Walk into Carolyn McGuigan’s apartment at Willow Valley Communities and you’ll think you’ve been transported to a glam penthouse in New York City. At holiday time, she takes it up a notch and fills it with beloved seasonal décor she has collected over the years.
Simply put, Carolyn is an inspiration. She has more energy than people a quarter of her age. At 84, she is still taking pleasure in discovering the world, playing golf, volunteering her time and talents, tweaking her home’s décor and entertaining friends she has collected since moving to Lancaster almost 30 years ago. “I was always the ‘different one’ among my siblings,” she says of being the second born (among four). “I was the risk-taker, the one who thought outside the box. I just never fit the mold.”
What a Life!
Carolyn is a native of Butler County, which is north of Pittsburgh. After graduating from high school, she headed for Penn State University, where she majored in what is now the Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management program.
An interest in nutrition prompted Carolyn to change her focus and concentrate on becoming a dietitian. “That called for a fifth year of college,” she says. “My parents reminded me they agreed to pay for four years and I would have to figure out a way to pay for the fifth.” She turned to her advisor who suggested Carolyn take advantage of an internship with a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Los Angeles. It sounded like the perfect solution.
Despite her parents’ wariness at the idea of their daughter moving to Southern California at the height of the “Swinging Sixties,” Carolyn was gung-ho to begin a new adventure. “Oh, my gosh, we had so much fun,” she says, referring to the other interns she befriended. “We were from all over the country and were all single. We had no money, so we entertained ourselves by going to the beach and camping at places like Yosemite.”
She also met her future husband, John “Jack” McGuigan, in Los Angeles. She and her fellow interns attended a Young Republicans function where, incredibly enough, she met a guy from Philadelphia. Sizing him up, Carolyn decided “Jack was no more a Republican than the Man in the Moon” and, like her and her friends, was probably there for the free food and drinks. “His brother had moved to L.A. Jack visited him and decided to stay,” she explains of his move west. He ultimately became an airplane pilot and later transitioned to real estate. They were married in California in 1969.
Carolyn’s internship with the VA led to a life-long career in government. “Even though I had fun throughout my 20s, I was really focused on my career,” she notes. “Jack would see me bring work home and jokingly say, ‘I thought you were a government employee,’” she recalls. Looking back on her career with the VA, she says, “I loved every day of it.”
From Los Angeles, Carolyn moved north to work at the VA hospital in San Francisco. By the ’70s, Jack suggested they move back to the East Coast in order to be closer to family. They settled in Chester County. Fortunately, Carolyn was able to transfer to the VA hospital in Coatesville, where she became the chief of nutrition food service. She ended her career at the VA hospital in Lebanon, where she was the head of patient care support.
They bought a home in Downingtown and later built one in Parkesburg, which enabled Carolyn to indulge in her love of decorating. “I really became interested in interior design and decorating when I lived in L.A.,” she notes. She gravitated to contemporary styling. “I grew up in a house that was filled with old furniture,” she says. “It wasn’t antique furniture either; it was just old. I vowed I’d never have old furniture in my home.”
Welcome to Lancaster
In the early ’90s, Jack was feeling restless and suggested they return to California, or move to Lancaster County. He died before they could reach a decision. Carolyn weighed her options and decided to move to Lancaster in order to be closer to work. “I didn’t know a soul,” she shares. She rented an apartment for several years and officially put down roots when she bought a home at Crossgates in Millersville in 2001. As it was still on the drawing board, she was able to customize the interior in order to achieve the open-concept California look she liked. She was excited to be able to furnish and decorate it to totally suit her taste. However, a hectic work schedule kept her from transforming the house into a home.
Hoping to get inspired, Carolyn took in 2002’s Parade of Homes and fell in love with the décor she saw at a Charter Homes & Neighborhoods entry. “I asked who the decorator was but they would not tell me,” Carolyn recalls. She returned to the house several times but still had no luck in obtaining the name. “I pestered that poor girl to no end,” she laughs.
