When one young Chicago couple bought their first house, a Lincoln Park greystone from the 1890s, things quickly came to what the Gershwin brothers called a “pretty pass” in their famous musical number, “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” The wife, a Southern belle, favors Parisian style and the husband, a Midwesterner, prefers the hunting club look; she likes kicky and he is fond of the classics. Other disparities included her affinities for bold color and contemporary art, and his affection for neutrals and traditional American landscape portraits. “We were all over the map, and not all over the map, together,” admits the wife. “We had totally different priorities. He was more concerned about function and value, like ‘is this fabric durable’ or ‘will this painting hold its value,’ and I was much more interested in something’s spirit or the way it made me feel.”
Neither had the time or wherewithal to face the tricky negotiations they were facing, especially given their busy burgeoning careers as a tech entrepreneur for her and a private equity investor for him. So rather then calling the whole process off, they decided instead to call a designer.
Many meetings later, and close to frustration again since “no one was a fit,” says the wife, “a friend recommended designer Julia Buckingham Edelmann. Her website was on target, and when we met I knew she was the one in five minutes.” One of Edelmann’s specialties is blending the old and the new in historical projects, and this Victorian greystone was ripe for her touch. “In the 1990s, all of the architectural details were stripped out, the dark wood was lightened and this modern, two-story family room was slapped on the back that was so at odds with the original home,” explains the designer, who worked with builder Frank Quintero of Idea Source Building & Remodeling to execute her vision and plans. “The addition was a long, narrow space with oversized windows, a steel fireplace and an outdated staircase. The whole effect was so jarring. We needed to add back elements that would make it relate to the rest of the house.”
Relate was the key imperative for the entire project as Edelmann banned everything with a ’90s vibe, such as the honey-hued floors, and proposed a decorative rehab that involved refinishing and darkening floors, revamping millwork and fireplaces, renovating all the bathrooms, and gutting the addition, all while keeping the home’s original footprint.
She then designed and installed new fireplace surrounds, beefed up the detailing on both staircases, turned the awkward addition into a graceful great room, and, finally, furnished all the spaces while collaborating with the couple every step of the way. At every stage of the juncture, “I had to bridge both of their styles, which was tricky,” explains Edelmann. “Though both traditional, she’s more modern and chic, and he was more reticent to try anything too modern. He’s very old-world elegant.”
When Edelmann finished the job nine months later, old world met new with bravura—but not without some nail-biting moments. It was easy for the husband to visualize the beauty of pairing the living room’s frothy antique Louis XV sofa with a new mirrored coffee table, but it was hard to imagine what the identical wing chairs would look like covered in different, but complementary, fabrics and treated with contrasting decorative details. “This was a huge moment,” Edelmann says. “We all gazed upon the chairs and fell in love.”
The wife credits their home’s newfound balanced verve to Edelmann’s meticulous modus operandi. “As soon as Julia began to understand our individual aesthetics, she would curate the choices she offered us, but always threw in a few zany surprises,” she says. “I think it inspired us to throw in a few outliers ourselves.” A pair of exuberant throne chairs in the great room and a starburst chandelier in the library, for example, exemplifies the designer’s unconventional options, which Edelmann chalks up to a strict strategy. “I focused on making little twists in every room that allowed me to take them out of their comfort zone,” the designer says. “That’s what really makes the home so special. We were able to meld their different roots and styles into a true family home.”