When a couple walked into a stucco-clad Kenilworth house, built in 1893 as a dormitory for a private school, they quickly realized they’d found the perfect home for their family, which included two young children and a third on the way. The front foyer was bathed in natural daylight, which streamed in from the third-floor skylight. Unlike in many older homes, the main rooms were spacious and the layout was open and breezy, which appealed to the wife (the couple prefer not to be named). “I just wanted the kitchen to connect to the family room so that I wasn’t alone doing the dishes,” she says.
MIXING OLD AND NEW
To help them make the house their own, the couple turned to Chicago interior designer Sarah Montgomery, who started her eponymous interior design studio in 2017, after years of designing window displays, stage sets and products (most recently for the local bedding and soft home furnishings manufacturer Eastern Accents). “She was younger in her career, and her ideas were really fresh,” the wife says. Montgomery quickly got to know her clients, noting that although they were largely on the same page, the husband gravitated toward a more traditional style than the wife, whose tastes were eclectic.
Reviewing the inspiration images the couple pulled from magazines and Pinterest “gave me an idea about the space they wanted, a space that would be very personal and very layered with art and accessories,” the designer explains. “They had a big blank slate and didn’t know where to start.” Working room by room, the designer incorporated a mix of vintage and antique finds alongside new furnishings, existing heirlooms and an intriguing art collection that included everything from antique oil paintings to outsider art. “It feels collected and thoughtful, but not too precious,” Montgomery says.
THE LIVING ROOM
In the formal living room, a traditional Persian rug layered over a larger sisal one creates a pleasing backdrop for a plush navy sofa and a pair of 1970s French provincial style club chairs recovered in an embroidered fabric. The colorful oversized chevron pattern on the chair backs can be seen from the street. “They were willing to do some adventurous things,” Montgomery says.
Just as interesting are the recessed shelves flanking the fireplace, which Montgomery painted in a dark gray and styled with leatherbound books, potted plants and a mix of objets d’art. Steps away, a children’s wooden rocker carved in the shape of a ram — a gift from the prior owners — adds to the collected atmosphere.
THE FAMILY ROOM
In this room, a traditional patterned rug in shades of blue and olive green establishes a serene color palette, playing off the tailored white sofa and a dusty blue velvet chair. Zebra hide-covered footstools and embroidered window treatments add panache.
In front of the window alongside the fireplace, the designer found a place for the family’s old black kitchen table, which she paired with two new chairs – a delightful spot to enjoy the view. “I love this room,” the wife says. “It’s so calming.”
THE DINING ROOM
The mix of influences flows throughout the interior. In the dining room, for example, a pair of zebra-patterned host chairs energize a traditional wooden table and black side chairs. On opposite walls, a vibrant abstract still-life painting is juxtaposed with a rather serious-looking oil painting that came from the wife’s grandparents.
PRESERVING THE HISTORY
Also left behind by the prior owners are sketches of the historic house, a large-scaled framed photo of the exterior and a pair of rolled up blueprints from a prior renovation decades ago, which are now displayed in the office. The blend of old and new appeals to the newly minted suburbanites, who have already referred Montgomery to their neighbors. The wife says, “I love that our house is approachable and unpretentious.”
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Tate Gunnerson is a Chicago-based freelance journalist with an equal appreciation for natural beauty and good design. He is a passionate supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Kidney Foundation.