Living room
Designer Sean Cowan used Benjamin Moore’s Kingsport Gray on his living room walls to create a dark and moody effect. A chalkboard with an oak frame became art in his hands. Photo Gallery »

Interior designer Sean Cowan, who works with clients here and in New York, where he lived until recently, takes inspiration from three sources: his clients’ personalities, their favorite furniture pieces, and the home’s existing architecture. That’s the same tack he took when working with his partner, Eric Silverstrim, to design their 1,300-square-foot Edgewater condo, using the unit’s crown moldings, French doors, and other classic details as a starting point.

The couple filled the place with a mix of clean-lined new and mid-century furnishings—a contemporary iron coffee table and a valuable mid-century rosewood credenza look equally at home in the living room. “We’d rather buy something from another life and repurpose it, make it look fabulous somehow,” says Silverstrim. An example is the old chalkboard with an oak frame that Cowan turned into a piece of art and hung over the credenza.

Cowan knew he wanted a balance of traditional and contemporary styles. “We started out way too traditional, but we’ve figured out how far we can push the boundaries,” he says. Pushing sometimes meant playing with scale. In the dining room, they added a sofa to the low-profile modern chairs surrounding the traditional flame mahogany table; overhead, they suspended a light fixture with an oversized white shade.

The two have also incorporated many contemporary pieces. When they found a Bright sofa at a Merchandise Mart sample sale, they took a chance they could make the rusty red hue work. “We never would have chosen that color, but it added life to the living room,” says Cowan. “I just make sure to be open to surprises and changes along the way.”

For the most part, Cowan and Silverstrim chose a palette of taupes, chocolates, and grays to emphasize the white painted millwork and create a moody atmosphere. While Cowan still travels to Manhattan to meet with clients and supervise projects, he loves returning to his completed apartment.

“It’s the most livable, comfortable, warm apartment I’ve ever lived in,” he says. “It’s like a little refuge.”

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Photograph: Nathan Kirkman


Buy Guide

We attempt to provide as much information as possible about the products and professionals involved in designing the homes we show in our pages. Items not sourced here are probably not available for sale; they might be antiques or part of an owner’s personal collection. When an item or product line is widely available, we may not list a specific store for it. If you have a question about our sources, please write to us at

Design: Sean Michael Design, Living room: Sofa, The Bright Group, Merchandise Mart, 312-822-0177, Teco pottery on credenza, Prairie Arts, Dining room: Pendant chandelier, CB2, 800 W. North Ave., 312-787-8329, Charcoal sofa, Crate & Barrel, 850 W. North Ave., 312- 573-9800, Foyer: Lucite and brass chandelier, Ravenswood Antique Mart, 4727 N. Damen Ave., 773-271-3700. Bedroom: Hotel Collection Block Stitch bedding, Macy’s, 111 N. State St., 312-781-1000, Custom accent pillows, Sean Michael Design. Sunroom: Carpet tiles, Flor, 1873 N. Clybourn Ave., 773-325-0201, Ib Kofod-Larsen chair, Broadway Antique Market, 6130 N. Broadway, 773-743-5444,