Architect: Morgante-Wilson Architects, 2834 Central St., Evanston, IL 60201; 847/332-1001, morgantewilson.com.
Interior designer: Melanie Elston, Melanie Elston Interiors, 1152 W. Lill Ave., Chicago, IL 60614; 773/528-3584, melanieelston.com.
Photographs by Werner Straube
Text by Lisa Cregan
Produced by Jenny Bradley
Some homeowners hire a decorator to make a splash. Others for sophistication. Some just want their curtains to match their carpets. For Laura Kofoid, the only objective was "joy."
"I want my eyes to light up every day. I want to smile and say 'That's awesome!' " proclaims Laura of her challenge to interior designer Melanie Elston. The task at hand was combining two adjacent apartments into a family home for Laura, husband David Ricci, and their children, Simon, 13, and C.J., 8. "I wanted vibrancy. I wanted cheerfulness. I wanted color," says Laura.
Beige? Not an option.
"Actually, Laura said flat-out, 'No beige allowed!'"laughs Elston, recalling the back and forth leading up to this glorious explosion of self-confident color. Take the traditional mahogany dining chairs in their orange leopard print, the canary yellow curtains in the otherwise black-and-white office, living room walls painted an exuberant peacock blue, or the family room swathed in a madcap shade Elston calls "pumpkin." Then factor in that this apartment is located in a primly proper 1927 building on Chicago's fashionable Lake Shore Drive. "It's outrageous in some ways, but it's also warm and enveloping," says Elston, "Laura and David are very sensory. And they really don't care what anyone else thinks!"
A family brush with serious illness might explain the devil-may-care design philosophy. David weathered two brain tumors soon after their marriage but has been cancer-free these last seven years (family shout-out to the Northwestern University Brain Tumor Institute). "It's all intertwined--David's recovery, our decorating, the way we live our life--everything," says Laura. "I only have one prayer, and that's for health. So many people don't get it. If you like a leopard print rug, don't be afraid to put one in your office! Rock on. Express yourself."
Even the custom handbag company Laura co-owns expresses that joyful philosophy. It's called Laudi Vidni ('individual' spelled backwards). "When someone stresses over a decision about a purse, I'll say, 'It's a purse! It's not the most important thing in your life,'"she exclaims. "Don't stress. Enjoy! The same thing for a house; it should be fun."
Elston, who collaborated on the project with Morgante-Wilson Architects, quickly fell under the Kofoid-Ricci's cheery spell. "I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to think outside the box," she says. "For instance, we didn't do a big sofa in the living room. It was all about keeping the room light. The chairs are a nice way to have a central group without being heavy and cumbersome." Laura's take on the arrangement is a little more to the point: "Things were starting to get too quiet. We needed to shake it up." The living room now manages to provide a cool accompaniment to the spicy brew that's served up in the family room.
Referencing the architecture of an elegant English library, the family room's geometric paneling conceals a TV above the fireplace, but it's a traditional recipe with a few jalapeņos tossed in. "This room gets so much sunlight bouncing in off Lake Michigan that it can take a really intense color on the walls," explains Elston about the high-gloss orange envelope she chose for the space. "A flat finish would have been too dull for Laura and David." Apparently, dull is every bit as verboten as beige.
Most days, C.J., Simon, and friends liven up the place even further, tearing around the apartment's circular layout before collapsing in momentary exhaustion into the pair of oversized wing chairs flanking the family room fireplace. "We did damask on the outside of those chairs and wide-wale corduroy on the inside for durability," notes Elston. The room's purple shag rug would be an equally sumptuous landing spot. "You could lose small children in there" says Laura delightedly. "When Elston showed this rug to us, David and I laughed out loud, so we said, 'It's perfect!' You can spill on it and no one would ever know. Plus, it's so comfy underfoot."
Not to be outdone in the wow department, the game room is actually painted in metallic gold. Though the room's sparkle is every bit a match for youthful exuberance, that isn't the reason for the glitter. "This gold is the closest I could come to beige without being beige!" laughs Elston. "It's actually a breathing space between the super-vibrant family room, the zebra rug in the office, and the billiards room with its intricate damask walls."
In a place with this much passion and stimulation, you might reasonably expect the master bedroom to be an oasis of Zen. Think again. "We don't do calm," admits Laura. Instead, a vibrant chinoiserie wallpaper echoes the Chinese ancestral paintings in the living room, vivid daily reminders of C.J.'s Chinese heritage and the joy her adoption brought to the family. "To think of her just makes us smile," explains Laura.
Objective met. This color-drenched home exudes a contagious happiness, just like the family who lives here.