You are here

Light and Bright Holiday Style in a Tudor

It’s prime time in a Chicago-area home specially programmed to celebrate the season

Written by Krissa Rossbund
  • Werner Straube

    Like a Christmastime commercial with a message crafted to trigger sentimentality and nostalgia in viewers, leaving them reaching for a tissue as they cradle a mug of hot cocoa, David and Whitney Sinclair’s house sparks both a tear and a smile.

    The couple bought their home in Winnetka, Illinois, just north of Chicago, in 2008, while searching for more spacious accommodations for their family, which includes five children and three dogs. In addition to square footage, David and Whitney, who prefer classic architecture to modern design, insisted on a house that was old, had a story, and needed a redo. Or, in this case, a remake.

    The Tudor-style structure was built in 1937 by Arthur Nielsen, creator of the Nielsen ratings, the system for measuring audience size in television and other media. So, like a horse-drawn carriage transporting a newly married prince and princess, or a stirring musical arrangement introducing a global sporting contest, the interiors needed to awe their audience, including the owners, with bountiful beauty worthy of a No. 1 rating. They needed a skilled director, and they found one in the late Nora Marra.

    “Nora and David attended college together, and she decorated his and Whitney’s apartment downtown,” says Stephanie McKean, who assisted Marra in the design of the Sinclair home and now oversees the firm, Nora C. Marra Interiors. “David and Whitney weren’t just clients. They were friends.  She really knew their lifestyle, and that translated into the way she decorated their home.”

    Photography: Werner Straube
    Produced by Hilary Rose

    Interior Design: Stephanie McKean for Nora C. Marra Interiors, 47 W. Division, Suite 359, Chicago, IL 60610; 312/642-1500,  

  • Werner Straube

    Bright Foyer

    Come Christmas season, the Sinclairs’ interiors need no adjustments to host the season’s spectacle of trees, swags, and sparkle. To simply say the palette is “neutral” might suggest that the low-color treatment was chosen because it was safe. But like the elegant brightness that spellbinds after snow has fallen over a neighborhood, this design is breathtaking, with ivory, silver, and the palest tint of blue bathing each room.

    “I’m from Palm Beach, where natural light is abundant,” Whitney says. “I told Nora that I wanted a little Palm Beach here, so she filled our home with light that created serenity and calmness.”

    The home’s entry is traditional, with moldings that follow the sweep of the grand staircase. Garlands drape the banister, while wrapped gifts placed on the bench reference the light shades of blue throughout the house. 

    Paint (custom): Benjamin Moore,
    Flowers and decorations: Cornelia McNamara,

    Carpet on stairs: Deerpath Carpet & Rug Inc.,
    Bench; zebra-print rug: owner’s collection.
    Prints: Knightsbridge Antiques,

  • Werner Straube

    Sunny Sitting Spot

    In the living room, a statement fabric of trees hand-printed on white linen calls Christmas to mind—and leads the curious to wonder whether special drapery panels, armchairs, and pillows are brought in for the season. But the textile is pleasantly serendipitous, and a bonus to the holiday decoration.

    “It’s funny that the fabric worked out that way, but it’s purely coincidental,” McKean says, laughing. “Nora selected that fabric for its earthy quality, which works perfectly in this space and provides a nice juxtaposition and balance to the formality set by the classic architecture.”

  • Werner Straube

    Wintry Living Room

    Adding to the theme of nature and texture, the Christmas tree, a blue spruce from Michigan that sits in the room’s corner, was embellished with ornaments crafted from newspaper and garlands made from mercury glass beads

    In front of the fireplace, a silver-framed chair with steel-blue velvet upholstery gently interrupts the living room’s refined ivory palette. Silver and gold garlands of pinecones and leaves offer a celebratory kick to the mantel. Stark carpet dresses the floor.

    Carpet: Stark Carpet,
    Sofas: purchased with home.
    Drapery and sofa-pillow fabric (“Beige #6,” by Muriel Brandolini): Holland & Sherry,
    Mirrored cocktail tables: owner’s collection.
    Acrylic side table (“Akbar” #WWCC): Donghia,
    French eggshell side table (1920s): Douglas Rosin Decorative Arts & Antiques,
    Barometer above mantel: antique.
    Sconces: original to house.

  • Werner Straube

    Living Room Seating

    David and Whitney Sinclair’s antique screen was originally dark and painted to show an Italian gate. Designer Nora Marra enlisted the husband-and-wife team of Cindy and Jorge Simes to repaint it with an Asian-inspired scene in airy shades of silver. A velvet-covered sofa mingles with Dessin Fournir armchairs sporting the room’s statement tree-patterned fabric. 

    Sofa: purchased with home.
    Pair of upholstered chairs (“Austin Club Chair” #5010): Dessin Fournir,
    Chair fabric (“Beige #6,” by Muriel Brandolini): Holland & Sherry,
    Coffee table: owner’s collection.
    Table lamps: The Find,
    Screen (custom): Simes Studios,

  • Werner Straube

    Gold Dining Room

    Although the overall aesthetic of the home veers toward coolness, with silver accents prevailing throughout the spaces, in the dining room a shift in color allows gold to assume the highest rank. A wallpaper depicting bamboo wraps the room, with coordinating embroidered drapery panels that visually melt into the similar background. A second tree stands against the back leaded windows. The room’s original chandelier reflects in a mirrored screen.

