A mostly white palette—clean, calming, and sophisticated
Mother Nature knows how to make things beautiful. She also knows how to problem-solve. Take the winter months. When trees and plants are bare and scraggly, she robes them in exquisite crystalline snow. A designer’s transformation of a room dressed with luxe fabrics and furnishings is like the impressive impact of a sudden blizzard—only more lasting.
Designer Gail Plechaty’s project for Larry and Deborah Coven and their children, Max and Sophia, didn’t happen overnight, but the results are as beautiful as freshly fallen snow. She bathed the interiors of the Chicago-area home in a mostly white palette that is clean, calming, and sophisticated. As testament to the refined, neutral interiors that have garnered attention throughout her career, Plechaty was hired after the Covens saw firsthand her inimitable style during a charity fundraiser at a friend’s house.
“When Deborah called,” recalls Plechaty, “she expressed her desire for a similar aesthetic in the home she and Larry were building.” (The design work that piqued their interest had been completed eight years earlier, only confirming the timelessness of Plechaty’s style.) Despite an appreciation for a pale palette with longevity, practicality was a factor in a house with two children. Sensible fabrics and surfaces that can be easily wiped clean made the subdued color scheme possible.
“The interiors don’t feel as white as they are,” says Deborah. The family room where the children hang out features chocolate browns that are often textural. “We used family-friendly materials like pleather, which covers the kitchen chairs, throughout the house. So the white is really not an issue.”
While luxurious furniture and fabrics are captivating elements of the design scheme, the interior shell of the French chateau-style home offers a lesson in classicism, blending refinement and drama into a background versatile enough to work with a variety of looks. The foyer is a compelling example. A graceful, sweeping staircase designed by Plechaty anchors it. Visible from most points on the main floor, the winding staircase is the centerpiece of the home. To focus on the staircase, the designer exercised restraint with nearby furnishings, choosing a carved table with a marble top and a bronze sculpture to enhance its presence. On either side of the foyer, the facing living and dining rooms engage in polite banter about which one of them is the more elegant. Warmed by natural light, the furnishings in both are thoughtfully edited.
Symmetry prevails in the intimate living room that eschews grand appointments in favor of pieces that are formal but not ostentatious. Pairs of silk velvet sofas, Louis XVI chairs, armchairs upholstered in embroidered silk, and antique tables with new wooden tops all center on a simple fireplace vignette. An intricate solid-brass frame on a mirror above the mantel serves as jewelry for the room. Finished with only a handful of accessories, the living room not only provides an uncomplicated background for objects the owners might buy later, but it is also calming.
Restfulness, Plechaty points out, is often sought by people who feel overwhelmed by highly decorated designs. “Too often I receive calls from people who live in homes that have too much going on, and they want a clean space for a clear mind,” she explains. “My design is not only a look, it’s a feel. The way I set up my basic, neutral backdrops leaves room for the client to add personal touches later. My interiors can handle an old master just as easily as a modern abstract. I set the background, then inject my aesthetic versions of the style the client wants.”
The dining room has an equally serene attitude. Walls papered in a metallic covering that only appears to be flocked envelop a lacquered-top round table and chairs that Deborah spied on eBay. The chairs were painted and recovered in a glazed linen fabric with metallic threads that allude to the sparkle on the walls. Reflected in a 1930s mirror, a crystal chandelier gives the space a sexy, bejeweled kick.
While traditional French details that include ornate carvings and pleasingly worn paint prevail throughout the Coven home, the kitchen speaks in an edgy, modern voice. Sleek, high-gloss cabinet fronts and contemporary bar stools contrast with items in adjoining spaces, but continuity is maintained with a pair of small crystal chandeliers that illuminate the island.
Furniture from the Covens’ former residence found a new home in the family room, designed to be frequented by children. A classic chocolate brown velvet works well with a pair of caned chairs. Plechaty tied the furnishings to the overall scheme using draperies fabricated with wide horizontal stripes in alternating cream and brown silk. Light blue pillows introduce the slightest hint of color.
Emphasizing the serene scheme, the master bedroom has a tranquil glow. The bed and chair frames are accented in blond wood to add warmth. Under a soaring, vaulted ceiling, an antique bed plus a settee and twin Louis XVI chairs dress the room for comfortable lounging that suits the rest of the house.
“My work is universal,” says Plechaty. “These clients have gatherings frequently, so if they need extra furniture, what is in the bedroom can easily mix with what exists downstairs.” Saturated mostly in white, the Coven home can remain as it is or evolve to embrace new treasures the family may gather. With classic interiors—a shell that can shift in many directions—the choice is all theirs.
“Gail really made it a point to pay attention and give us open space that’s very comfortable—not only for us, but for our family and friends, whom we love to have over often,” says Deborah. “This house has exactly what we wanted—quiet, timeless elegance.”
Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Hilary Rose
Architect: Robert W. Kirk, Group A Architecture Inc., 1100 Landmeier Road, Suite 202, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007; 847/952-1100, groupaarch.com.
Interior design: Gail Plechaty, Real Simple Design, 17405 E. Millburn Road, Old Mill Creek, IL 60083; 847/356-1111.
Contractor: Matthew L. Pollack, Red Rock Custom Homes Inc., Red Rock Development, LLC, 1549 Stratford Road, Deerfield, IL 60015; 847/374-8820, redrockdevelopmentllc.com.
Under the curvy staircase, an antique French table with worn painted wood was updated with a new marble top. A dark banister and steps provide striking contrast.
To define the perimeter in style, painted white wood floors are bordered in silver-leaf stripes.
Dining Room Details
The dining room chandelier from Dennis & Leen is frosted with intricate beadwork, which sparkles in the light.
A Lucite desk provides transparency and allows attention to be focused on the silver-leaf harlequin pattern on the floor.
Kitchen and Breakfast Room
The contemporary tone of the breakfast area complements the streamlined kitchen. Leather armchairs from West Elm surround an oval table. Vintage French posters from the Covens’ art collection decorate the walls.
Along with its black marble sink surround and painted black-framed mirror, the handsome powder room features a whimsical tree-patterned wallpaper.
The French-style Chicago home was built in 2010.
My interiors can handle an old master just as easily as a modern abstract,” says designer Gail Plechaty.
Filled with furniture from the Covens’ former home, the family room demonstrates how pieces with classic lines can find purpose anywhere.
The master suite is steps from nature, with a terrace accessible through French doors. “Whether my clients are inside in front of the fireplace or out on their terrace, they have plenty of private space where they can sit, talk, and read,” says Plechaty.
Master Bedroom Detail
Antique prints by Auguste Rodin frame a unique mirror in the master bedroom. The bench is upholstered in a creamy fabric by Nancy Corzine.
Painted soft gray, the dressing room features mirrored doors and a stainless-topped island.
Silk window panels, a crystal chandelier, and a framed charcoal drawing give the bathroom subtle opulence.