Interior Motives

Looking for a classic modernist? An eclectic traditionalist? A transitional . . . oh, never mind. With so many designers and decorators to choose from, it can be tricky finding one you’ll click with. These five firms stand out from the crowd by specializing in a certain type of client—you, perhaps

Photography by Katrina Wittkamp

james dolence and thomas riker
Thomas Riker (left) and James Dolenc, seated in vintage Saarinen Tulip chairs, softened the look of NBC anchor Don Lemon’s modern-edged condo with pieces from the 1950s.

The XY Factor
James Dolenc & Thomas Riker
Clients who abhor fussy decor flock to JamesThomas, the three-year-old partnership of interior designer James Dolenc and Thomas Riker, who trained as an architect. “I’d say our look is best described as tailored,” Riker says.
A Guy Thing: Although it wasn’t the intent, the firm’s client list includes a lot of men living solo, including local NBC anchor Don Lemon.
Money Is Time: The two charge by the hour (and don’t upcharge for furniture) after carefully estimating the time they’ll need for space planning, shopping, and everything else. “It’s very methodical. Guys respond well to that format,” Dolenc says.
Cool, Not Cold: Riker and Dolenc steer clear of concrete, pure white walls, and other stark elements in their designs. Their softer version of modern means comfortable furniture, warm woodwork, and color. For accent pieces, they might incorporate tribal artifacts or, if the customer is up for it, a sparkly chandelier over the dining table. “We want rooms to be warm and welcoming, not sterile,” Riker says.
Plain Talk: Riker and Dolenc are approachably down-to-earth and speak the language of the layman. “We don’t throw around big words. We don’t show clients lots of tear sheets. We don’t try to make things overly complicated,” Dolenc says. “It’s furniture. These aren’t life and death choices.”
jamesthomas, 2401 W. Ohio St., 312-738-7300

chicago designer michele fitzpatrick
Furniture should not be disposable, says Michele Fitzpatrick. For a client in the city, her company hand-built this camelback sofa using a hardwood frame, replaceable spring system, non-gassing foam, and nontoxic glues. The Bloom chair is upholstered in recyclable silk.

Natural Selection
Michele Fitzpatrick

My clients love the look of my pieces, and the sustainability factor is just a bonus,” says Michele Fitzpatrick, whose Bucktown showroom, Verde, features earth-friendly furniture, fabrics, rugs, wallcoverings, and works by local artists.
The Vibe: Fitzpatrick’s design doesn’t even whisper “hippie.” Her sleek chairs and sofas, upholstered in soft fabrics, are inspired by such modernists as Edward Wormley and Harvey Probber.
Pure Pleasure: Fitzpatrick’s sustainable furniture is free of toxic finishes and off-gassing foam. Everything is made locally, which saves on shipping costs and gas. She avoids tropical hardwoods, including trendy Macassar ebony, because there’s not that much of it. “Just because something is renewable doesn’t mean it’s abundant,” she says.
Renaissance Woman: Fitzpatrick would rather give pieces new life than see them end up as landfill. An impeccably clean-lined sofa she recently sold was unrecognizable from its rolled-armed, skirted, puffy-backed former self. She had stripped it down to the bones, put nontoxic foam cushions on it, and upholstered it in wool, which is naturally antibacterial and stain resistant. “Think of a sofa as a frame that you’re investing in,” she says.
Rooms with a Point of View: Fitzpatrick recently finished work in an old Victorian home in the city, incorporating a tall-backed chair of her own design and other furniture she had made in local shops. “My pieces are more expensive than those at a big-box retailer, but I feel good knowing that I’m putting furniture that’s healthy and sustainable into my clients’ homes,” she says.
Verde, 2100 W. Armitage Ave., 773-486-7750

chicago designers john cannon and cary frank
John Cannon (standing) and his business partner, Cary Frank, like the punch that tasteful Art Deco pieces add to this duplex in Water Tower Place.