    Wallcovering (“Havana Espresso” #2502W-8): Carleton V Ltd.,
    Area rug: Stark Carpet,
    Mirrored screen: vintage.
    Dining table (discontinued): Dennis & Leen,
    Upholstered dining chairs: owner’s collection.
    Drapery (by Travers): Zimmer + Rohde,
    Chandelier: original to house. 

  • Werner Straube

    Golden Place Setting

    On the table, floral arrangements of red roses, greens, and winterberries herald the joy of the holiday. Embroidered placemats set the stage for a mix of silver and gold china, including Lenox’s “Solitaire Link” accent plate. 

    Charger (“Solitaire White Accent Plate”); salad plate (“Solitaire Link”): Lenox,
    Table linens; dinner plate: owner’s collection. 

  • Werner Straube

    Cool Kitchen

    As in many homes, the kitchen is where most action takes place. “We spend so much time in this space. There is room for everyone,” David says of the kitchen, renovated not long before the family bought the house. More contemporary in style than the other rooms, the kitchen features streamlined cabinetry with modern hardware and a butcher-block counter.

    “This kitchen wasn’t that old,” Whitney says, but “Nora wanted to lighten it further.” The designer accomplished that with new, light-blue leather on the stools. 

    Cork flooring; cabinet; butcher block countertops; cooktop; sink; fixtures: existing.
    Counter stools: owner’s collection.

  • Werner Straube

    Kitchen Banquette

    Even Christmas Eve dinner is enjoyed at the kitchen banquette, where the pendant light sports a festive wreath, and a bevy of blue fabrics, used for cushions, pillows, and upholstered chairs there and at a table in the adjoining family room, introduces slight color that doesn’t rival the family’s frenzy.

    Table; chairs: existing.
    Chair fabric (“Hulai Batik,” by China Seas): Quadrille,
    Banquette cushion; pillows, hanging fixture: owner’s collection.

  • Werner Straube

    Family Game Table

    The blue-on-white “Hulai Batik” fabric from China Seas also appears on chairs around a painted game table in the adjacent family room. 

    Table; chairs: owner’s collection.
    Chair fabric (“Hulai Batik,” by China Seas): Quadrille,
    Sconce: existing.
    Feather tree: Edwards Florist of Northbrook,

  • Werner Straube

    Distinguished Office Space

    Both the office and master bedroom continue the icy blue color of the home, but in varying doses. Originally a screened porch, the office/library was built for David, who works from home. “We didn’t need a porch here, so under architect Darcy Bonner’s direction, we built an addition,” David says. Painted in pale blue-green, the room’s perimeters contrast the rich wood of the 150-year-old beams that hail from a barn in Wisconsin. At Christmas, the beams are adorned with a swag of pheasant feathers, greens, and ribbon. 

  • Werner Straube

    Library Seating

    Velvet-covered wing chairs by John Boone in front of the stone fireplace match the blue-green hue of the vaulted ceiling. A leather-covered rhinoceros serves as a playful footstool—and during the holidays, it wears a collar of the Sinclair family tartan, ordered directly from Scotland. 

    Wing chairs (“Tyringham Wing Chair,” Lockwood Boone Collection): John Boone Inc.,
    Rhinoceros footstool (vintage): Douglas Rosin Decorative Arts & Antiques,
    Hanging lantern (“Belmont” #MM3900): Urban Electric Co,
    Sisal rug: Stark Carpet,

  • Werner Straube

    Light Blue Master Bedroom

    The master suite gracefully wears blue from head to toe, with subtly patterned fabric on the drapery panels and slipper chairs softening the already billowy hue. To avoid shocking the quiet scheme, holiday decorations adhere to a plan of greens and white flowers.

    To diminish the sweetness of the soft blue master bedroom, designer Nora Marra deliberately mismatched finishes on the bed, nightstands, and bamboo bench. Although the desk and its chair copy the room’s coloration, wire insets over the glass panels hint at rustic charm. 

    Bed (custom): Louis J. Solomon,
    Bed linens: Leontine Linens,
    Bench (“Bamboo Bench” #3038-48): Nancy Corzine,
    Carpet: Deerpath Carpet & Rug Inc.,
    Drapery (“Enchantment”/colorway discontinued #ED85120, by Threads): Lee Jofa,
    Table lamps (vintage): Douglas Rosin Decorative Arts & Antiques,
    Secretary; chair: owner’s collection.

  • Werner Straube

    Serene Sitting Area

    Bedroom sitting pieces surround an acrylic cocktail table. A trio of wreaths season the sitting area on the windows above the sofa.

    Drapery and chair fabric (“Enchantment”/colorway discontinued #ED85120, by Threads): Lee Jofa,
    Settee (“Starlet Settee” #BB037-02): Barbara Barry Realized by Henredon,
    Settee fabric: Holland & Sherry,
    Lucite table (“Leigh Palm Beach Cocktail Table” #K27266K): Allan Knight,
    Chairs; floor lamp (vintage): owner’s collection.
    Side table: John Rosselli & Associates,

  • Werner Straube

    Family Portrait

    With a handful of years to its tenure, the Sinclair home earns its spot high on the chart of style, at Christmas and year-round. 

    “Nora made this house beautiful for our family and the memories we’ll continue to create,” Whitney says. “When you look around, she’s there. And at Christmas, her presence is more special.”

  • Werner Straube