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Tudor-Style Home with a Modern Makeover

A beguiling 1920s home proves the power of love at first sight

Written by Jenny Bradley
  • Werner Straube

    By all accounts it’s a house that people are drawn to—a storybook charmer with a French Tudor-style exterior and a welcoming facade that turns heads. “I grew up in Bloomington and remember this house,” says Chicago-based designer Summer Thornton. “We’d go out of our way to drive by. It feels like it’s straight out of Snow White. It’s so romantic.”

    Thornton’s friend and client Neil Heller agrees. Having renovated multiple houses in the area, he’d had his eye on the bewitching home for years. “It’s such a pretty place,” Neil says. “I remember saying as a child that someday I was going to live here.”

    Happily, fate intervened when the owners stopped by a house that Neil was renovating down the street and mentioned that the fairytale abode would soon be on the market. What Neil didn’t know at the time was that soon he wouldn’t be. Call it kismet, or destiny, or just old-fashioned good luck—but soon after he bought the house, Neil met the previous owners’ daughter, Jen, the two fell head-over-heels for each other, and they married. 

    Photography: Werner Straube
    Produced by Kimberly Knight

    Interior designer: Summer Thornton, Summer Thornton Design Inc., 1006 W. Armitage Ave., Suite 3, Chicago, IL 60614; 312/203-0105,  

  • Werner Straube

    Neutral Foyer

    And while they’re now happily ensconced in the home, its interiors are dramatically different from those Jen grew up in. A bachelor when he started the renovation process, Neil gave Thornton clear directives: He wanted to turn the 1929 house into a more modern version of itself, and he wanted a masculine palette mixed with interesting textures and a deconstructed feel. And very little color.

    “Neil has a very defined aesthetic,” the designer acknowledges. “The challenge was to marry his desire for a masculine look with the romance of this house.” The solution? Incorporating texture and a mix of materials that enliven the neutral palette and exude character. “Our guiding word for this project was ‘honest,’  ” Thornton notes. “We strived to use materials that were honest, artisanal, and handmade.”

    Leaded glass windows and a Circa pendant light become focal points in the otherwise neutral, pared-back foyer.

    Wall paint (“Dove Wing” #OC-18): Benjamin Moore,
    Flooring (Antiqued Light Bourgogne Clair Limestone with Balkan Black Limestone Cabochons): Paris Ceramics,
    Area rug (vintage Tulu rug): Jayson Home,
    Hanging light (“Extra Large Hicks Pendant” #TOB5064, by Thomas O’Brien): Circa Lighting,
    Table (custom design by Summer Thornton with Aaron Bladon): Aaron Bladon,

  • Werner Straube

    Art Deco Living Room

    In the process, they reintroduced the sense of history and character that had been stripped from the house over the years. Herringbone floors in 100-year-old reclaimed, unfinished oak were installed throughout the first floor, adding not only weathered texture, but also a sense of romance. Architectural details—molding and paneling—give visual interest to white walls.

    To make the 8-foot ceilings seem higher, designer Summer Thornton saturated the walls and ceiling in the same light hue and added vertical paneling to raise the eye. 

    Wall paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore,
    Sofa (“Hunter Sofa”); dark green pillows (“Bruges”/Alcapara): Montauk Sofa,
    Sofa fabric (“Croly”/Charcoal #30966.21, by Thom Filicia): Kravet,
    Pair of pillows on sofa (“Celtic Linen #0570339-39): Vervain,
    Table behind sofa (“Mathews Console” #FNCN-2119-720): Mecox Gardens,
    Lamps (“Longacre Tall Table Lamp” #TOB3001, by Thomas O’Brien): Circa Lighting,
    Sofa end tables (vintage); animal figure on coffee table: Summer Thornton Design,
    Art: owner’s collection.
    Picture light (“Picture Light Sconce”): Restoration Hardware,
    Coffee table (“Fonda Cocktail Table”); area rug (hide): Jayson Home,

  • Before: Living Room

    Carpet and drapes made the room seem more stuffy and formal. 

  • Werner Straube

    After: Living Room

    In the long, narrow living room, eye-catching pieces and Art Deco references are arranged in striking vignettes—standing out against the stark white backdrop and creating staccato design notes that flow seamlessly thanks to Thornton’s trained eye.

    “If you’re afraid of color, don’t be afraid of drama,” Thornton advises. “It’s all about texture and contrast. With a neutral palette, you have to incorporate daring or sculptural pieces that stand out and make your eyes dance around the room.”

    Dance they do—from the black marble fireplace surround and the industrial steel pedestal table to the Art Deco desk with channeled legs paired with a leather chair with a delicate steel frame. 

    Fireplaces were given dramatic mantels that added weight—both aesthetically and historically. 