Finally, she resorted to getting down on her hands and knees and peering under a piece of furniture in hopes of finding a tag that might identify the decorator’s name. Carolyn looked up and encountered the Charter rep. “I think that’s when she realized I was not one to give up and she finally agreed to share the decorator’s name,” Carolyn says.
Needless to say, she was surprised to discover the decorator was Anita Bowman, who happens to be the mother of Rob Bowman, Charter’s founder and president.
Anita, who heads Ambiance Interiors (formerly based in Moorestown, New Jersey, and now located in St. Augustine, Florida), was on-board to work with Carolyn. “I was in Lancaster a lot to do work for Charter, so working with Carolyn was not a problem,” Anita explains. The two designed a very chic, glam and comfortable townhouse that to this day is one of my favorite home projects (June 2009) to cover for the magazine.
Swipe here to see how the furnishings were originally used:
“Carolyn has very specific taste – she likes what she likes,” says Anita. “We often met halfway between Lancaster and Moorestown for our meetings,” she recalls. “Halfway just happened to be Neiman Marcus in Valley Forge, Carolyn’s favorite store!”
Over time, the two forged a special relationship. “I consider Carolyn to be a friend,” Anita says. “I got her style. She trusted me on that and when I’d tell her I found something she might like, she always told me to go ahead, since I was so in-tune with what she liked. She’d say, ‘If you like it, I’ll like it.’” Anita shares that she values the trust Carolyn has in her and says trust between a designer and a client helps to ensure a successful project. “That sense of trust doesn’t always happen,” she says.
Like many people starting over, Carolyn was anxious to make her home a reflection of her taste and personality. In Carolyn’s case, she was going for what Anita calls “the wow factor. Carolyn is a vibrant person and she didn’t want a boring home,” Anita reflects.
Anita sees a desire to start over –conveyed through our homes – expressed all the time, especially in instances of women becoming widows or going through divorce, or retirees setting out for places like Florida or even relocating to local retirement communities. Anita, who has lived in St. Augustine for the last three years, says, “I had one client move to New Jersey from Texas. She arrived with nothing, not even family photos. She just wanted to completely start over.”
She’s also discovering that “by the time [transplants] arrive in Florida, they are ready to fully adopt their new lifestyle.” That starts with the décor of their homes. Traditional styling and dark wood can look very much out of place. Instead, transplants crave the light and airy coastal or tropical look.
In Carolyn’s case, she was ready to start over to a large degree but didn’t want to part with treasures such as her collection of MacKenzie-Childs enamelware – specifically black-and-white patterned Courtly Check pieces – decorative items from Michael Aram and Jack’s collection of model cars that he had built and painted.
The enamelware would ultimately inspire the color scheme throughout the living areas. Carolyn’s love of animal print also figured into the design. “It’s a little bit like living on the wild side,” Carolyn said of her home’s décor. (The model cars were beautifully displayed in the lower level of the house.) The only departure was her bedroom, where traditional furnishings and a champagne color scheme created a serene getaway.
Carolyn loved living at Crossgates but her sister and brother-in-law began to voice concern about her future. They loved living at Willow Valley Communities and encouraged Carolyn to consider moving there. The more she thought about it, the more such a move made sense. “I wasn’t getting any younger!” she laughs.
“It came as a surprise to hear from Carolyn and learn she was moving to Willow Valley and would need my help,” says Anita of the call she received six years ago. “I was still coming to Lancaster a lot to do work for Charter, so we fell right back into working together.”
Technology also played a valuable role this time around, as Carolyn and Anita conducted meetings via FaceTime. Since remodeling would figure into the project, Willow Valley’s Design Studio and the CCS Building Group would be part of the team.
Carolyn being Carolyn, she wanted to redesign some aspects of the apartment’s layout, notably the kitchen, which was completely remodeled. “I went to Tileology and said I needed a hip backsplash,” she says of the mirrored and metallic tile she ultimately chose. The quartz countertops bring added sparkle to the space that is outfitted with black cabinetry and stainless appliances.
