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Fifty Shades of Gray
Tate Gunnerson | Photo: Evan Thomas | July 7, 2014
A rich palette creates a warm and cohesive feeling in a Highland Park mansion.
“As big and dressy as this house is, it has warmth,” explains interior designer Stephanie Wohlner of the 15,000-square-foot mansion in Highland Park that she designed for a couple with three young children. The wife first saw Wohlner’s work while paging through a design magazine. Impressed with the French-inspired interior, the wife inquired among her friends and learned that Wohlner lived just down the street and had designed the homes of others in her circle of acquaintances. “I had actually seen some of her work before in person without realizing it,” the wife says. “When we finally met, we clicked immediately. She understood our style, and she felt like somebody I would enjoy working with.”
Wohlner’s involvement in the project began when the home was still in the planning stages. Working with architect Michael Hershenson, of Michael Hershenson Architects, and contractor Matt Pollack, of Red Rock Custom Homes, the designer had a hand in every aspect of the interior design, from the flooring to the intricate wainscoting and molding throughout. “It was very copacetic,” Wohlner explains, noting that the challenge for this project was to create an elegant home that would still feel comfortable and warm despite its cavernous spaces. “She wanted it to be dressy yet livable. It’s really hard to create cozy spaces in these very large homes,” Wohlner explains.
To that end, Wohlner developed a palette of grays that she used to unite the spaces throughout the home. “Gray can be really cold, but it can also be warm and that’s the case in this house,” explains Wohlner, noting that she had the wainscoting and trim painted the same color as the walls. “Originally I was going to paint the trim white, but it dawned on me that it would have looked too busy,” Wohlner says.
Striking the right balance between layered and busy was key to creating the interior that Wohlner envisioned for the home. For the formal living room walls and trim, Wohlner selected a pale shade of gray that complements the marble fireplace mantel that she imported from Europe. A pair of sofas face each other, their undulating frames playing off similar lines in a trio of silver leaf and glass cocktail tables and in the crystal sconces that flank the fireplace. “There is a rhythm there that (the wife) and I both appreciated,” Wohlner says.
A large piece of painted glass makes a more contemporary statement in the space and also inspired Wohlner to incorporate its orange hues into throw pillows for the sofas and decorative accents that she carried into the other rooms. “For a house like this, especially for a young couple, it’s important that the art be modern,” Wohlner explains, pointing to the juxtaposition between the antiqued sofa frame and the more modern, reflective painting.
On the other side of the foyer is a large formal dining room for which Wohlner selected a soft, warm gray. Concerned that the space still felt a bit cold, Wohlner also incorporated a silver metallic wallcovering that has a pattern resembling window frames. “The room is so enormous that it needed something to add interest or it might have looked like a giant conference room,” Wohlner says. “The wallcovering is interesting and daring.”
The nailhead trim and contemporary pattern that the designer selected for the dining chairs pulls the dining room in a modern direction, while a gold-leaf counsel with a marble top, and a crystal chandelier and sconces add a more formal aesthetic. “I always try to put a lot of layering in my work,” Wohlner explains. “It’s like a dress with jewelry or a suit with a pocket square. You need those layers to create warmth and interest.’’
The nailhead trim makes another appearance in the spacious family room, where Wohlner has incorporated plush, comfortable furnishings upholstered in complementary shades of dark gray, charcoal and black. With the three children in mind, the designer eschewed vulnerable silk and velvet in favor of wool and cotton. “I wanted durable fabrics that would stand the test of time,” Wohlner says. “It’s more refined than a country home, yet you can plop down on the fabrics.” Adding classic sophistication are two pairs of wing chairs—one set in front of the fireplace, the other next to french doors that overlook the backyard. “People think design has to be casual to be comfortable but that’s not always the case,” Wohlner explains.
Indeed, this home is a study in contrasts —spacious yet cozy, elegant yet comfortable. According to Wohlner, every detail in the home works together to create a continuous feeling throughout. “If you take down all the walls in a house, you still want it to feel connected and cohesive,” Wohlner explains. “This house has a sense of peacefulness. Life is so chaotic that I think you need that in a home.”
For the owners, moving into their new fully furnished home after the nearly 18-month build felt a little like the reveal that culminates so many televised decorating shows. “It was a surreal experience, like a dream come true,” the wife explains. “We feel very fortunate that we had the opportunity to build such an amazing house, and we appreciate it every day.”