True love is one of the greatest joys in life. Just ask Henry Givray, former CEO of a management company and creator of a comprehensive leadership learning program, and his wife, Jill Alberts, a notable jewelry designer and owner of a North Shore, Chicago boutique. Yet their present-day romance comes with a backstory. After losing his first wife to cancer four years ago, Henry knew he couldn’t bear to remain in the Bucktown home they had built together from scratch. He wanted a place to create new memories for himself and his two grown daughters, so he settled on a three-bedroom condo in a downtown high-rise building and turned to designer Sarah Vaile to create a warm, inviting space that he expected to be in for the long term.
But Henry soon discovered that life is unpredictable. Within the year, he met Jill and realized that falling in love doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “I often will ask, ‘How did I get to be lucky twice in finding something that is so rare and meaningful when most people don’t even get it once?’ ” Henry says. It was time to move out of the condo and into a new home where the couple could grow old together.
For their newly constructed Glencoe home, Henry once again enlisted Vaile. “When Henry called to tell me he felt this way and was relocating to the North Shore, my heart just burst for him,” Vaile recalls. The six-bedroom residence was awash with white-and-gray walls, white marble and an overwhelming two dozen chandeliers and sconces. “We saw a lot of houses,” says Jill, who admits they replaced 14 of the chandeliers and 11 of the sconces. “This was the right one, but it was sort of fancy and cold.” The advantage to this, however, was that it was a blank canvas. After swapping design visions, Pinterest boards and wish list items (an all-black office for Jill, a redesigned home theater by Cinetec for Henry), Henry handed over the reins to Vaile and Jill. “We turned this house on its head,” says Vaile. “We painted or wallpapered pretty much every square inch.”
Jill’s style and personality led the way with the design. Vaile layered new pieces with wares from Jill’s former home and finds from her travels, including Moroccan wedding blankets and an Eero Saarinen Tulip table. “Jill was most definitely our project muse. Every object in her lifelong collection had deep meaning and a great story to go along with it,” says Vaile. “It was both a bit daunting and wildly liberating to decorate for such a design-forward client.”
One of Jill’s initial design ideas—that requested all-black home office—was inspired by a space she’d seen in a magazine years before. “I saved the page, thinking, ‘One day I’ll have an office like this,’” she recalls. “I showed it to Sarah and she loved it and brought it to life.” They also outfitted the room with an enlarged vintage magazine cover, a settee covered in oyster-hued fabric and a nearly 6-foot wood-and-plaster statue of the Buddhist goddess Guanyin. “I’m not a yogi, but she’s the goddess of peace and I thought she was special,” says Jill.
Vaile and Jill worked together to incorporate these bold, eclectic and whimsical touches throughout the home—a painting in the kitchen by Spanish-born artist Rosana Sitcha procured by Jill and Henry on one of their first trips as a couple to Santa Fe, a vintage elephant tusk table that serves as a natural partition between the kitchen and the breakfast room, a palm wallpaper and a vintage 1970s buffet in the dining room. “We liked to joke that buffet had seen its fair share of wild parties,” laughs Vaile.
For Henry, who only brought with him a desk, a poker table and a jukebox, the most important aspect of the home is the meaningful pieces that Jill worked with Vaile to incorporate. “The furniture, rugs and wall treatments are only half the story,” says Henry, who shares an affinity for collecting action figures with Jill’s son, Jack, and has a pair of light sabers from Star Wars on display in the basement rec room. “What makes it all so incredible is all of the extras, like the wall of family photos going up the staircase.”
It’s clear that, apart from preserving past and present in their newly completed home, Jill and Henry are living their best life. “It’s the space to create meaningful memories,” says Henry. “We have a lot of what I call ‘fun rooms’ in the house, but we have a lot of great accents. It feels safe, relaxing and comfortable.”
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