The kitchen morphs into a family room, with continuous built-in cabinets guiding the eye from one space to the other. The sofa, from Jayson Home & Garden, is set right up against them.
The kitchen morphs into a family room, with continuous built-in cabinets guiding the eye from one space to the other. The sofa, from Jayson Home & Garden, is set right up against them. See more photos in our gallery below.

Though she bought her Lincoln Park house—a turn-of-the-century two-flat converted into a single-family home in the 1980s—rather impulsively from a friend just before it went on the market, this homeowner has taken her time with the purchase ever since. About six years after contacting Claudia Skylar and James Mastro of Mastro & Skylar Architects to help her reinvent the space, she is only now living there the way she had imagined. Which isn’t to say she’s done searching for just the right finishing pieces with her decorator, Arden Nelson.

 The long haul could be attributed in part to the client’s travel-intensive job (which led to many extended interruptions in the planning stages), in part to typical renovation nightmares (a crumbling basement foundation, for one). But the truth is, a lot of time was spent settling on the right trims, colors, and materials. “Sometimes it just takes a while for a client to feel comfortable with something,” says Nelson, whose idea it was to whitewash all the floors on the first level—a scary proposition for some people.

The client, whom Skylar lovingly refers to as “an anti-clutter freak who wants only possessions she really loves” (a fair assessment, according to the homeowner), came into the project “knowing only that I didn’t want anything ornate or stuffy,” she says. She told Skylar she wanted something modern. “But as it turned out, she didn’t mean modern—she meant simple and clean, but still with the moldings and old doors she really loves,” the architect says. “The whole job was characterized by that yin-yang.” Which made Nelson—who favors a delicate mix of old and new—an ideal collaborator.

The partnership really shines in the kitchen, which is located in the back of the house. After a previous renovation, it seemed almost too big, given the modest size of the hardly touched dining and sitting rooms up front. Skylar divided it into three areas: a family room, the kitchen proper, and, tucked to the side, a “glorified butler’s pantry” containing a second sink, storage, the dog’s bowls, and other necessities. The space is mostly modern, but Nelson added a Shaker-ish touch: frames around the cabinet doors (flatter and wider than they would be in a more traditional design) to soften the look.

Skylar also went to town on the dark middle section of the first floor, tearing down walls here and moving plumbing there, ultimately carving out a niche for a new picture window that would bring in a little extra sunshine. In doing so, she gave her client a lovely view of the neighbor’s garden and a handy built-in bar below that window.

As always, she moved with a light step. “We took a wall out and put a beam in, opening up the dining room, so now there’s this large, open central area breaking up the hallway that connects the front and back of the house. But we also used these little hints, like three-inch nibs of trim at the openings to the different spaces, to recall the original architecture,” she says. “What we were going for was this modern, clean space, but still with the essence of an old house.”

It took a while, but they got there.


Photograph: Nathan Kirkman



The master bedroom, back of the house, entryway, a double-sided walnut structure, and the built-in wet bar
See more photos in our gallery below.

1 The master bedroom has a soft feel, with pretty white bedding and an antique Swedish dresser Nelson found at the Chicago Antique Market. The tufted headboard is from Jayson Home & Garden. 2 The back of the house is a showcase for Skylar’s innovative ideas. Instead of centering windows on the back wall, she shifted them to one side; the unexpected asymmetry gives the structure a modern feel. She also raised the level of the backyard. “At the front of the house, you need to go up ten steps, but in the back, you are going down only four or five,” she says. “We don’t like decks as much as we like terraces.” 3 The entryway was all Nelson’s vision. “I was inspired by those really old European buildings where you’ll see painted stairwells because it’s just the fastest, easiest fix,” she says. This romantic look is enhanced by two Victorian doors turned into mirrors that Nelson found at Ipso Facto in Michigan. “I take pictures of things I love and keep them on file,” she says. “Then when I find the right spot or client for them, I call to see if they are still available—sometimes they are.” 4 Skylar’s smart double-sided walnut structure contains the refrigerator and storage on the kitchen side, additional space for glasses and other dishes in the adjacent butler’s pantry. 5 This niche off the dining room brings in a little extra natural light and is the perfect size for a built-in wet bar.

