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Thinking Big

An interior designer pulls out all the stops in her largely quirky Wilmette home

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In the living room, the base of the coffee table is made entirely of driftwood. Edelmann draped the Buddha statue with chunky turquoise beads for “a shot of aqua” and placed the French meter-stick floor lamp next to the sofa as much for verticality (the ceilings are 12 feet high) as for good reading light. Photo Gallery »

For Julia Edelmann, there’s no size like oversize. “I am crazy about large artifacts,” admits the interior designer, owner of the busy Wilmette firm Buckingham Interiors & Design. “If I go into an antique store and it’s all ‘smalls,’ I’m so depressed. I want something bold to pop out at me.”

That explains the extraordinary sight that greets visitors to Edelmann’s Wilmette home. An enormous sculptural face, with chiseled classical features and wavy locks, takes up most of an entry hall wall, gazing down on guests like some faintly amused North Shore Gulliver. It certainly trumps the usual suburban table/vase/mirror foyer combo, but subtle it’s not. Edelmann says the piece (made of zinc and not nearly as heavy as it looks) was recovered from an about-to-be-demolished building on Washington Street in New York City. Her husband and three teenaged children immediately christened the big fellow “Washington.”

“The house needed something fun at the front door. The entry hall was way too serious, way too dark,” says Edelmann. Not many decorators would call a massive architectural ornament the perfect lighthearted touch, but Edelmann’s instincts, as usual, were dead on. Her sure hand with the outsized and outlandish has instilled youth and humor into a house that might otherwise have been a too-prim-and-proper Victorian.

“Everyone has a house that speaks to them,” says the Evanston-born Edelmann of her turreted, rambling white-clapboard home. She had admired and coveted the historically landmarked beauty her whole life, so when a for sale sign appeared a few years ago, she had to buy it. “I had it already decorated in my head,” she says. “I’ve wished I lived here ever since I was a little girl.”

Fittingly, she has decorated her dream home with girlish enthusiasm. Take the parlor’s big bright orange wing chair next to a lamp that looks like a stack of gigantic illuminated ice cubes. “That vignette makes me so happy,” says Edelmann. “It’s the perfect place to grab a magazine from the mailbox and sit and peruse.”

It’s also the perfect spot to sit and contemplate the room’s remarkable furnishings, like the central table crafted from enormous corroded links of old mariner’s chain. And the vintage lithograph of Audrey Hepburn, whose eyes peer out from under a bright orange cloche; Edelmann says the vintage French advertising poster is her “second-favorite thing in the house.” (Washington is the first.)

But the room’s showstopper is the chandelier hanging from a Paul Bunyan­–sized hook. “I found this fabulous curlicued chandelier at the Chicago Antique Market,” Edelmann says. “At the time, I’d forgotten all about that hook. Then somehow they ended up next to each other in the garage and I thought, hmmm. . . .”

Maybe Edelmann believes she just lucks into great design like that, but there are far too many finds here for it to be accidental. Exciting ideas lurk behind every petrified-tree-stump table (in the master bathroom), French meter-stick floor lamp (living room), and driftwood-filled china cabinet (dining room). The designer loves sharing her enthusiasm for “found” forms, shapes, and colors in things like that surprisingly porcelain-free china cabinet. “The driftwood is so subtle, so muted, that you focus only on the beautiful details of the built-in cabinet,” explains Edelmann.


Photography: Nathan Kirkman


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