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The Manor Reborn

Project Interiors infuses a classic home outside Chicago with contemporary verve...

How does one refashion a masterpiece without suffocating its spirit? The husband-and-wife owners of this notable property—a 13,000-square-foot, circa-1924 estate in the posh Chicago-area suburb of River Forest—proceeded with great care, seeking outside expertise before making any design decisions. They hired the Chicago studio Project Interiors, whose principal, Aimee Wertepny, and senior designer, Jennifer Kranitz, unleashed their feisty, chromatic alchemy on the stately residence. They not only gave the estate a modern makeover but also honored its individual history as the husband’s childhood home. It was a personal project, and in the end, the redesign emerged as a thoughtful rendition, one that expresses the couple’s tastes and gutsy palette preferences without lingering in sentimentality. “They needed a third party to come in and edit—someone else to do the dirty work,” says Wertepny. 

In the foyer, flanked by Lindsey Adelman lights made into sconces, hangs a metallic dimensional work by the artist Connie Noyes. Three Swing pendants by Nicola Nerboni for Fambuena—“a nonobvious, playful choice,” notes Wertepny—descend above the home’s original staircase. 

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The Remix

In addition to the main residence, the property encompasses a coach house, an enclosed passageway, and expansive grounds, and throughout the designers encountered glamorous period details, from ornate plaster ceilings and wooden panels to stone fireplaces and white oak floors. “[The clients] wanted us to respect the most important bones in the house, and we wanted to,” says Kranitz. 

At the same time, the wife—a close collaborator throughout the design process—also dreamed of a bright, luminous living room with hits of saturated color. “It was definitely controversial,” says Wertepny. “We wanted to take an entire 1,000-square-foot space full of original dark mahogany and paint it white.” 

Despite some initial hesitation, the team forged ahead, and the result is a triumph of design that is current but also celebrates the space’s provenance. The chandeliers and fireplace are original, while dramatic pieces such as the custom purple chaise provide ample, streamlined seating whether the owners are watching TV or entertaining guests. A collage-style wall beside the fireplace displays, among other works, artist Amanda Morrison’s edgy, acrylic-gloss-coated composition (detail shown at right) of molten rubber, chain, and textile. Project Interiors’ signature textural decadence is felt in the room’s tactile mix: a tufted rug by Çinar, ombré sheers from Opuzen, two Wertepny-designed Lucite chairs, a 1970s lamp, and a custom wingback. 

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Space and Time

A contrast to today’s open floor plans, the home’s traditional layout enabled each room to be its own decorative universe. The husband’s office/library holds mementos, as this office was once his father’s. “What I love in this room is how the vintage elements combine with the new elements that we selected. They have a timeless appeal,” says Wertepny. “We upholstered the desk in plaid flannel; the light fixture is from Ralph Lauren. The rhythm of the steel shelving matched the rhythm and dimensions of the wood paneling, so we weren’t interrupting anything there, we were embellishing it.” 

In the dining room, the designers drenched the walls in high-drama black lacquer—their favorite—and upholstered the chairs in a striking emerald green indoor/outdoor fabric from Perennials. “It’s a sexy jewel box,” says Wertepny. The main-floor powder room showcases a high-wattage custom wall covering by Black Crow Studios. “It’s the story that’s played out in the home, in every room, in a different way: a dose of color, a splash of glam, a splash of white, Lucite, a little bit of gold, and traditional molding.”

The kitchen now has a reconfigured layout and clean sight lines. The blackened-steel-and-glass apothecary cabinet is custom, and the backsplash’s concrete tiles are by Andy Fleishman for Ann Sacks.

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Habitats in balance

The first piece chosen for the master bedroom was the Bernhardt bed. “To counterbalance the square, architectural feel of this massive piece, we were focused on creating more feminine lines,” says Kranitz. “The chaise we had custom-made in a vintage style. We added the gold egg table and softer pieces to juxtapose the strength of that bed.” Charcoal floor-to-ceiling drapery behind the headboard also offsets the bed’s weight. Unlike the home’s main floor, the second level lacks ornate ceilings, so Wertepny and Kranitz selected a striking light fixture, the Sibilla pendant by Crepax & Zanon for Leucos. Project Interiors designed the bedside table and selected a carpet by Stark. The artwork—a vintage series of Asian etchings—was uncovered in the home’s attic.  

In one of the guest rooms, the designers translated the wife’s fondness for monkeys into a cheeky custom wallpaper print of monkeys having cocktails, smoking, and wearing pearls. The armchair is one of three vintage chairs that belonged to the wife’s mother-in-law. It was reborn in black lacquer and upholstered in Mongolian lamb’s wool.

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Tunnel vision

A corridor connects the main residence to the coach house and garage. Affectionately dubbed “the link” by the homeowners, the 30-foot-long passageway received the Project Interiors treatment: black paint for the window frames and original lanterns, as well as new tile for the floor and framed black-and-white wedding photos for the walls. Inside the coach house, the wife’s office is a splashy retreat. The designers modified an image of the Amalfi Coast, where the couple honeymooned, to create a vibrant mural that the wife can enjoy while she uses the space. 

“It was very passion-driven,” says Wertepny of the wife’s relationship with the project. “She was very involved in the hunting and gathering, she was scouring; she was sort of in training for her store.” The wife opened that shop, a home furnishings boutique, last year. “I was definitely inspired by working with Project [Interiors] to experiment more and more in the realm of design and decorating,” says the wife. “They took me to the next level.”

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Making a Splash 

The designers plunged into a sassy, resort-style design for the pool area, which affords a view of the property’s picturesque landscaped expanse. Outdoor furniture from Janus et Cie, metallic beanbag cushions by Fatboy, and kicky Missoni pillows are the backdrop for family gatherings and parties. The scene—a well-orchestrated mingling of classic architecture and contemporary details—epitomizes Project Interiors’ knack for blending tradition and modernity with sophistication. 

“What felt really good about this project is that there’s an heirloom sense about every decision we were making,” says Kranitz. Adds Wertepny, “One of the things I live by is that people should live in spaces that make them feel good and that are reflective of history, of past events, heirlooms, and stories. And something that makes you smile and reflect. Not all of our clients come with those elements, so we have to create them in some cases. Luckily this home came with a lot of history—a lot of stories.”  

Project Interiors, 773.394.1174, projectinteriors.net 



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