Clad in an oversize tunic, miniskirt, and knee-high boots, Kara Mann looks as if she’s just stepped off a runway. Actually, she’s just returned from a talk she gave to a Girl Scout troop about interior design. “They were so cute; they wanted to know about how they could incorporate horses into a home’s décor,” she says with a giggle.

The truth is, Mann is just quirky enough to make such a request work. Only a year after opening her own interior design firm, she serves clients from the Gold Coast to New York to Los Angeles. In March, the 35-year-old Evanston native opens her own to-the-trade show room in River North stocked with furniture and accessories from companies like BDDW, Ochre, and Blackman Cruz that are not carried anywhere else in Chicago.

Union Jack chair by design house Jimmie Martin
Union Jack chair by design house Jimmie Martin

Mann’s specialty is mixing classicism with a dose of edge. Her own Lake Shore Drive penthouse (featured in an upcoming issue of Metropolitan Home) is a paean to minimalism with decidedly goth undertones; most of the rooms are painted in a brown so dark, it’s almost black.

Perhaps what’s most exciting about this designer to watch, though, is that she doesn’t fit neatly in a box marked “modern” or “traditional.” She fully embraces both: “I love a very modern Cab chair, and a very traditional bergère chair,” she says. This seemingly limitless ability to play on such contrasts keeps her interiors varied and interesting. “People don’t want what their neighbors have,” she says. Precisely why her phone is ringing off the hook. 

Photography: Katrina Wittkamp