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Old is New Again

Interior designer Claire Staszak breathes new life into a Chicago grande dame.

A pair of Louis XV-style wingback chairs from Old Plank complement more modern white sofas, while a Juju hat from South Loop Loft lends an exotic air over the fireplace.  

The dining room, with its elaborate plasterwork and pale blue-gray walls, became the inspiration for the home’s subdued yet sumptuous Swedish Gustavian style. 

The homeowner’s collection of Delftware is displayed on a modern lacquer Parsons-style console with a vintage mirror in the dining room.  

A large horse print from the homeowner’s collection makes a bold statement in the mahogany-paneled library, where a teal sofa provides a pleasing pop of color. 

Claire Staszak continued the warm, eclectic vibe in the bathrooms, which were all gutted and renovated with a clean white palette as a backdrop.  

When Chicago interior designer Claire Staszak of Centered by Design was recently asked to reboot a magnificent beaux-arts prewar residence on Lake Shore Drive, what came to mind was a certain Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem: What was good was very, very good, and what was bad was horrid.

The good in this 4,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home reached heights that most designers can only dream about—grand scale rooms and lavish architectural elements like carved fireplace mantels, original mahogany millwork and paneling, and meticulously restored plaster work on the ceilings. In other words, this was a home with great bones that hadn’t been stripped of its beauty. “It’s a special unit,” Staszak says. “I used to intern for Nate Berkus, and he had clients in that building. I haven’t seen an apartment with those original details.”

And yet the back portion of the home, particularly the kitchen, was another story altogether. “The kitchen was just so bad,” Staszak says. “It had a red, yellow, orange and green linoleum floor—I called it the clown kitchen.” It needed a full renovation, as did most of the rooms in the back of the house. The kitchen, however, was a priority for the wife, because she loves to cook. “I’m a freak about nutrition, and I bake all of our own bread,” she says. “I had all these specific needs for my bread-baking equipment, and Claire did a great job addressing that.”

Aside from the front rooms—library, dining room and living room—the entire residence needed to be repainted, reconfigured and redone. The master bedroom had an awkward layout that involved walking through the bathroom in order to get to the closet. And the master bathroom itself was strangely small. A powder room was missing, and all the other baths needed to be updated and the closets enlarged. The clients, who had just purchased the home, were living out of suitcases in a hotel, so there was a certain urgency to this project.

Luckily, Staszak and the homeowners were like-minded, which made the entire process rather seamless. “I found Claire through the Lake Forest Showhouse,” the wife recalls. “She had done a hallway and powder room, and I just thought she made some really smart choices. After the first couple of conversations with Claire, I realized we had very similar taste.”

So naturally, Staszak immediately grasped their vision, which was inspired by a hotel they had visited in Stockholm called the Ett Hem hotel. “When I was there, I walked in and literally wanted everything in it,” the wife says of the hotel’s subdued yet sumptuous Swedish Gustavian style. “It was very formal yet very comfortable at the same time. Right away, the architecture of that hotel reminded me of the bones of this apartment, and I wanted to capture that mood.”

And one of the things that really set the mood for both designer and homeowner was the paint color that was already on the walls of the dining room. “It was a pale Nordic gray,” Staszak says. “We were obsessed with it!” Staszak matched that color and used it on the trim in the adjoining hallway, and then as a springboard to build a palette of muted grayed-out colors throughout the home, capturing that romantic pared-back version of French Rococo.

The furnishings fell into place just as perfectly: a mix of old and new, modern and traditional. A Chippendale dining room set from Leslie Hindman Auctioneers is paired with an oversized indigo rug. In the living room, matching white sofas from the homeowner’s prior residence are flanked by white Louis XV-style wingback chairs from Old Plank. In the library, a marble-topped pedestal table with chairs from Ave Home makes a modern statement, while out in the hallway, a settee from the homeowner’s collection is illuminated with a contemporary globe-style chandelier.

“Claire did an incredible job on the lighting choices,” the wife says. “And lighting is one of those things that, while you might not notice immediately when you walk into someone’s home, when it’s done right, it’s the one ingredient that makes it so special.”

Now that they have settled in, they’re using their home to its fullest, opening their doors for charitable events and throwing dinner parties every other week. And yet, when it’s just the two of them, it’s perfectly cozy. “It’s a home that expands and contracts when we need it to,” the homeowner says, which is a testament to Staszak’s ability to design a space that’s both refined and inviting.


East Lakeview
Claire Staszak, Centered by Design
Jeff Levin, Plumb Properties Construction


Light fixtures in living room

Ave Home
Regency-style chairs in library

Barbara’s Design Studio
Custom window-covering fabrication

Circa Lighting
Light fixtures in kitchen, hallway and bathroom

Currey & Company
Lamps in living room

Emotive Reclaim Inc.
Fabrication of custom wood bar in hallway and vanities in master bathroom

Farrow & Ball
Wallpaper throughout

Leslie Hindman Auctioneers
Table and chairs in dining room

Old Plank
Louis XV wingback chairs in living room

South Loop Loft
Select art throughout

Studio 912
Custom cabinetry in kitchen

The Savoy Flea
Vintage rugs throughout