Have you ever passed by a home and thought to yourself, “I want to live there one day”? For designer Abbie Anderson and her husband, Tom, this was a nightly occurrence. The newlyweds, who had been steadfastly searching for their forever home, stumbled upon the Newberry Mansion on the Gold Coast during their evening strolls with their cockapoo, Baylie.
Built by the estate of wealthy businessman Walter Loomis Newberry in 1880, the Newberry Mansion has evolved over the years, serving as everything from an all-girls boarding school to a boutique hotel to, eventually, residential condominiums. But one thing hadn’t changed about the 19th-century home—the elegant appeal of the house’s historic façade with its oversize arched windows.
The possibility of purchasing one of the condos seemed slim. “Units in older buildings tend to stay in families for generations,” says Abbie. “When they do become available, they’re a true gem in the city.” But, as the old saying goes, it never hurts to ask. So, the young couple wrote a letter to one of the building’s residents inquiring about a potential off-market sale. To their surprise, the offer was accepted.
Their goal was to preserve the integrity of the historical architecture, building upon its great bones—hidden behind dated yellow walls, heavy cherry wood accents and carpeting upstairs—with dressed-up, modern upgrades. “The exterior was poised to tell such a beautiful design story,” recalls Abbie. “I wanted to make sure we could marry the details on the inside.”
This meant starting with a blank canvas, so she coated the walls throughout the home in an elegant white paint to serve as a backdrop to a mix of classical elements that played upon her affinity for French design. “The style is all about the details and speaks to the grandeur of the period,” explains Abbie. “French design is effortlessly chic and always begins with a clean base, so the design details truly shine.”
Those details, which Abbie worked with builder Joseph Vitulli and project manager Grzegorz Kwasnik to incorporate, include two- and three-panel interior doors, brass hardware and fixtures, and new dentil crown molding atop existing trim work. “I have always appreciated contrast,” she says. “I love playing with classic and modern, light and dark, new and old.”
Elsewhere, the designer turned to other standout elements such as bold lighting—a prime example being the pendant over the kitchen table. With its ornate plaster molding on the inside, the fixture lends generational context to a home brimming with historical relevance.
A collector of both modern and heirloom furniture—“Tom always asks how many chairs we really need,” she jokes—Abbie invested in classic styles, such as the Eero Saarinen-inspired womb chair sitting in a sunny west-facing window that only further complements the historical roots of the residence.
Abbie also wanted to integrate modern elements that nodded to her and Tom’s personal passions. She paid homage to his love for aviation with Chris Buff’s High Key Mustang, a black-and-white photograph depicting a plane, above the stone fireplace mantle. She hid a television behind the artwork, so as not to distract from the charcoal gray-coated floor-to-ceiling built-ins. “The bookcases make such a statement when you walk in the double doors off the lobby,” the designer notes. “With 12-foot ceilings, the expansive shelves draw your perspective to the remarkable arched windows that cast your view outward.”
Though she used color sparingly throughout the home, Abbie added a pop in the garden-level kitchen with an elegant red velvet settee that highlights the sculptural aesthetic of the dining table and chairs. In another playful move, the designer installed removable peel-and-stick floral wallpaper in the nursery that can be easily swapped for another pattern one day. For now, though, “It will not be coming down,” laughs Abbie.
Neutrals, however, reign supreme in the bedroom, where the designer wanted the sunlight that filters through the windows to serve as the star of the show. Wall-to-wall hidden storage coated in that same white she used throughout the home reflects the natural light. Abbie even selected a low-profile bed—topped with soft linen bedding—so as not to block any sunshine from streaming into the room.
Overall it is, says Abbie, “magical,” adding, “There really is something to be said for being happy whenever you go into a space.”