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
Presiding over the foyer is a nine-foot-tall architectural ornament hung over an antique jardinière. Photo Gallery »
Perhaps Edelmann sees things differently than the rest of us. She’s not only a busy decorator, but also a sought-after photo stylist who creates perfectly orchestrated vignettes for glossy mailers such as the Crate & Barrel catalog. Her out-with-the-boring, in-with-the-bold stylist’s view of the world means that she is able to find inspiration everywhere.
The bright red knobs on her Wolf stove inspired the red painted floor in the kitchen; the Bob Dylan poster in her daughter’s bedroom inspired a groovy sixties vibe for that whole room; Edelmann’s early fashion merchandising career influenced the fabrics in her son’s bedroom. “There’s pinstripe on the roman shades, starched cotton on the bed, and a flannel throw pillow—all menswear fabrics. He loves it,” she says happily.
Edelmann’s own needs are a bit more basic. Snuggled into the circular space upstairs inside the turret is a big brown beanbag chair that’s just for her. “It feels like a castle up there with all those windows around a little round room," says Edelmann. "I wanted a cozy spot I could escape to, like a princess in her tower.”
Now that she mentions it, royalty is a bit of a recurring theme here; there are crowns of all sizes scattered everywhere. “I collect crowns,” explains the designer, pointing out a favorite from Peru that sits on an end table in the living room. She says she loves knowing the provenance of all of the things she collects. “Everything here has a history that resonates with me.”
To ward off any tendency toward busyness, Edelmann has organized this creative brew within a resolutely minimal background. She purposely ignored the colors in the house’s original stained glass windows. “They’re not my taste,” she says. “And if I pulled out a color from those windows, all of a sudden they’d be a focal point.”
Instead, she upholstered the furniture in muted shades of blond and taupe—the colors of her Wheaten terriers, Jane and Frankie. “If they’re sitting on the family room sofas, you almost can’t see where dog ends and sofa begins,” Edelmann says. She also decided to lighten up the more formal first-floor rooms with soft bluish-white walls that draw some attention, but not too much, to the house’s Victorian details.
In the end, Edelmann’s home is a study in creating a personal style blissfully free of decorating boundaries; somehow her colossal artifacts seduce rather than intimidate. In fact, you find yourself asking, why shouldn’t an enormous tortoise shell pass for wall art, or a monumental wooden sphere take up an entire window bay, if it feels this good? This is one designer who gives “living large” a whole new meaning.
Photography: Nathan Kirkman