There are two schools of thought when it comes to decorating a new home: Wait until you live in it for a while to get a feel for the place, or have it done before moving in. Homeowner Isabelle Lane leans toward the latter. “I’m a procrastinator,” she confesses. “If I waited, years would go by and the house would still be unfinished.”
With that scenario top of mind, Isabelle and her husband, Mark, a research analyst, decided to hire a designer for their Lincoln Park home while it was still under construction by Ken Brinkman, whose firm was responsible for the exterior architecture, mechanicals and overall floor plan for the house. Referrals from friends led them to Summer Thornton, whose work bowled them over. “We were captivated by its exuberance and positive energy—and the fact that it’s nothing like anyone else’s,” Mark says.
Ever adventurous, Thornton embraces a quirky and unconventional style and has a penchant for audacious palettes. “I use interesting pieces and bold color to keep things playful and fun,” she says. Those qualities were among the Lanes’ top aesthetic priorities, along with a desire “to make the house, which is traditional by merit of its architecture, more clean-lined and modern,” says Whitney Mersman, Thornton’s design associate. “Plus, the owners have two young children, so they wanted everything in order when they moved in.”
To make that happen, Thornton and Mersman made sure to expedite design decisions with the Lanes. “We’d show them pieces and color palettes, get a read on what they liked and take it from there,” Mersman says. During this process, the couple developed a deep trust for Thornton’s recommendations. “Summer has strong views about design and what works and what doesn’t,” Mark says. “But she also really listens and incorporates things that are meaningful and personal.”
For Mark, this included two specific requests for their home: to integrate the exotic artifacts he had amassed during his globetrotting days and to incorporate purple wherever possible as a nod to Northwestern University, his alma mater. For her part, Isabelle was open to ideas. “I’m an indecisive person when it comes to interior design,” she admits. “I have lots of friends who know exactly what they want, but that’s not me.” Translating the couple’s vision, Thornton moved forward with a plan to create interiors that are comfortable, functional and visually engaging.
To give the home a fresh and more modern look that belies its Beaux Arts-inspired façade, Thornton injected a mix of spirited colors, kicky pieces, gutsy fixtures and bold wallcoverings. Starting in the living room, a study in soft grays and greens, the look is understated but with an edge. A classic Oriental rug adds a dash of purple, pink and mauve, while dazzling metallic furnishings and a zigzagging sisal wallcovering pack a visual punch. All allude to the vivid palette, daring patterns and singular furnishings that follow in the rest of the home. For example, ebullience reigns supreme in the contiguous dining room, where Thornton and Mersman gave the space a personality beyond its size with seafoam blue lacquered walls, a silver-leafed ceiling and a wall-size mirror. The designers used a similar eye-opening tactic in the sleek kitchen and breakfast nook, where opposites such as swanky brass light fixtures, a rustic wood table and fuchsia plastic chairs add decorative tension.
Isabelle’s favorite space is the family room, where Thornton’s air for color is evident in the cushy yet clean-lined upholstered pieces in shades of purple, red and blue. In this room, the wife is particularly grateful for an entire wall of storage Thornton designed to match the cabinets in the nearby kitchen. “It hides a multitude of sins,” the designer laughs. Behind its streamlined seamless doors, Barbie dolls and Legos hold court with serving pieces and spare picture frames. Vibrant hues continue to the view outside, as an azure umbrella shades the outdoor dining area on the deck. Following the rest of the home’s bright personality, a lower-level guest room sports a sassy mix of turquoise walls, a canary yellow nightstand and a cherry headboard for the bed. And to appease Mark and his like-minded daughter, Thornton made sure to inject purple into their respective bedrooms. In the master suite, she tempered dark mauve walls with navy and cream accents through the furnishings, creating a serene demeanor, while the 6-year-old’s spunky space boasts a hot-pink-and-peacock-blue wall pattern along with a solid lilac shade that also colors the ceiling.
Today, the residence showcases a carefully edited mix of daringly chic furnishings that convey a bold yet sophisticated and clean aesthetic. And since the project was completed, the Lanes and Thornton have become closer in not only friendship but also proximity, as the designer recently purchased a house around the corner from her clients’ home. Now, when visitors compliment Isabelle about her decor, she can easily introduce them to her fearless neighbor. “Summer not only helped me narrow down what I liked,” the wife says, “but she also pushed me to take risks.”