    Cabinet in corner (vintage Deco buffet): The Find,
    Lamp on cabinet (“Bryant Lamp,” discontinued): Schoolhouse Electric Co.,
    Art behind cabinet (vintage print): Classic Remix Chicago,
    Lounge chair (“Chair no. One Twenty Four”): The New Traditionalists,
    Fabric (“Silk”/Wild Rice): Todd Hase,
    Log basket: Summer Thornton Design,
    Sconce (“French Deco Horn Sconce”/Bronze #S2020): Circa Lighting,
    Sofa (“Hunter Sofa”): Montauk Sofa,
    Fabric (“Croly”/Charcoal #30966.21, by Thom Filicia): Kravet,
    Coffee table (“Fonda Cocktail Table”); rug (hide): Jayson Home,
    Animal figure on coffee table; end table (vintage); sculpture on end table: Summer Thornton Design,
    Tray on coffee table (black lacquer): Scout Chicago,

  • Werner Straube

    Refreshed Living Room

    “Summer helped us keep the charm and coziness that this house has always had, but she’s given it a new, modern life,” homeowner Neil Heller says. Carpet was replaced with reclaimed oak floors, laid in a herringbone pattern, that add texture and interest to the neutral palette. 

    Wing chair (“1920s Georgian Wingback Chair”); chair fabric (Chestnut leather): Restoration Hardware,
    Round pedestal table (20th-century American); hanging light over table (1950s French): vintage.
    Candlesticks on table (“Claw Candlesticks”): Jayson home.
    Fireplace (custom, in Nero Honed Marble): Materials Marketing,
    Art above fireplace: vintage.
    Light over art (“Picture Light Sconce”): Restoration Hardware,
    Sconces (“French Deco Horn Sconce” #S2020): Circa Lighting,
    Obelisks: Scout Chicago,  

  • Before: Living Room Bay Window

    Previously, a window seat hidden behind a sofa occupied the bay window.

  • Werner Straube

    After: Living Room Bay Windows

    A bright window bay is now home to a vintage desk. Art Deco references—in the vintage desk seen here and in the cabinet in the living room—are sprinkled throughout the house.

    Wall paint (“White Dove” #C-17): Benjamin Moore,
    Desk (vintage, 1930s British Colonial): The Golden Triangle,
    Desk chair (“Gunnison Chair” #5700-23): Hickory Chair,
    Accessories on desk: Summer Thornton Design,
    Sconce (“French Deco Horn Sconce”/Bronze #S2020): Circa Lighting,
    Rug (vintage Oushak): Jayson Home,
    Etagères (“Indian Metal Etagère”): ABC Carpet & Home,
    Flooring (antique French Oak): Paris Ceramics,

  • Werner Straube

    Modern Mix

    The reinventing process started in the completely renovated kitchen, where the modern mix of materials may be most evident. Walnut cabinets and drawers were given brass edging—masculine meets elegant. Dark soapstone countertops contrast with a backsplash of classic white subway tiles. A white oak island inspired by French farm tables is topped with marble and accessorized with woven baskets. A La Cornue range in stainless steel and brass shines (literally) when bookended with white-painted brick and rustic, reclaimed oak shelves.

    Steel-frame doors add a “sharpness and masculinity to the space,” Thornton says. “It’s a great contrast between this old, romantic house and its new, young owners.”

    Wall paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore,
    Flooring (Antique French Oak): Paris Ceramics,
    Island (custom): Custom Wood Craft, 312/421-5100.
    Island countertop: Carrara marble, honed.
    Lights over island (“Henry Pendant with Hand Blown Glass Shade” #HNLT02): Waterworks,
    Rattan baskets: Jayson Home.
    Bread basket: Summer Thornton Design,
    Refrigerator: Sub-Zero,
    Dining table (“Frank Dining Table”): Oly,
    Dining chairs (“Era”); light over table (“Prouvé Potence Lamp” #2690): Design Within Reach,
    Tall cabinet with mesh doors (custom): Aaron Bladon,
    French doors: A&S Window Associates,
    Door hardware (“Gropius Lever”): Katonah Hardware,

  • Werner Straube

    Kitchen Sitting Area

    The kitchen sitting area, home to a butter yellow sofa, was formerly a sun porch.

    Sofa: owner’s collection.
    Pillow at both ends of sofa (“Kintyre Check” #F5820-06, Kintyre Plains Collection ): Osborne & Little,
    Charcoal pillows (“Andes Silk”/Charcoal #1646089): Fabricut,
    Trim on charcoal pillow (“Slubby Fringe”/Java #TL10095, colorway discontinued, by Kelly Wearstler for Groundworks); trim on camel pillow (“Vintage Link”/Java #TL10093.616, by Kelly Wearstler for Groundworks): Lee Jofa,
    Camel-colored pillow (by B. Berger): Duralee,
    Floor lamp (“Great Jones Floor Lamp”): Schoolhouse Electric Co.,
    Area rug (“Distressed Wool Rug”/Charcoal): Restoration Hardware,
    Coffee table (“Skagen Coffee Table”): Design Within Reach,

  • Werner Straube

    Dramatic Den

    In a departure from the main floor’s primarily white palette, the dining room and den are saturated in dark, moody hues—dark mink grass cloth in the dining room and a deep blue-gray ceiling plus rich wood paneling in the den—that haughtily contrast with the rest of the house. “The palettes took a little talking into,” Thornton says, laughing. “It’s easy to get behind light and bright, but moody is different. What excites me is the drama.”

