Driven by endless curiosity, this Chicago couple adores traveling around the world, exploring art, history and culture with their 5-year-old son in tow. And they’ve amassed a vast collection of treasures along the way—from antique maps to signed Pablo Picasso prints to rare books (including a 16th-century Bible printed on a Gutenberg press). “As a family, we’re a little eclectic,” the wife says with a laugh. “When you live like that, it’s really hard to put it all in one house.”
The abode in question, a Colonial in the suburbs, felt impersonal by comparison. Like their travels, they wished their home inspired a similar sense of adventure—adorned with vibrant colors, textures and patterns, as well as their beloved keepsakes. So they recruited interior designers Mia Rao and Robyn Swanson, who loved the couple’s sense of style. “They are fun, funky and bold—not afraid to take risks,” Rao recalls. With this in mind, Swanson adds, “We wanted to create fully enveloped environments. Each room would have its own personality, but with a moody, flamboyant vibe throughout.”
Joining forces with builder Adam DiCharia, the designers first focused on removing incongruous and insubstantial architectural details like a pair of faux-Greek columns in the central hallway. Then they bolstered the interiors with high-contrast materials. The new foyer established the home’s bolder spirit with a checkered-tile floor of Carrara marble and black limestone, and an inky runner cascading down the staircase.
The new kitchen, which Rao and Swanson reconfigured to include a vast island for festive gatherings, continues the graphic black-and-white theme with custom cabinetry and crystal quartzite countertops with deep gray veins that crackle. Meanwhile, jewel and metallic tones punctuate the modified built-in breakfast nook. This made room for a custom ebonized dry bar which they turned into a curio cabinet to display the couple’s ceramic collection. “I think contrast is a common thread throughout the home, mixing the dark and the light,” Rao notes.
The home’s sensuous side is most indulged in the dining room and parlor—which the designers swapped from the original layout to improve their functionality. Now in a larger space to accommodate more guests, the dining area is swathed with emerald walls and glints of gold from the chandelier and a gilded painting by Chicago-based artist Sarah Raskey. Leaning into its smaller confines, the new parlor (home to the wife’s early edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) exudes a shadowy romance. Walls are shrouded in deep charcoal gray, which continue up the tray ceiling accented with metallic wallpaper. As an accomplished carpenter, DiCharia “did a great job in detailing the new picture molding,” Rao says, which added depth and dimension to the dramatic hue. The designers then curated velvety finishes that would gleam against the surroundings, from the ruby-velvet settee to the antique silvery-pink Chinese Art Deco rug. “This is the place for the adults, perfect for post-dinner cocktails,” Swanson notes.
Other spaces in turn conjure sunnier climes. The sun room feels imported straight from a Key West oasis with its pink-clay tile floors, basket chairs and palm-print wallpaper that the wife instantly fell in love with. In the middle of a Chicago winter, “I can sit in there with a coffee and book, and it still feels like summer,” she shares. The family room also feels bright and playful, anchored by an oversize chartreuse area rug from Thailand, big enough for stretching out during game nights.
Indulging the couple’s love of art and history, the primary bedroom transports one to a palatial Indian garden, surrounded by a tapestry-worthy wallpaper inspired by traditional Mughal paintings. “What made this project so unique was the walls,” Swanson says of their many surface treatments. From atmospheric paint colors to intricate prints, “They really defined the feeling of each room.”
Balancing the saturation of patterns and materials, furnishings favored modern simplicity—armchairs, sofas and tables all articulated with a straightforward line or gentle curve. New built-in bookcases likewise both protect and corral the display of artifacts and objets d’art. “While they like their antiquities, they also like to have clean lines,” Rao explains of her clients.
After all, the owners never wanted a cold, museum-like procession of collected objects—but a living, breathing home that coalesced all their passions and experiences. “There’s a fluidity here,” Rao muses. “There are a lot of layers, but it’s all very cohesive.”