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He embraces mid-century, she wants glamour

He embraces mid-century, she wants glamour CHICAGO - The living room was strewn with more tissue paper than on Christmas morning, but the litter wasn't yuletide debris. It was the aftermath of what interior designer Joan Craig calls her "I love i...

He embraces mid-century, she wants glamour

CHICAGO - The living room was strewn with more tissue paper than on Christmas morning, but the litter wasn't yuletide debris. It was the aftermath of what interior designer Joan Craig calls her "I love it/I hate it meeting." Craig, co-founder of the 11-year-old architecture and interiors firm Lichten Craig, had compiled a stack of tissue-wrapped "idea packages" for her clients' new 5,800-square-foot Lincoln Park townhouse. The packets held photos of plump upholstered sofas, swatches of exotic animal prints, tearsheets of glistening silver accessories and images of dazzling pre-war light fixtures. Craig set the pile down in front of her clients and sat back to watch. "Even though some things went straight to the floor, I got a clear idea of what my clients wanted - what they loved and also what they hated. It was quite a mess."

Craig was talking about the tissue-wrapping mess, but what she'd discovered about the couple's design notions wasn't particularly neat, either. The husband was a confirmed modernist, having grown up in a Michigan home filled with mid-century Knoll furniture, while his wife, who's from a big Greek clan in Wilmette, Ill., liked things more fun and, says Craig, "a bit more glamorous."

The successful melding of those two seemingly irreconcilable visions resulted in a home that turns the notion of what's modern on its head. The husband's Noguchi lamp and Knoll dining table, so edgy decades ago, seem almost traditional in a house where the foyer wallpaper is a surprising exaggerated riff on the familiar colonial American pineapple. "Yes," says Craig, "pineapples are the traditional symbols of welcome, but we used them in a completely modern way."

"Don't get me wrong. I love all of my husband's furniture," says the wife, a mother to three boisterous boys. "It's just that in a house with four males I wanted some prettier things for myself, not frilly and pink, just a little more feminine." So when her husband pulled into the garage one day with six industrial-looking chrome-and-steel Mies van der Rohe dining chairs crammed into the back of the family car she was thrilled, mostly because she knew she could depend on her designer to warm them up and make them friendlier, but also because she needed the seating.


"We host lots of big Sunday night family dinner parties," she reports.

Craig swapped out the chairs' neon blue upholstery for subtle white leather and set them against soft silk curtains that stream down the dining room's buttery-hued walls. "I had to trust Joan on that one," says the wife, who admits to being dubious about curtains on a wall with almost no windows, "but now I see they make the room feel so much more romantic." Finishing the space is a Georgian-style chandelier found at Daniel's Antiques, another iconic traditional silhouette, but updated in sparkling opaque glass.

Old World elegance mixes it up with modern moxie in the living room too, where the high ceilings are offset by thick cornices. Craig, a Princeton-educated architect, was willing to embrace those more formal embellishments, even bulking up some fancy pilasters between the living room and the dining room, but she had her limits.

"We tore out the living room's English-style fireplace right away," she reports, replacing it with a sleek custom fireplace surround in creamy limestone, a cool contemporary focal point. "We approach everything as architects first," she explains. Her firm's projects have been featured in everything from Architectural Digest to Elle Decor, but according to Craig their style has a consistent vision. "We design in a certain way whether on Nantucket or in Brazil," she says. "We always bring in modern elements."

But what does the firm do when one man's definition of "modern" is his wife's definition of "chilly"?

They start by listening hard. "Even though I knew my clients' tastes were different, I also knew neither husband nor wife was afraid of color or pattern," says Craig. So she took that observation and ran with it, utilizing a color palette right out of a box of Parisian macaroons, shades of orange, brilliant blue and chartreuse, in bold graphic prints that give the house a gloriously fresh vibe. Family room sofas are done in a striking orange and white damask, the living room curtains are edged in an outsized Greek key, and the wife's upstairs office is enlivened by pops of robin's-egg blue. And all through the house modern shapes are softened by dressmaker details like pleats, floating hems and micro-welts. "Our interior design director in New York came out of the fashion world," explains Craig (Lichten Craig has offices in New York and Chicago). "He actually had his own couture workroom at one time." Unsurprisingly, the lady of the house appreciates those details. "I love all the little touches," she says. "They add warmth, and above all I wanted a house that is cozy."

Cozy, yes. But the overall design still vibrates with drama, just as the floorboards vibrate with the energy of three growing boys and their friends - who seem to all be perpetually tearing through on their way to the basement playroom. "Oh, by the way," asks the homeowner, "did I mention that things needed to be kid-friendly too?"

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