The Deco-rators
John Cannon & Cary Frank

Nothing says glamour like Art Deco, with its bold, seductively simple lines and rich surfaces. And locally, no interior design firm knows Art Deco better than Cannon/Frank. “I love the old movies of the 1930s,” says John Cannon, who owns the firm with Cary Frank. “The look, history, and elegance of that period.” Which is not to say his rooms look like sets from The Thin Man. “I keep them in line with modern times but reflective of Art Deco design,” he says.
Working It: For a Lake Shore Drive duplex apartment, the firm used Louis XV chairs and Hokanson area rugs in ivory wool and apricot silk to create a backdrop for the owners’ collection of pieces by ironworker Edgar Brandt, glass designer René Lalique, and other giants of the Deco era.
Plays Well with Others: “The pieces go with French, Japanese, modern, and many other styles, so I always try to incorporate something Art Deco into my jobs,” Cannon says. “Small touches-a pair of Art Deco lamps or andirons-are always classic.”
Background: Cannon attended the Ray-Vogue College of Design (now the Illinois Institute of Art), where studying period furnishings was considered highly important. “Art Deco became popular again when I was starting out, but people had a hard time finding authentic pieces,” he says. “I relied on my education to help me weed out what was good and what wasn’t.”
The Real Deal: Ersatz, 1980s-style Deco is not Cannon’s thing. “All those mirrors and over-the-top items were just too flashy-trashy. We stick to the original pieces,” he says.
Cannon/Frank, 1530-B Merchandise Mart, 312-595-1550; www.cannon/frank.com

chicago designer elizabeth black
Elizabeth Black made the most of this play space in a Winnetka home by designing underbed storage for a train set. A hand-painted canvas on the wall adds charm.

Small World
Elizabeth Black

Decorator Elizabeth Black creates personalized rooms children will love well into their tumultuous teens.
The Inner Child: For one project, Black surrounded a cozy window seat with curtains so a little girl could escape, alone, with her beloved books. For another, she added a boy’s name in his own cursive handwriting to his bed’s headboard after spying him practicing his penmanship. “Every child is an individual. I try to incorporate something subtle into every room that fits that child,” she says.
Past Un-Tense: “I like pieces that come from somewhere and have a history,” Black says. She often incorporates refinished lamps, mirrors, chairs, chandeliers, vintage-inspired textiles, and old posters into her rooms. She gravitates toward things that are “child-appropriate without being too juvenile,” she says. Her Lake View shop, Elizabeth Marie, is full of such accouterments.
Planes, Trains, and Ballerinas: Black avoids themed rooms but will incorporate trucks or ballerinas into a space if they’re meaningful for the child. For the boy’s room shown here, she used the trundle of his bed as a storage area for his train set and had an old-fashioned steam-engine train painted onto canvas and hung on the wall. “It’s elegant, not cutesy,” she says.
Her Biggest Fan: “The best compliment I ever received came indirectly from a little boy whose room I designed,” she says. “His mom told me that one morning he asked to go back up to his room to read before school started. He’d never done that before. I just loved that he felt so comfortable in his space.”
Elizabeth Marie, 3612 N. Southport Ave., 773-525-4100

chicago designer laurel feldman
The owners of this Bannockburn home travel all over the world, adding to their eclectic art collection along the way. Interior designer Laurel Feldman worked with the couple to blend their pieces into the residence for maximum impact.

Art Smart
Laurel Feldman

Art is what gives a room its character, feeling, mystery, beauty, and form,” says interior designer Laurel Feldman. She has 30 years of interior design experience but is best known for her ability to help clients develop art collections in line with their interests and decor.
Pedigree: Feldman has an undergraduate degree in art history and spent the early years of her marriage soaking up the art world while her husband worked at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and, later, the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. “It was the best graduate school in the world. I was constantly in museums and fabulous homes,” she recalls. “Your eye learns very quickly in those spectacular environments what works and doesn’t work.”
Getting It Together: She has helped a client collect American art pottery for a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Glencoe, mixed antiques with contemporary art at a Lake Shore Drive home, and curated the artwork in (and oversaw the restoration of) the governor’s mansion in Springfield.
Frames of Mind: “Any framer will pick a frame that’s right for a piece, but it may not be right for the room,” Feldman advises. “They don’t know where it will be hung or what the space looks like. There has to be a sensitivity to that.”
The Money Question: “Even if you don’t have a big budget, your home should have special objects,” Feldman says. “I often buy vintage French posters for clients. They’re great and affordable. And there are so many up-and-coming artists who do fantastic work.”
Laurel Feldman Interiors, 847-266-0067

 

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