By her own admission, interior designer Amy Kartheiser is an unabashed Francophile. “I’ve traveled to Paris on numerous occasions, spent time in the Loire Valley and cycled through Bordeaux. I love the architecture, and I’m completely drawn to all things French,” says Kartheiser, who also has a passion for rehabbing old houses. “With older architecture you can’t always have your way like you do when you build from scratch, and I like the challenge.”
So it came as no surprise when her hunt for a home—coupled with a desire to move her family out of the city—came to a halt when she spotted a French Normandy-style residence in the cozy village of Wilmette. According to Kartheiser, the house wasn’t quite on the market yet when a friend, after wrangling a sneak peek, called urging her to see it immediately. And, after visiting the property with her husband, Joe, and their two children, “We took one look and made an offer,” says the designer. The 1930s home’s perfect blend of impeccable bones on the outside and a cry for help on the interiors sealed the deal. “It wasn’t a house that required gutting, but it definitely needed work,” says Kartheiser, who, in turn, envisioned refurbished spaces reminiscent of a classic Parisian apartment.
For inspiration Kartheiser looked to Joseph Dirand, a notable designer whose highly publicized apartment makeover in the City of Light’s 7th Arrondissement made him the au courant source for modern French design. “I am totally smitten with his style and the way he balances traditional with modern,” says Kartheiser. So, she instantly incorporated Dirand’s signature white walls and marble slab countertops into her design.
But white paint and marble counters were not going to cure the circulation issues and a substandard kitchen. For help with those, she turned to architect Chip Hackley and builders Paul Armstrong and Dennis Grewe, who created a more aesthetically pleasing flow. “There was no way to get to the kitchen without going through the rectangular dining room,” explains Armstrong, noting they moved the chandelier and added wall moldings to establish the square area where the dining room table and chairs now reside. “The resulting leftover space established a passage to the kitchen without feeling like you were walking through the dining room. From a circulation standpoint, the solution was a huge improvement.”
When it came to tackling the kitchen, which was saddled with tired builder-grade finishes, the design team salvaged the fenestration and gutted the rest of the space. “We simplified and reduced the amount of cabinetry and added cabinets with a fitted furniture look,” says Hackley, who worked in conjunction with Armstrong, redoing the ceiling to accommodate new lighting and proportioned beam work; the latter added character and brought the space up to the level of the rest of the house. “When this home was built, it was less common for things like moldings to be carried into what was considered the service areas,” adds Hackley. “Now those components are brought into utilitarian spaces like the kitchen because that’s where everyone gathers.”
Meanwhile, Kartheiser opted to preserve certain details— original crown moldings, a stone replace and built-in display shelves in the great room—before deftly introducing her own mark. In the dining room, for example, green marble countertops were swapped for white Carrara marble, and an existing white hutch was transformed with a coat of black paint. “I then painted all the doors in the house black to add sophistication and balance the white walls,” says the designer, adding that she also lined the back of the great room shelves with a fringed burlap wallcovering for a textural accent.
As another nod to Dirand’s design, Kartheiser filled the rooms throughout the home with furnishings intended to honor the traditional architecture—the profiles on a pair of reupholstered Milo Baughman chairs mimic the curved archway and built-ins—while introducing more contemporary elements such as the clean-lined sectional and a custom wood-and-metal coffee table. Similarly, in the master suite, where a large painting by artist Linc Thelen informed the color scheme, a modernist Edward Wormley chair and metal floor lamp counter the cream linen bed with a tufted headboard sporting a traditional profile.
A fan of incorporating moments of glamour, Kartheiser crafted a wow moment in the powder room, where bold wallpaper, brass fixtures and herringbone glass floor tiles make a statement. The dining room chandelier, fashioned from strings of beaded brass, also creates a moment—“I know it’s a cliché, but light fixtures really are the jewelry of a room,” says Kartheiser—and it’s impossible to overlook the sheepskin seat covers tossed casually over turquoise metal chairs on the enclosed porch. “Faux fur is fun and cozy, and you can include it anywhere,” she adds.
Despite the disparate vintage pieces and design styles, Kartheiser notes that the mixed motifs have not only fulfilled her dream of living like a Parisian, but they also truly make sense together. “Every piece I selected stands on its own,” she says, “but more importantly, they also work as a cohesive whole.”