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Bold Use of Color in a Chicago Home

2013 New Trad designer Summer Thornton deploys bold color in a suburban home

Written by Cathy Whitlock

The request from the young couple with three children moving to the ’burbs was simple: “Make our home happy and kid- friendly, yet bold and eclectic.”

In a world where most clients play it safe, it was music to the ears of Chicago interior designer Summer Thornton.


A custom console and garden stools from Wisteria create a cozy moment.

Relocating from Chicago to the nearby suburb of Hinsdale, the clients had purchased a newly constructed home that had, in Thornton’s words, “an East Coast feel to it.”

They wanted to bring lots of color into the space (particularly the all-white study) and were fearless with their choices.

Never one to shy away from vibrant color, designer Summer Thornton lacquered the study walls cobalt blue and incorporated coral accents and furnishings. A big believer in color overhead, Thornton extended the blue to the border of the tray molding, as well. “We always like to address the ceiling,” the designer notes. “It completes the space.”

“This project represents what we like to do,” explains Thornton, whose design firm is particularly known for its love of color. “We use a lot of bold color, mix patterns, and incorporate vintage finds into our designs as opposed to rooms that look like they just came off the showroom floor. My personal style is traditional, and I infuse it with a young, fresh feel.”

Thornton, who credits other color devotees, such as Miles Redd and Kelly Wearstler, as major design influences, brought in varying shades of blue as a connecting color theme. “We wanted to bring in the client’s favorite color of blue and used unusual color combinations and palettes,” explains the designer.


Emerald green was introduced at the windows as a contrast to the bold blue walls.

In the study, that design decision translated into a backdrop of lacquered blue walls accented with pale emerald green draperies and shots of orange and coral in furniture and accessories. It’s all anchored by a white Moroccan rug that, Thornton explains, “has a life of its own.”


Even built-ins are saturated in blue lacquer.

The great room/kitchen combination received a lighter, airier look. 

Pale blue vintage Lucite lamps accentuate the symmetry of the Jonathan Adler console. Silhouettes of the client’s children by artist Julie Foley grace the walls. A tray placed on the coffee table becomes a stylish spot for organization.

A vibrant blue-and-white geometric area rug gives immediate impact to the comfortable space. 

A geometric blue-and-white ikat rug from Madeline Weinrib anchors the room’s sitting area. Patterned pillows and an Hermès throw add contrast to the sofa from Ethan Allen.

An unusual multicolor chandelier above a custom wood-and-iron table designed by Chicago’s Bladon Conner completes the eclectic yet traditional design theme.

Echoing the eclectic feel of the house, a 1950s French multi- colored two-tier chandelier hangs above a custom table created by Chicago furniture designer Bladon Conner.

A pair of framed 1950s Bjorn Wiinblad prints make a colorful statement in the breakfast room.

Summer Thornton’s tips of the trade:

  • Don’t be afraid to do at least one thing your mother wouldn’t do.

  • Use patterns and colors recklessly. Colors don’t clash!
  • Reference the past don’t repeat it. Incorporate vintage finds. Every home should have at least one thing from a flea market.
  • Push the envelope. Traditional designs need not be boring. No great room was ever designed without taking a risk.
  • Buy fresh flowers. They are a room’s best accessory.
  • Be one-of-a-kind. If your neighbors are doing it, you probably shouldn’t.

Photography: Werner Straube

Traditional Home