Cue The Color: Continental Pizzazz Infuses A Historic Chicago Home

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A living room with two...

For a family of expats returning to the United States, a change of continent inspired a shift in aesthetic. Instead of their usual midcentury modern style, they opted for a classic European feel for the architecturally significant house.

A white hallway with a...

The cove ceiling of the foyer makes for a grand entry. To complement the elegant plaster molding details, designer Alexandra Kaehler coated the ceiling in high-gloss paint and hung geometric glass-and-brass light fixtures from The Urban Electric Co. that modernize the space. The Patterson Flynn Martin runner echoes that modernity while adding a natural texture.

A sun room with dark...

The vision for the sun room was to make what was naturally a bright, happy space feel more moody, sexy and adult. To that end, Kaehler coated the walls in Benjamin Moore’s Essex Green and set up a cocktail area with a striking black-and-white striped table from Made Goods surrounded by Interior Define swivel chairs upholstered in a blue Perennials fabric.

A dining room with a...

Sitting between the bold-colored sun room and kitchen, the dining room needed to be softer to provide balance. The custom-made Susan Harter mural wallpaper anchors the Visual Comfort chandelier from Circa Lighting, while velvet chairs from Anthropologie surround the burl-wood dining table from Dallas-based Scout Design Studio.

A kitchen with black cabinetry,...

Both homeowners are avid cooks, so the kitchen was designed as the jewel of the home with a heavy dose of European drama thanks to the French La Cornue range, black cabinetry, heavily veined backsplash and unlacquered brass fixtures.

A powder room with a...

Because the “wonky” ceilings in the powder room wouldn’t allow for wallpaper, Kaehler asked artist Julie Lutjen Lawrence to paint a whimsical mural on the walls surrounding the custom vanity by builder Scott Rosett.

A blush-colored bedroom with a...

Romance abounds in the main bedroom, where a chartreuse velvet bed from Anthropologie is set off by Farrow and Ball’s dreamy Pink Ground on the walls. The print from Los Angeles-based Natural Curiosities infuses a touch of the black-and-white palette that is found throughout much of the home.

A standalone bathtub in a...

In the main bathroom, Kaehler and Rosett mirrored the moldings from the rest of the home. Brass lattice mesh cabinetry frames the cast-iron tub from Vintage Tub & Bath as well as a painting by Linc Thelen.

A second-floor landing with white...

The original cabinetry in the second-floor landing was pretty, but its painted wood knobs felt outdated. The design team swapped them out for brass knobs and added a punch of color by placing the owners’ red armchair atop a Lulu and Georgia rug.

Certain places we live hold a particular place in our hearts. For an American family relocating from Switzerland to Chicago, that cherished location was Europe. So, while they were physically back on U.S. soil, they wanted to make sure their new home reflected the Continental style they’d grown to love.

Luckily, their new architecturally significant residence, built in 1915 by famed North Shore architect Edwin Hill Clark, was a willing canvas. The abode’s original moldings, boiserie, dark wood floors and barrel-ceiling foyer already had a distinctly European feel. “A lot of the houses here have a brick Georgian style with columns,” the wife says. “This is more of a big monolith with gray stucco and black trim—it just felt a little French to me.” Their previous dwellings in California—where the family had lived before moving to Europe—had embraced a more minimalist, midcentury modern style. But that didn’t feel right for this home. “I’ve adapted my style to be a bit more eclectic, and something that would really go with this house,” the wife explains. “We have a little more flair, color and pizazz than I otherwise would. It was a mix of the house and being ready for something new.”

With this in mind, designer Alexandra Kaehler, along with builder Scott Rosett, focused on ways to highlight the beauty of the original details while making everything feel fresh and contemporary. In the formal living room, for instance, the fireplace and surrounding woodwork were stained orange—so Kaehler covered it in white, glossy paint to retain the details while injecting it with renewed vigor. “People are always hesitant to paint over something that is original and has all that character,” she says. “But it made a world of difference in the space once we did.”

In the kitchen—originally a mint green—the designer resisted the temptation of making it all white. Instead, she opted for dramatic black cabinetry, a veined marble backsplash and unlacquered brass fixtures and faucets that match the dials on the range. “The stove was really a focal point of that space—we liked the idea of integrating a European sensibility into the kitchen and we were able to do this beautiful French range,” Kaehler explains. “The husband is from the U.K., and we thought about the kitchens he grew up with and how we could inject that personality.”

The bold black-and-white motif continues throughout the home—in the tile pattern of the main bathroom, a striped coffee table in the sun room, the sink and mirror in the powder room, and various geometric patterns in drapes and pillows—complemented by rich jewel tones in both decor and wallcoverings. Back in the sun room, where two walls of windows and generous skylights brighten the space, Kaehler chose a deep green paint. “It was the perfect opportunity to go dark because there was so much natural light,” she explains. “We knew we wanted that room to be a color. It just would have so much impact without feeling overwhelming because there were really only two walls that would be painted.” The darker hue also set the tone for what the owners wanted to be a more “adult” area: something with the vibe of a cocktail lounge, post-dinner gathering space. Complementing the built-in mirrored bar, the room also hosts the husband’s vinyl collection and record player at the ready to set the mood.

Upstairs in the main bathroom, Kaehler and Rosett designed cabinetry that showcases brass lattice mesh and elegant moldings. The goal was two-fold: to create storage for the apothecary-style vanity and to match the drama of the rest of the home by ensuring that the bathroom didn’t fall flat. “To install a white-and-gray marble bathroom would just feel so anticlimactic with everything else that was going on,” Kaehler says, alluding to the light pink main bedroom with a chartreuse bed and ebullient floral pillows, as well as the statement-making artwork and furniture throughout the house.

The clients’ enthusiasm to explore outside their midcentury modern comfort zone and take risks was exactly what allowed the design team to attain the sophisticated yet vivacious result. “I love that they were willing to go for it and they just weren’t afraid,” Kaehler says. “I think that really paid off.”

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