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Clean Slate

When a globe-trotting couple decides to come back to chicago, they call on designer gemma parker to transform a formal and fussy lakeside abode into a warm and modern family dream home.

The homeowners were hesitant to introduce color, but strategic accents of blue, such as pillows in Fortuny and Holly Hunt velvets and custom chairs in a Dedar fabric, energize the space. The custom ottoman is upholstered in an Edelman leather. Designer Gemma Parker opted for no window treatments to allow as much light in as possible and make the most of the view to the outdoors. 

The dramatic ceiling height and cove moldings inspired the design of the breakfast room, where Parker gave a tiered chandelier from Circa Lighting pride of place. A walnut pedestal table is surrounded by a custom banquette in an outdoor fabric by Holly Hunt, with dining chairs upholstered in a faux leather by Castel.  

It took five men with five ladders to install the stunning chandelier from Jean de Merry in the dining room. The chairs are covered in an outdoor fabric from Holly Hunt with a geometric back by Sahco, while the walls are wrapped in a silky sateen. The art is enamel with ink on an aluminum panel from Thomas Masters Gallery.

The nursery has a subdued nautical theme thanks to a map tapestry and porthole mirror from RH.

Parker coordinated the pass-through butler’s pantry with the dining room by covering the walls in an aluminum weave from Phillip Jeffries and the ceiling in silver leaf. The metallic elements pick up on the contrasting bands of charcoal on the draperies of Schumacher and Romo fabrics, creating a jewel box-like space of quiet glamour.  

The master bedroom is a dreamy retreat, with its view to the back garden and a palette of soothing neutrals that includes custom drapery in a soft geometric sateen by Mark Alexander and trim by Holland & Sherry. The dramatic, peaked ceiling is highlighted by a polished nickel chandelier from Jean de Merry. 

The master bathroom had dark cabinetry and millwork that was transformed by Benjamin Moore’s Dove White paint. New hardware from RH along with faucets and a bench from Waterworks update the space and accent the marble tile and herringbone inlay.  

Soon after meeting in the Midwest and getting married, a job took this young couple around the world—from locations that ranged from Calgary, Alberta, to Dublin, Ireland. Eventually their life of adventure landed them in New York City, where their first son was born. By the time she was pregnant with their second son, they were still renting an apartment and finally had a serious talk about putting down roots.

“We had been totally nomadic,” says the wife. “We lived in everything from fully furnished apartments to having barren white walls, always in high-rises in the center of the city. But we thought about where we wanted to grow our family and have some stability and realized it was time to head back to Chicago,” she says. Knowing they wanted to be near the lake, they were naturally drawn to the North Shore and found a brick English Tudor in Winnetka built in 2007. “It was two blocks from the lake, a walk to groceries and restaurants,” she says. “We loved the house. It had really good bones, lots of natural light, beautiful moldings and big windows. But we knew we wanted to put our own mark on it.”

To do just that, they turned to interior designer Gemma Parker. “They were über detail-oriented,” says Parker, “so I knew we’d be a match from the get-go.” Parker had the benefit of starting from scratch but “it was important to blend their styles to make the home reflective of them both,” explains the designer. “My husband prefers more modern, really clean lines—almost stark,” says the wife. “I definitely go for more warm, traditional, soft lines. But we both wanted a sophisticated and timeless home that would be liveable on a day-to-day basis with two toddlers.”

Parker’s first priority was to lighten the dark moldings and cabinetry and generally dial down the fancy. “The chandeliers, handles and knobs were very ornate. We wanted to simplify with more classic elements and clean lines,” the designer explains. She started with a fresh palette and fabrics and then custom designed most of the furniture so the shape and scale were just right. Wainscoting and ceiling medallions surrounding light fixtures in the dining room were removed for a more streamlined, modern look, and stone floors in the entry and kitchen were replaced with herringbone and wood floors to create a more cohesive flow. Although the couple didn’t want too much saturation and color, they gravitated to blues, which punctuate the family room. The cozy space is anchored by a sofa, a couple of chairs and a leather ottoman. “It opens to the kitchen and breakfast room—it was important to create a nice flow from space to space,” says Parker. She also introduced amethyst in a TV-free lounge on the second floor, where the family often hangs out to read.

A cohesive template gracefully moves from room to room maintaining a relaxed, casual style that is dressed up where appropriate. In the dining room, for example, a spectacular light fixture commands center stage with its large horizontal composition and the sparkle of glass in metal. The wet bar and powder room were given the glamour treatment through textural wallcoverings, including one with a metallic sheen on the ceilings. Still, everything is about comfort and wearability—performance materials were used on the breakfast room banquette and dining chairs—and keeping the look visually quiet yet interesting by pairing small geometrics in different fabrics.

“In the master bedroom, we played up texture,” says Parker, noting the grasscloth wall with rivets and a silk-and-wool rug with a thick, ribbed pile. “We wanted the room to be sophisticated without being too formal,” she explains. Similarly, painting the existing dark stained-wood cabinetry and millwork in the master bath completely transformed the space. “The creamy soft tone works well with the stone, and we pulled some of the gray out of the stone for the walls and fixtures. It’s a fresher feel.”

The couple is thrilled with the changes. “I’m so impressed with how it all jives,” says the wife. “I love the master bedroom—it’s a personal sanctuary. I was a little nervous about not doing any color, but it’s perfection. I could stay in it all day,” she says. The dining room also achieves perfection, highlighted by the gorgeous chandelier. “When you come into our driveway, it’s the first thing you see. I feel like it’s truly art.”


Single-family home
Gemma Parker


Chandeliers in breakfast room and powder room

Rubelli fabrics in master bedroom, Castel faux leather on dining chairs

Ottoman in family room

Custom table in dining room, banquette and table in breakfast room, chairs in family room, nightstands in master bedroom

Chair and trim on window treatment in master bedroom

Phillip Jeffries wallcoverings and Mokum, Dedar, Great Plains and Great Outdoors fabrics

Custom chandelier in dining room and chandelier in master bedroom

Lee Jofa fabrics throughout

Fabric for window treatments in dining room, breakfast room and master bedroom

Lamps in family room and master bedroom; all bedding, map tapestry and mirror in nursery

Rugs throughout

Custom fabrication of all window treatments