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The living room of a client’s suburban Chicago home, designed by Lauren Lowe, was designed to provide ample seating for entertaining and accommodate a growing art collection of eclectic treasures. “There are a lot of fabrics in this room, but we worked to keep the overall impression clean, classic, and layered,” says Lowe, who began with a slubby herringbone on the sofas, green Colefax and Fowler check on the Highland House armchairs, and a vintage ottoman in a classic Rose Cumming floral. A series of 19th-century German architectural engravings was sourced from Scott Antiques Market in Atlanta.

Aimee Mazzenga

Tour a New House With Old Soul in the Chicago Suburbs

Designer Lauren Lowe creates a sense of history for a growing family from the nearby metropolis.

May 17, 2024

Breaking up with a city you love is hard to do. It certainly was for one Chicago-based couple with deep roots in the Windy City: After the birth of their third son, the city started to feel constraining, and so began the somewhat bittersweet search for a beautiful old house in the suburbs, one with a big yard and lots of character in a community that could nurture their boys and erase any heartache over leaving their cherished Lincoln Park Neighborhood.

  • Lowe enhanced the entry hall’s existing lower wainscoting with picture-frame paneling (painted in Borrowed Light from Farrow & Ball) that stretches up to the height of the first-floor ceiling. The console has an interior shelf for hidden storage; it’s covered in Wellfleet Ticking by Schumacher.

    Aimee Mazzenga
  • In the dining room, Lowe added a backdrop of bookshelves with Neoclassical detailing to hold the client’s vast collection of art books and provide storage for serveware.  A custom Edgar-Reeves pendant feels “warmer than a typical chandelier,” and the wall color (Blue Gray by Farrow & Ball) “changes with the light.”

    Aimee Mazzenga

The house’s massive windows presented a special challenge. “While they’re beautiful, the casings span from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, with the crown molding acting as a window frame, making it extremely difficult to plan for much-needed window treatments,” says Lowe. The solution? Special ceiling-mounted drapery rods, which were deployed throughout the house. (Here, they suspend curtains in a Holland & Sherry wool.) The photograph on the left is “Leixlip Castle” by Christopher Simon Sykes.

Aimee Mazzenga

They found the community they were seeking in tree-lined Winnetka, Illinois, 16 miles from downtown Chicago. But the house? That proved more elusive. At first, a 1910s Georgian seemed like the answer, especially for the wife, an art historian who had worked at Chicago art museums and loved period details. The required renovations, however, were less enticing. Instead, they closed on a custom-build from 1992, with a prime location— just a few blocks from the shore of Lake Michigan—and large indoor play spaces that would sustain the boys through long winters. The new homeowners were ecstatic. Until it came time to decorate.

The wife felt blocked, unsure how to bring charm and warmth into a home that simultaneously felt too new and strangely dated. In stepped Atlanta-based decorator Lauren Lowe of Lauren Elaine Interiors. “Like me, the owner is a lover of antiques and architectural detail, but the house was kind of a mishmash of styles, and not necessarily specific to the history of homes in the area,” says Lowe. Rather than renovate—the family wanted to get settled as quickly as possible, in time for the eldest son to start elementary school—Lowe opted for an additive approach, reusing as many existing elements as she could. In went picture frame paneling that brought depth and detail to a very ‘90s two-story foyer (“We discussed wallpapering the entire space, but that just felt like a Band-Aid on a larger problem,” says Lowe), custom bookshelves with fluted pilasters in the dining room, and ceiling-mounted window treatments for a house bewilderingly designed to have none.

“The kitchen was the perfect spot in the house to highlight the oversized windows,” says Lowe of the unadorned sashes. “I’ve learned as a designer that not every window needs to be dressed, and sometimes simplicity is the best design decision,” says Lowe. In that vein, she left the existing high-quality cabinetry in place and gave it a refresh, stripping off the corbels and other ‘90s “flourishes”.  Vintage-inspired pendants from Ann-Morris New York anchor the new island, and 19th-century framed Delft tiles sourced from 1st Dibs add a dash of antique soul.

