Sewickley Herald

June 9, 2011

Sewickley designer creates ‘green’ room in Phipps flower show

It looks as if any minute Alice will be chasing the rabbit up and over one of the huge yellow petals and  disappear through the looking glass.

But this scene wasn’t created by Lewis Carroll.

Mary Olliffe of Sewickley, one of eight interior designers chosen by Phipps Conservatory to put their special touches on the rooms at the summer flower show, “Living Harmoniously with Nature,” crafted the scene.

Although the room has nothing to do with Alice, it does feature remnants of rubber flooring, linoleum, wall coverings and even forks, spoons and knives that have been recreated into a “wonderland” of “Renewable Flowers,” the new exhibit in the East Room.Olliffe, an interior designer for corporate and residential customers at Devlin Architecture in Pittsburgh, said she wanted to work on the design just for the joy of “doing something completely different.” It also, however, gives her the opportunity to get her work seen by the public.

“A lot of what I do is for private people. We don’t get a lot of government or university work. We have a lot of high-end residential jobs, and unless you know the person and visit their home, you never see the work. And no one knows that I designed the interior of Orr’s Jewelry in Sewickley,” she said.

But those who walk through Phipps can see the room she designed through Oct. 2.

Olliffe, who grew up tending to her family’s garden in Somerset and also gardens at her current home, said the flowers and plants in each room will grow more lush as time goes by.

Conceived by Becky Jarold of B. Jarold and Co. LLC, the show posed a challenge to Pittsburgh-based interior designers to propose a design that will cross boundaries and display sustainable material in a new way.

Jordyn Melino, program coordinator for horticulture and education at Phipps and show coordinator, said 17 local interior designers submitted concepts for the show. A select committee, including Jarod and Phipps staff, chose eight to participate.

“The materials she used were really interesting. Some I didn’t even know about, and some were even created from plant material. That’s the whole point to have people learn about sustainable materials they can use at home,” Melino said.

Olliffe, who chose to design the room that features a waterfall, picked Xorel as one of her materials. The wall covering is designed to easily be turned into something else.

She used it to make several hanging balls that look like the puffy round heads of flowers. She also used architectural resins for large white petals, made from 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets by Devlin architect Steve Ponter.

At one point, Ponter, who made many of the pieces in the show, filled his entire garage with materials and also enlisted his son’s help to cut out the big, yellow daisy petals from rubberflooring.

To make large, yellow and orange chrysanthemums, linoleum was used, Olliffe said, because it is pressed from renewable materials such as pine rosin, linseed oil and wood and cork dust.

It turns to its true color when exposed to light — a process called “blooming.”

Olliffe also used large pinecones she picked up from her travels out west.

April Meredith, former owner of the No Good Riding Hood shop in Sewickley, made the 5-foot octagonal mirror, which is surrounded by silverware she purchased from a yard sale, for the display.

Olliffe said she had seen a smaller version of the mirror at a nearby antique shop. However, when she learned it was $500 because it was made with sterling silver, she decided to talk with Meredith, who volunteered to make a larger version without using sterling silver.

Meredith also let Olliffe use a large lounge chair featuring dragons for arms and scales running down the sides, which she painted red, making it look like a chair Alice might sit on.

The winning designers worked with Phipps’ horticulture, education and facilities staff and landscape architect Scott Scarfone of Oasis Design to bring the concepts to life. Every room incorporates summer flowers such as dahlias, hibiscus, impatiens, zinnia and lantana into the designs.

“Mary hit the nail right on the head with her concepts,” Melino said. “Her materials literally came to life with blooms.”

To find out more about the exhibit, visit