French Accent in Chicago


French Accent

A designer renovates her own vintage Normandy home to resemble a Parisian apartment that perfectly balances the past with modern-day living.

Inspiration from France and Friends with Dog

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.

Color Pop Blue Velvet Sofa in White Living Room

A Baker sofa wearing Great Plains fabric from Holly Hunt is a modern injection in the living room, which is defined by classic millwork. Designer and homeowner Amy Kartheiser found the original Milo Baughman chairs on 1stdibs and covered them with bouclé by Schumacher. The built-ins are lined with a custom Anna Wolfson wallcovering, and the Ochre light fixture is from David Sutherland.

Dining Room with Antique Louis XVI Chairs

In the dining room, antique Louis XVI chairs from 1stdibs—upholstered in Schumacher velvet—surround a custom table fabricated by Aaron Bladon, who also built the brass radiator cover in front of the bay window. The light fixture, composed of iron-beaded chains, is by Arteriors. Artwork by artist Francine Turk is from Gallery H.

Breakfast Room with Antique Centerpiece Table

A large table with an antique base and a custom concrete veneer top is the centerpiece in the breakfast room. Seating is provided by a banquette wearing Great Outdoors fabric from Holly Hunt, twin square ottomans and a round leather stool, all fabricated by Covers Unlimited. The Koge sconces are by Stilnovo and were purchased through Wayfair.

Renovated Modern White Kitchen with Dog

The renovated kitchen was refreshed with custom cabinetry from New Style Cabinets touting polished-chrome pulls from Chicago Brass. The marble slab—backing a La Cornue oven from Abt—and the island’s quartz counters are both from Tithof Tile & Marble; pendants from YLighting hang above. Knoll’s Womb chair from Design Within Reach adds a punch of color.

Mixed Mediums and Styles in the Office

A cowhide rug from Forsyth grounds the office. Lagomorph Design fabricated the desk, and Aaron Bladon built the acrylic ottoman topped with sheepskin. A Jonathan Adler Sputnik chandelier and a painting by Amy Donaldson from Gallery H further distinguish the space.

French Normandy Roots in the Exterior

The home’s French Normandy roots are evident in the original bones of the building, such as in the Lannon stonework and the steel-casement windows.

Commissioned Painting Inspiration

In the master bedroom, a commissioned painting by artist Linc Thelen inspired the palette. An original Edward Wormley chair found on 1stdibs wears Great Plains mohair from Holly Hunt. The Aerin floor lamp is from Circa Lighting.

Custom Bedding with Chandelier Above

Custom bedding from Bedside Manor tops the tufted linen bed from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams in the master bedroom. The pouf artwork is an African juju hat, and the glass chandelier is from Kartheiser’s personal collection.

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.” 

Mindy Pantiel

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