    That goes for furnishings as well as color schemes. An overscale sofa in steel-blue mohair in the den plays against the warmth of the mahogany walls.

  • Before: Dining Room

    Before, there was a sofa in the dining room window bay.

  • Werner Straube

    After: Dining Room

    Walls are papered in a mink-hued grass cloth from Phillip Jeffries. “It’s about contrasting the rest of the first floor with a shot of drama,” Thornton says. The custom dining room table’s organic-looking base and neutral hue make it seem to grow out of the floor.

    Wallcovering (“Juicy Jute Grasscloth”/Midnight #4815): Phillip Jeffries,
    Ceiling paint (“Iron Mountain” #2134-30); trim paint (“Black Ink” #2127-20): Benjamin Moore,
    Sconces (“Elkins Double Sconce” #TOB2068, by Thomas O’Brien): Circa Lighting,
    Chandelier (“Conrad” ): Bradley,
    Dining table (custom design by Summer Thornton and Aaron Bladon): Aaron Bladon,
    Dining chairs (“Laurent Dining Chair” #1650-01, by Suzanne Kasler): Hickory Chair,
    Fabric (“Bruges”/Alcapara): Montauk Sofa,
    Flooring (Antique French Oak with Limestone Border): Paris Ceramics,

  • Before: Master Bedroom

    The bedroom had a more formal, feminine feel to it. 

  • Werner Straube

    After: Master Bedroom

    Upstairs, the team’s watchword, honest, again prevails. Not just when referring to materials, but also to embracing the master bedroom’s rather asymmetrical appearance. “The master bedroom and bath have very interesting shapes and angles to them,” Thornton notes. “Instead of trying to camouflage that, we accentuated it.”

    The master bedroom was given a more masculine edge with a low, walnut headboard and a steel bedside table. 

    Wall paint (“White Dove” #OC-17): Benjamin Moore,
    Float bed (“Queen Walnut Bed” by TemaHome): ABC Carpet & Home,
    Duvet and Euro shams (“Penn”); bolster pillow; area rug (vintage): Jayson Home,
    Art (vintage): The Find Antiques,
    Sconce (“Architect’s Swing Arm Sconce” #PT2000): Circa Lighting,
    Animal head: vintage.
    Bedside table (“Gramercy Side Table”): Restoration Hardware,

  • Werner Straube

    Master Bedroom Sitting Area

    A simple stone surround modernized the fireplace. A leather armchair from RH sits nearby.

    Flooring: original to home.
    Chair (“Madsen Chair”); fabric (antiqued ebony leather); small table (“1930s Martini Side Table”): Restoration Hardware,
    Pillow on chair; area rug (vintage): Jayson Home,
    Cabinet behind chair (1940s American): vintage.
    Floor lamp (“Mulberry Tripod Floor Lamp”): Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.,
    Fireplace surround (“Palladium Noir Travertine”): Ann Sacks,
    Vintage candlestick on mantel: Classic Remix Chicago,
    Framed drawing on mantel (vintage): The Find Antiques,
    Art behind drawing: owner’s collection. 

  • Werner Straube

    Master Bath

    The angles are most obvious in the master bath, where the designer emphasized their graphic nature by highlighting the contrast between the white subway tiles on the walls and the warm oak of the ceiling.

    It’s that contrast—and a mix of honest materials—that have breathed new life into this beloved family home. “Summer helped us keep the charm and coziness that this house has always had, but she’s given it a new, modern life,” Neil says. “It’s magical.”

    Thornton says the master bath went from “highly decorative to stripped down.” 

    Wall tile (“Bright White” 3x6-inch field tile); flooring (“Eclipse Honed Marble”): Ann Sacks,
    Ceiling light (“Semi-Flush Cornice Hanging Lantern” #SL5870); sconces (“Right Angle Single Wall Light” #SL2865): Circa Lighting,
    Vanity table (custom design by Summer Thornton with Aaron Bladon): Aaron Bladon,
    Sink (“Caxton”): Kohler,
    Faucets and shower fixtures (“Henry”): Waterworks,
    Mirror (“Altavista Linear Mirror”): Casamidy,

  • Werner Straube

    Homeowner Portrait

    Neil Heller had already bought the 1920s home when he met Jen, who had grown up in the house. They now share the home as husband and wife.

  • Karyn Millet