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Photography: Nathan Kirkman


Buy Guide

ABOUT OUR SOURCES  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

Architecture: Mastro & Skylar Architects, 1615 W. North Ave., 773-489-4883, Interior design: ABN Interiors, 1252 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-251-9510, Windows: Marvin Windows, Lee Lumber, 3250 N. Kedzie Ave., 773-509-6700, Living room: Sofa, vintage Moroccan embroidered pillows, Jayson Home & Garden, 1885 N. Clybourn Ave., 773-248-8180, Orange lamp, Modern Times, 2100 W. Grand Ave., 312-243-5706, Brass lamp, 1960s gold coffee table, Daniels Antiques, 4507 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-271-5500. Table in window, Zig Mockaitis, Baker upholstered lounge chairs, Ravenswood Antique Mart, 4727 N. Damen Ave., 773-271-3700, Moroccan lantern, antique gold-leaf mirror, Lakeside Antiques, Lakeside, Michigan, 269-469-4467. Circa-1920 Khotan rug, Adrian Tann, Reza’s Rug Gallery, 2131 N. Southport Ave., 773-404-4343. Limestone fireplace mantel, designed by Mastro & Skylar, fabricated by Materials Marketing, 1234 W. Fulton Mkt., 312-226-0222, Artwork over fireplace: Abstract painting, Sam Prekop; drawing, Archer Prewitt; Thrill Jockey, On the mantel: Bruno Gambone ceramics, AP shop, Lakeside, Michigan. Pair of vintage chrome lamps, Jayson Home & Garden. Dining room: Circa-1970 Italian chandelier, Revival, 2016 W. Armitage Ave., 773-489-9422. French 19th-century Empire Revival dining chairs, Randolph Street Market, Curtains, Fishman’s Fabrics, 1101 S. Desplaines St., 312-922-7250, Mirror, Jayson Home & Garden. Back entry: Pedestal table, Coachman Antiques, La Porte, Indiana, 219-326-5933. Circa-1920 tall silver vase, Ipso Facto, Three Oaks, Michigan, 269-756-3404, Kitchen: White-painted rift-oak and walnut cabinets, designed by Mastro & Skylar, fabricated by Wettengel Woodworking, 1417 Paramount Pkwy., Batavia, 630-879-0701, Countertop, V&T Marble, 6101 W. Dickens Ave., 312-656-8012, Vienna counter stools, Crate & Barrel, 850 W. North Ave., Caboche chandelier, Lightology, 215 W. Chicago Ave., 312-944-1000, Island sink, Blanco Precision R10 bar sink 512-638 SS,; island faucet, KWC Suprimo SS,; Community Home Supply, 3924 N. Lincoln Ave., Photos of San Francisco, John Louis Hill (Toby). Vintage ceramic bain-marie, Painted Lady, 1818 W. Grand Ave., 312-226-0115. Natural wood bench, Zig Mockaitis, Family room: Sofa, coffee table, Jayson Home & Garden. Alabaster lamps, Restoration Hardware, Abstract painting, Sam Prekop. Thrill Jockey, Italian sunflower color etching, Ipso Facto. Set of three British hand-colored engravings, Arlington Park Antiques Show, Bedroom: Bed frame, linen headboard, Jayson Home & Garden. Murano glass bedside lamp, Ipso Facto. Cirrus duvet cover, Anthropologie, Draperies, Bairds Decorating, Fabric, Fishman’s Fabrics. Backyard: Garden design and landscaping, Botanical Concepts, 528 W. Dickens Ave., 773-404-5707, Vintage planters, Marco Polo Antiques, 13565 Red Arrow Hwy., Harbert, Michigan, 269-469-6272, Table and chairs, Crate & Barrel. Front entry: Pair of primitive floor mirrors, Trilogy Antiques, Three Oaks, Michigan, 269-756-3300, Bar: Cleo Hartwig dove sculpture, AP shop. Walnut cabinet, designed by Mastro & Skylar, fabricated by Wettengel Woodworking. Narrow stainless sink, Blanco Precision, Community Home Supply.