One was a dancer, the other a clothing designer. Now Barette Widell and Christina Boschetti, the founders and principal designers behind the boutique interior design firm Widell + Boschetti, are bringing their artistry to some of the city’s most innovative spaces.
Barette, how does a professional ballerina become an interior designer?
When I was 14, I moved to New York to study at the School of American Ballet, which brought me to Philadelphia for an apprenticeship with Pennsylvania Ballet. I met my now-husband, retired from ballet, and accepted a position with a corporate company as an event coordinator. I was pretty much forced out when I told them I was pregnant. Since our wedding had been published in some local magazines and newspapers, a lot of people were reaching out for help with their weddings. So I started Widell Designs. I was hesitant to do interiors because it seemed like you needed schooling, so I decided to focus on events and weddings. I did that for about six months or so, and then I started to dabble in interiors by helping people with nurseries. And then I met Christina.
Christina, what made you want to transition from fashion in New York City to interior design in Philadelphia?
I went to Parsons for fashion design, and I worked for junior companies like Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, and Wet Seal. We were designing 100 things a day there. I don’t think I ever slept. I partnered with one of the girls I went to school with to open a fast-paced, super trendy pants store in SoHo. Then the market crashed and we closed up shop. I did marketing for a while and met my soon-to-be husband. He went to Penn and his family’s from Philadelphia, so we moved back. I had my first child and joined a moms’ club, which is how I met Barette.
What did you two see in each other?
Christina: I was attracted to Barette’s drive. We weren’t even talking about business, and she was already showing me all her stuff on Instagram. I’m that way, but I hadn’t met anyone else in Philadelphia like that. She asked me to join forces, and I quit my job.
Barette: When I met Christina, she was showing me these fashion boards she had made for an interview, and I was really impressed by her vision. I liked her vibrant personality and her willingness to take a leap even though we didn’t know what we were doing. I never really thought about the business side. It was almost like a marriage.
It sounds like you had a similar vision, or maybe aesthetic. How would you describe that?
Barette: My personal style is more of a Parisian contemporary flair. It’s different than our business aesthetic, which is a contemporary eclectic mix with a refined glamour. We hate the word “glamour” because it sounds cheesy, but a lot of people have said our designs are glamorous. We like to push the boundaries.
How has Widell + Boschetti evolved since you started five years ago?
Barette: Our business is mostly word of mouth, but Instagram has definitely been driving clientele as well. We’re trying to go for quality over quantity, so this year we’ve been saying no to a lot of jobs. One year we had 80; right now we’re balancing about 15 at a time. We’ve done everything from a kitchen remodel to a ground-up build. We’re working on two brand-new builds, full renovation projects, a lot of large furniture jobs, and a ton of kitchen remodels.
How do you source materials?
Barette: We start with images we pull offline, and we explode from there. Christina and I do a ton of research and go to all these markets and events. I’m on Instagram all the time. Sometimes we’ll be in the Ann Sacks showroom and we’ll find that specialty tile and hold it in the back of our heads until the right project comes around. I think when you think too hard, it ends up hurting the design. We’re trying to really drive the design with key moments, and tile is one of those. When we use Ann Sacks tile, we tend to go bold with the Kelly Wearstler or something super textured. Ann Sacks has allowed us to really push the boundaries and limits of using tile. We’ve even thought about using it as art.
Have you ever built a project around tile?
Barette: We designed the bathroom in the Arches home based around the tile. It has black and gold striped tile and an all-gold-tile shower. We fell in love with the black tile with three strips of brass inlay; it was playful and really sexy and super eclectic. And instead of doing that bold tile and then going safe, we went insanely bold and went with an entire gold shower. This client wears safety pins in her ears and loves Alexander McQueen, so this bathroom mirrored her. She let us take this crazy leap, and it made a huge, huge impact. And then in her powder room we did the off-white with black, and we put a pony hair mirror up against it to add that extra punk-rock feeling.
Have you ever learned a lesson the hard way?
Barette: We had a client who bought a bunch of accessories from us, and one weighs 130 pounds, which she’s upset about. Now we know that maybe we should consider the weight of small objects. I always say the minute you stop learning, you probably shouldn’t be in business anymore. If you don’t make mistakes, how will you grow? We’ve definitely taken on too much and had to pay for it, literally, in the end. But if we hadn’t taken on so many projects, our business might not be where it is today.
What’s your favorite room in your own home?
Christina: Definitely the kitchen. I have an Ann Sacks backsplash, and I cook a lot. My family spends most of their time there. It has very clean lines. It’s a little bit industrial and dark, but because we have so much light in this house, we can do that. I wouldn’t say my aesthetic is industrial, but with the bones of this home, it just makes sense.
Do you feel like having kids has changed how you design for families?
Barette: I do feel like kids’ rooms allow us to get as creative as possible. They’re not kid-like; we’re designing them for kids to grow up in. Christina and I both have two young boys, so we’re in the thick of it. We’ve really taken the time to learn about durable specialty fabrics and even tile that will work for a family. I have an all-white sofa. My dogs have peed on that sofa, but we used Perennial synthetic fabric that I can clean with bleach. You don’t need to edit your design, you just need to make smart choices.
What’s worth spending money on? What’s not?
Barette: You really should be spending the most money on the dining room, master bedroom, and family room. You can cut costs on pillows, side tables—even dining or breakfast chairs. With accessories, you want to have some statement pieces, but it’s okay to match high and low. If you don’t have the budget right away to invest in art, buy a print you can use as a placeholder until you can invest in that nice piece.
Any parting words?
Barette: This business is not easy. I think sometimes clients get so thrown off by one mistake, and they need to remember that they’ve invested in us not because we’re perfect, but because we are a full-service interior design firm—we’re creative and we’re business owners and we’re therapists and we’re firefighters.