Aimee Mazzenga
  • Lowe sourced a set of vintage chairs from Chairish, adding new seat cushions in a Classic Cloth fabric that is coated in vinyl so spills can be easily wiped up.

    Aimee Mazzenga
  • The second-floor landing was warmed up with antique Aubusson tapestries, wall brackets from Ballard Designs, and a trio of paper flowers by The Green Vase (through John Derian). The vintage bench is in a Rose Tarlow stripe.

    Aimee Mazzenga

“The overall goal was livable elegance, keeping in mind that young boys lived here,” says Lowe. She carefully calibrated the living room to balance thoughtful decor with the needs of a young family, and intentionally made the dining room more intimate in scale: “Everything in the house felt large and vast, so I wanted one space that was more tucked away and cozy,” she says of the library-like space. Painted in a muted tea-leaf green (actually Farrow & Ball’s deceptively named Blue Grey), easily dresses up for company, or down for casual family meals. The kitchen and breakfast area also got a shot of glamour from Calacatta marble countertops and matching backsplashes with oversized pendant lights above, while the lattice-backed chairs were thoughtfully picked for function: They’re lightweight enough for the boys to easily push them in and out, and upholstered in wipeable vinyl-coated fabric.

“I always like to balance feminine with undertones of masculine,” says Lowe of the primary bedroom, pairint Cowtan & Tout’s Linnaeus floral fabric and portrait purchased at auction with a clean-lined custom headboard in a menswear-inspired Schumacher stripe, mahogany end tables, and drapes in a windowpane check from Lee Jofa.

Aimee Mazzenga
  • A cozy seating area in the primary bedroom provides a place for the family to gather before tuck-in time. The custom settee is upholstered in a Schumacher stripe; the ottoman is in a Pierre Frey fabric with Samuel & Sons trim.

    Aimee Mazzenga
  • Lowe repainted the powder room’s existing vanity and mirror work in a coat of Contented by Sherwin Williams, throwing all the attention on the Cole & Son’s Acacia wallpaper. A sconce from Visual Comfort is topped with a Fermoie shade.

    Aimee Mazzenga

Upstairs, the boys each got their own personality-to-the-max bedroom full of color and pattern (not to mention books and toys) that match their interests (toy soldiers, Legos), while the parents’ suite was kept elegantly quiet. “We mindfully planned for a serene, grown-up space that provides breathing room from the rest of the house,” says Lowe. That’s not to say it’s a boy-free zone: “We added a cozy, soft seating area, bearing in mind that all three kiddos would frequent the space—and most likely use the furniture as a launching pad,” says Lowe.

While the breakup with Chicago wasn’t easy, what could have been heartbreak has turned into happiness. With the house decorated and all three boys happily settled in new schools and cozy new beds, they’re already filling the house with a different kind of history.

  • A Noguchi Akari paper lantern presides over the middle son’s bedroom, a fitting choice for the most artistic member of the family. “ We kind of spanned the spectrum of ‘boy colors’ between their three rooms, so it felt natural to use a bit of orange here,” says Lowe.

    Aimee Mazzenga
  • The eldest son’s room has plenty of Americana flair. The vintage Jenny Lind-style spindle bed was found on Facebook Marketplace and paired with Annie Selke bedding. Southern Linens monogrammed pillow, and Pottery Barn lamp with custom shade in Stars by Chelsea Textiles.

    Aimee Mazzenga

Brunschwig & Fils’ Battle of Valmy 1792 wallpaper sets the scene in the youngest son’s bedroom. The client hoped for a pair of twin beds, but the room’s awkward layout left little room for play space, so Lowe devised a custom daybed covered in Kravet linen that can be taken apart and turned into two twin headboards later in life.

Aimee Mazzenga