladder. "It's a good cross-utilization of space, because it's great for storage, but also we have the ability to put some nice pieces up there that you can see," Tinari notes.
Beyond the kitchen is the couple's home bar. Featuring navy-blue millwork appointed with brass fittings and an enormous half-circle mirror, the bar houses one of the home's three 45-bottle Marvel wine coolers, with treasures such as Lafite Rothschild 1982, Château Margaux 1990, Haut-Brion 1989, and lots of California Cabernet from the 97-point 2007 vintage, including Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate.
"There was one piece in the entire house that I had some say on, and that was the bar," Schulson quips. "I always err toward darker, and Nina always errs toward much lighter. So if Nina had her way, the whole house would be white, and if I had my way, the whole house would be navy blue. I got a little bit of navy blue."
But the overall impact of the space, with its muted tones, undeniably shows the influence of Tinari's tastes. "In hindsight, I'm really happy that she won those battles and it's light, because it looks awesome," Schulson concedes.
His home cooking is proudly unfancy, leaning healthy and simple. "I might do Mediterranean food and just do beautiful grilled prawns with some olive oil and parsley and homemade hummus, and serve it with a little bit of rice pilaf and some pita bread and cucumber and tomato salad," Schulson says. Another favorite is grilled fish such as branzino with lemon and olive oil, or a salad topped with grilled chicken. For everyday drinking, "Nina's become a big Dakota Shy [Cabernet] drinker," Schulson notes, along with Domaines Ott rosé and Krug rosé Champagne. They are both fond of Spring Mountain Estate's Cabernet.
Since moving into their home in October 2016 with Davin, Jordan and Santo in tow, Schulson and Tinari have been pleased with their handiwork. Reclaimed fixtures and salvaged old books combine with custom pieces, brand-new millwork and modern proportions to create a space of unusual character. Almost no detail went unconsidered. Almost. "I actually missed one thing," Schulson says. "I missed the person in the kitchen who cleans up after us."
Inside the Schulson-Tinari Home
Photos: Jason Varney
Hair and makeup: Elizabeth Herremans/Kiss & Makeup
The couple in their dining alcove. They bought the table base from Restoration Hardware, but gave away the top, which didn't fit their space, swapping it out for a custom-cut piece of Carrara marble to match the kitchen counters.
Your average tidy person might opt for a magnetic knife strip to keep the countertop clear—but Schulson is not your average tidy person. Instead, he asked Tinari to design a custom knife drawer for his prized blades.
Utility spaces like the spice drawer, microwave and toaster oven can be discreetly tucked away behind the custom cabinetry when not in use, increasing the room’s sense of tidiness.
The built-in shelving above the dining banquette displays objets d'art and books. "My father loved to collect old books and old encyclopedias," Schulson says of the heirlooms. "Some of them are cookbooks, and a lot of them Nina had, 'cause Nina's really a big reader."
The couple in their 1,000-square-foot, open-plan living space. The custom bar is framed at top by vintage stage lights that their contractor, Weaver Construction, restored and retrofitted with brass brackets.