Back to School Makeover at the Pi Beta Phi House


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Kate Spade and Tory Burch may not be living at the Pi Beta Phi chapter house at the University of Missouri – Columbia, but I feel confident they would feel at home there, since these designers’ fun, fresh styles were the inspiration for the makeover just completed by the Nell Hill’s team. We had so much fun working with the Pi Phis on this several-room refresh, and I love the result so much, I’m tempted to move in myself. Come join me for a virtual tour!

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You only have to be around college women for about 30 seconds before their passion for life and excitement for the future starts to put stars in your eyes, too. So when the alumnae and chapter members asked us to help them create a home that reflected the vibrant women who lived there, we couldn’t wait to get started.

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Our goal was to wed the look and feel of the designers these young women love best with timeless classics that will be in style forever. Every inch of the rooms we reimagined needed to be kick-up-your-feet-comfortable, casual enough for the co-eds to feel at home, yet formal enough to serve as the appropriate backdrop for the chapter’s social events. We wanted the house to feel so happy, it charged the batteries of everyone who entered.

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Our solution? Fill the spaces with classic furniture silhouettes upholstered in neutral, hard-working fabrics. Then pop up the rooms with the color and pattern the girls craved, infusing each nook and cranny with this group’s unique personality.

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We went with a tried-and-true palette of navy and blue, then splashed in accents in bright greens, corals and more blues, brought to life in a host of hip patterns and clean lines. If the girls ever grow tired of the pillows, each can be easily remade simply by zipping on a new pillow sham. To maximize our budget, we used some of the chapter’s existing wood furniture, reupholstered several chairs and created art and accessories out of the house’s heirlooms.

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The chapter women told us they wanted lots of places to study. So we worked in several desks and tables where the girls could study alone or do group projects. To make these nooks feel more like home, we worked in accents like lovely lamps, pottery and books.

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Part of the joy of redesigning sorority and fraternity houses is finding creative ways to honor the chapter’s rich history. We wanted to spotlight the women who had called this house home through the decades, so that today’s chapter women could see that they were part of a long, rich heritage. The chapter had boxes of the most marvelous silver pieces that we polished up and worked into the décor, tucked into bookcases and on tables. Some of the loveliest trays and platters were treated as artwork, hung in a montage in the entry and living room.

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To make the informal media room into a true family room, we filled the walls with old photos of Pi Phi sisters through the ages. We sorted through the chapter’s huge archive of old photos and pulled out an interesting mix to mat and frame, then used them to paper the walls in memories. As you look at the fresh, smiling faces of all these young women who had called this house home, and think about their stories, how their lives took flight here, it gives you goosebumps.

We were so honored to be a part of this project, and of the many other chapter houses we have helped redesign at numerous college campuses. At Nell Hill’s, we love to go back to school!


Next Week … Fall is around the corner. We’ll have some tips for dressing up your home for this season of plenty.