Lexi's bedroom

Susan Heller also included her 18-year-old daughter Lexi's bedroom in the redecorating plans. (Tribune photo by Bonnie Trafelet / June 22, 2008)

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.