The truth is -- and Susan Heller of the north suburbs was not shy about telling it -- "my husband thought I decorated like an old woman."
Instead of wincing or retaliating in an unkind way, Heller turned something of a deaf ear and continued her noble (solo) effort to update their grand, 1930s era English Country-esque home, where she and her husband had clocked 15 years and raised two (now teenage) children.That is: until she saw a friend's house and fell in love with its redecoration.
Heller believed she could work with that decorator, Chicago interior designer Tony Stavish. She hired Stavish for a (mere) consultation on her living room.
That was three years ago and Stavish is still in the picture. His authority on the troubled living space turned into authorship of a redecorating plan that touched almost every room in this 4,200-square-foot house.
Stavish's mandate: Give the place some attitude.
His strategy: Reshuffle and reinvent existing furnishings; then buy new stuff. Stavish has been known to do this, arriving at the home of a client (who is hesitant about making big changes) with movers and his assistant and simply rearranging the furniture -- but being bold and swapping decor from one room to the next.
"Sometimes, people living in their own environment can't quite see" the possibilities, he says.
In the Heller house, the possibilities included bringing nightstands (contemporary) down from the master bedroom and turning them into an offbeat coffee table in the living room.
And it meant moving a couple of chairs, the area rug and draperies from the living room to the master bedroom to lay the groundwork for a more sophisticated look.
And on and on the reshuffle game went. Very few pieces of furniture were pitched. And save for the kitchen (which underwent a complete remodel), no major construction was performed.
But a major change did occur.
She used to second-guess her decorating decisions, Heller says, and the house never felt complete. "Now," she says, "it really feels done."
How it went from sugary sweet (left) to hip sophistication (right) for an 18-year-old:
* Got a fresh color scheme -- apple green and brown -- that started with the choice of bed linens. "She [Lexi] picked it," Susan Heller says. "She picked the quilt first, then the sheets."
* Replaced fuzzy white rug with contemporary area rugs.
* Replaced old brassy fixture with a chandelier that once (barely) illuminated a master bedroom closet -- and had it painted white.
* Added crown molding. "By adding that little piece of trim at the top of the wall, we accentuated the [existing] tray ceiling," Stavish says.
* Added custom desk, custom benches/storage seats.
* Painted existing red iron bed in a hip/elegant brown color.
* Applied trim detail and inserted beveled mirrors on the existing flat-front closet doors to create mirrored paneled doors.
* Replaced old fixtures in the window seat area with vintage sconces, brushed white.
* Turned a table that was once in the house's library into a nightstand.
* Added Murano glass bedside lamp.
How it went from stodgy to classic modern:
* Painted out two-toned walls (faux-finished gray on the top, beige on the bottom) in a solid creamy color. "It lends an overall consistency to the whole space, without breaking it up," Stavish explains.
* Added, new, larger area rug in black, khaki and red color scheme. "In a long hallway, it was important that it joined the hallways from one side to the other and be wide enough to anchor the room," Stavish says. "Skinny rugs in wide halls don't stay in place. They become obviously out of skew easily."
* Reupholstered leopard-print bench in big (dramatic) damask-patterned silk.
* Spray-painted existing chandelier in a cinnabar color and made it funky with a custom sheer "shade."
How they did it
Interior design: Tony Stavish, AW Stavish Designs, 2223 W. Shakespeare Ave., #1R, Chicago, 773-227-0117.
Paint: Benjamin Moore No. 2146-40 Pale Avocado (walls); Benjamin Moore Navajo White (trim and chandelier).
Molding and mirror frames on closet doors: C.A.P. Inc., Riverwoods, 847-370-1156.
Custom cabinetry (desk and window seats): Custom Cabinet Man, 3816B Grandview Rd., Gurnee, 847-249-0007.
Bed linens: Brown/white coverlet from Bed Bath & Beyond, bedbathand beyond.com, 800-462-39663; sheets/comforter (made from extra sheets) from West Elm, 2155 W. 22nd St., Oak Brook, 630-368-3591.. Comforter made (through the trade) by Quiltmaster, Carpentersville, 847-426-6741.
Iron bed: Red bed (homeowner's collection) repainted Benjamin Moore No. HC-70 Van Buren Brown.
Murano glass lamp on bed table: Daniel's Antiques, 2062 N. Damen Ave., 773-276-9600..
Area rugs: Room & Board, roomandboard.com, 800-486-6554.
Paint: Benjamin Moore No. 1077 Great Plains Gold.
Table/chairs: Chairs (homeowner's collection) reupholstered in Lee Jofa No. 2006157 through the trade at Lee Jofa, Suite 6-136, The Merchandise Mart, 312-644-2965.
Foo dogs: Asian House of Chicago, 159 W. Kinzie St., 312-527-4848.
Ceiling light fixture: Trianon Ceiling Light No. BSA123 from Baker Chicago, 825 W. Chicago Ave., 312-733-0353; and Baker Deerfield, 775 N. Waukegan Rd., Deerfield, 847-317-0752. And through the trade at Baker Knapp & Tubbs, Suite 6-187, The Merchandise Mart, 312-337-7144.
Table lamps: Anna's Mostly Mahogany, 531 Bank Lane, Highwood, 847-432-9151.
Oil painting: By Chicago artist Lee Tracy from Thomas Masters Gallery, 245 W. North Ave., 312-440-2322.
Paint: Benjamin Moore No. HC-26 Monroe Bisque.
Area rug: Indo-Persian runner from Oscar Isberian Rugs, 1028 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-475-0000; isberian.com.
Chandelier: Homeowner's collection spray-painted Benjamin Moore No. 034 Spiced Pumpkin; custom sheer shade done in Kravet fabric No. 8598-816 Ceres, color Bronze through the trade at Kravet Inc., Suite 6-128 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, 312-527-0505. Shade custom made by A Lamp & Fixture Shoppe, 3181 N. Elston Ave., 773-866-0220.