French Accents

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Barbara Steen and Jim Thomas loved the concept of escaping Illinois winters, and they were thrilled to find a lovely pool home on a lake in University Park within their price range. But Barbara took just one glance at the dated interior and knew she couldn’t live there. "The kitchen had nothing going for it," […]


Barbara Steen and Jim Thomas loved the concept of escaping Illinois winters, and they were thrilled to find a lovely pool home on a lake in University Park within their price range. But Barbara took just one glance at the dated interior and knew she couldn’t live there.

"The kitchen had nothing going for it," explains interior decorator Christine Brown. "The cabinets were a nondescript maple and the backsplash was Baltic brown granite, so there was no coordination or color complement there. The island and cook top repeated the brown theme, the appliances were black and the walls and ceiling were very plain and very white. Even the ceiling fan was tired." White walls and ceiling continued into the connecting family room with a fireplace as focal point. More bad browns, but in tile this time, covered the hearth and fireplace surround, adds Brown, and the space above the mantel was all mirror. "The mirror reflected the ugly kitchen in every drab detail," she recalls with a sigh.

The decision to redecorate was made immediately, and Brown prepared color boards and fabric samples for her clients. She also selected furniture; and when Barbara and Jim found it difficult to envision the placement of various pieces, the interior designer created a blueprint of sorts using masking tape on the tiled floor. "I taped outlines of where the sofa and tables and chairs would sit so they could ‘see’ how the pieces fit together in the room," says Brown. "Once they got a visual image of actual sizes within the space, we were ready to get going."

The couple headed back to Illinois, and Brown rolled up her sleeves and got to work. The cabinetry was refinished, painted and glazed in a warm vanilla with burnt edges, and new knobs were chosen in oil-rubbed bronze. The depressing brown granite was scrapped in favor of a creamy stone swirled with caramel, coffee and gold. A new backsplash was created with bisque tiles randomly inset with decorative pieces and a hand-painted mural. Brown added beams on the ceiling, faux-painted to look like wood, and crown moldings painted to match the kitchen cabinetry. The fan was replaced with a wonderful antique wrought-iron chandelier, and suddenly the kitchen acquired a decided French accent and provincial feel.

Brown fashioned a warm and sunny breakfast nook with a round, distressed wood tabletop, custom-made to rest on a faux stone pineapple base and surrounded by wood game chairs on casters. Stained wooden rods support pinch-pleated drapery panels in a cherry-red, gold and green strip with tassel trim. An existing maple workstation with desk and built-in shelves was painted and glazed to match the kitchen cabinetry and architectural pieces placed over doorways. The boring white walls in the family room were painted with panels of pale yellow inside handsome wood moldings and decorated with whimsical filigree at the corners. Brown removed the old fireplace mirror and ripped out the ugly brown tile, replacing both with beautiful beige stone and pilasters.

Custom-designed cabinetry encases the television and creates storage space for books and objets d’art beside the fireplace. Brown chose a large area rug featuring floral squares reminiscent of a quilt pattern and a traditional couch covered in cotton floral. A handsome pair of red lounge chairs in cozy chenille anchors the seat grouping. A plank-top coffee table and Old-World demi-lune table in painted and distressed wood house cards and games. A wooden ladder-back chair with rush seat and vividly striped cushion repeats the colors found in the drapery panels, while heavily framed oil paintings of fruit and floral arrangements contribute to a French Country cottage motif.

"Barbara and Jim wanted the family room and kitchen to be fresh and light-filled and to flow easily from the foyer and living room," explains Brown. "They loved the look and feel of the strong reds, golds and yellows next to warm wood and creamy tile and stone. Our result offers a sense of the comfortable country homes found in the South of France and all of the vivid colors found among French landscapes in the fields and flowers. Now the rooms are wonderfully welcoming. They beckon you to come in and stay."

Design Team

Interiors by Robert Henry and Christine Brown, formerly of Tidmore-Henry Associates.

Sofa and ladder-back chair by Lane; chenille lounge chairs by Barca;

coffee table, demi-lune table, breakfast table base and game chairs by Hooker.

Tile by West Coast Distributors and installed by Tomka; custom woodwork by Chuck Kauffman; granite and stonework by Marble Masters and Rock On Floors.

Chandeliers and artwork by Tidmore-Henry Collection; custom floral rug by Shaw; fabrics by Stroheim & Romann.

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