Carolyn also had extra outlets installed throughout, including one in the living room floor. Columns were added to create a sense of separation for the open-concept layout that includes a foyer, the kitchen, a dining area and a living room. Door styles were also altered, with the one leading to the primary bedroom being switched out for a frosted-glass door. “The only thing we couldn’t change was the balcony,” says Anita. “It’s a shame it’s only accessible from the bedroom. It would have expanded the entertaining area if it had been placed off the living room.”
While Carolyn would have loved to start completely over from a decorating perspective, she ultimately decided to replicate her beloved Crossgates home somewhat and continue with the black-and-white color scheme. The chili-pepper red walls were also repeated. “I hate white walls!” Carolyn exclaims.
Anita was also charged with a challenge she rarely is asked to undertake – help a client downsize and decide what will work and what won’t. “She was going from a 2,800-square-foot townhouse to a 1,300-square-foot apartment,” Anita relates. “The first step was to ask ourselves, ‘What do we have and what can be retrofitted to look new and fresh?’” she explains.
It was decided the larger, traditional furnishings in the living room would not make the move. A large black lacquered buffet would also be eliminated. (Carolyn relies on Next to New to consign furnishings and decorative items. She also took a “car load” of china and crystal to Replacements, Ltd. in North Carolina for resale.) The plan called for the loveseats in the lower level, as well as the custom draperies and a few other furnishings to make the move, along with the dining table and chairs and other assorted pieces. Carolyn also decided she would invest in new bedroom furniture.
Carolyn’s apartment also has a unique room she calls Lexi’s Boudoir. Lexi is Carolyn’s miniature poodle. “We always had standard poodles and I missed not having a dog around,” Carolyn says of launching a search for a poodle six years ago. “I thought a miniature would be easier for me to handle.”
She began her search at the source and contacted the American Kennel Club for help and was directed to Joy Nachmias, a breeder of merit who owns and operates Murrmaid Poodles in Conestoga. (Two Murrmaid poodles won awards at Westminster in 2016 and 2017.) Carolyn wanted to adopt an older dog, but fell in love with 6-month-old Lexi, whose birthday is on New Year’s Day. Lexi went through obedience training at Kaye Ames and returns to Joy’s care at Joy’s Salty Dog Salon for grooming and pawdicures. “The residents here just love to see what color Lexi’s nails are after a trip to Joy’s,” Carolyn says.
Lexi’s room, which continues the black-and-white color scheme, is outfitted with a custom crate and baskets filled with toys. Poodle-inspired art hangs on the walls. Carolyn adores Lexi and credits her for helping her weather the pandemic. “We’d go for walks a couple times a day and sometimes we’d just get in the car and go for long rides,” Carolyn says. “It was nice to have her to talk to and keep me company.”
Now that life has returned to a semblance of normalcy, Carolyn is back to her routine of volunteering (Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra, the Demuth Museum and Fulton Theatre are among her favorites), playing golf (she gave up tennis at age 65 and took golf lessons and now plays regularly at Meadia Heights, Four Seasons and Overlook), attending church (Highland Presbyterian), shopping (The Little House Shop in Wayne is a favorite destination), taking advantage of events and clubs offered at Willow Valley Communities (“If you’re not involved here, it’s your fault,” she says of having so much to do) and entertaining friends and neighbors in her home. “I’ve always loved Christmas, so I continue to decorate and entertain,” she remarks. “I had so many get-togethers last year that by the time January arrived, I was worn out!”
Carolyn says that deciding to follow her sister’s advice and move to Willow Valley Communities has provided her with the best of all worlds. “I have no worries here. I don’t have to take care of a house any longer. If I have health issues, Willow Valley is there for me. I have friends here. I can come and go. I can get out and explore, which I think is important.” She also stays engaged with what is happening in the world. As an octogenerian, Carolyn recognizes that change is inevitable and holds the opinion, “You have to embrace it and work within it in a positive way.”