The children of the roaring twenties and swinging sixties would perhaps not have seen eye to eye, but designer Summer Thornton believes that their decades’ respective furniture pieces sure do get along remarkably well.
So when Thornton was asked to pull together this full-floor pied-à-terre in one of Chicago’s most spectacular Art Deco structures, the 1929 Palmolive Building (originally built as office space and converted to residences by Draper and Kramer), she used it as an opportunity to test her theory. “My two biggest inspirations are 1930s Art Deco Paris and 1960s New York. Here, I got to play them both out,” the designer says.
The resulting mood is at once elegant, refined and tongue-in-cheek, with Deco’s cool polish placed alongside midcentury’s youthful zest. “Sixties and seventies furniture is quirky, a great contrast with the sophistication of Art Deco,” says Thornton.
This eclectic union first appears in the living room, where graceful pieces like vintage lounge chairs and a pair of clean-lined Barbara Barry sofas mix it up with fun and flashy retro finds that include large urn-shaped Lucite lamps and a sprightly Karl Springer lacquered goatskin cocktail table. The homeowners, out-of-towners who are frequently in Chicago on business, couldn’t be more delighted with the snappy generational jumble. “What drew us to Summer is her innovative thinking,” says the wife. “We wanted to create a distinct look informed by a fresh perspective.”
Thornton reports that when she inherited the project, the decorating leaned toward “heavy, dark and Southern.” Not a great stylistic match for a Chicago apartment with gorgeous lake views. Her verdict: “We need to lighten it up.”
To begin, Thornton sized up her elegant “Grace Kelly” client and sensed a cooler palette of blues, greens and grays was in order. The designer covered the living room sofas in bright blue mohair velvet—Holland & Sherry’s Rive Gauche in Marlin—dressed the dining room’s wing chair backs in green-and-blue plaid— Hinson & Company’s silk tartan—and upholstered the family room’s Milo Baughman armchair in Calvin Klein’s charcoal velvet.
All are fabrics with soft sheens that help bounce light into the farthest corners of the spacious apartment, a perfect accompaniment to reflect the lake-view setting. “All Chicagoans are oriented by the water,” says the wife. “Even when we can’t see it at night, we sense its presence. Having all of these shimmering water colors really emphasizes the lake’s beauty.”
To further invite the outdoors into this urban aerie, Thornton brought in a touch of pastoral charm: horses. “I grew up on a farm,” says the homeowner, “and the horses here are really about where I came from, and they also bring our love of animals into our city life.”
Art Deco design, with its arching gazelles and prowling leopards, has always been friendly to animal figures, so the stunning horse painting that dominates the family room and the vintage terra-cotta horse head peering out from the dining room wall look very much at home. So do two sparkling living room chandeliers from Vaughan that upon close examination turn out to be made entirely of crystal horseshoes.
“Summer is incredibly creative,” says her admiring client. “At one point, she was inspired by a Ralph Lauren ad; the next thing we knew it became our bedroom.” The ad in question was a woman dressed all in white with layer upon layer of rich tone-on-tone texture. Taking the ad as her touchstone for the master suite, Summer papered the walls in a soft, barely there paisley from Nina Campbell and conjured up curtain panels in Osborne & Little’s Kediri silk cotton “that look like 10 gorgeous wedding gowns,” the designer says. Once again, she furnished the room with an inspired mix: Here it’s a Deco-esque Jean de Merry mirrored glass bureau alongside Stark’s white sheepskin shag rug.
“I love the way the offbeat touches enhance the look of the clean-lined furniture,” Thornton says of the home’s harmonious blend. “Each makes the other that much better.”