Golds, beiges, and creams reign supreme in a timeless home
A larger story of how the Besser family home in Chicago got to be so stunning is found in the tale of two small, humble chairs. For years, Rebecca Besser had been hanging on to a couple of low-slung black lacquer armchairs that had been her grandmother’s. But they didn’t seem to fit into the brand-new house she was building on the city’s Gold Coast with her husband, Charlie, and five children (and a labradoodle).
Designer Martin Horner, of the firm Soucie Horner, didn’t see why the heirlooms shouldn’t have pride of place. “I said, ‘These are so cool,’?” he recalls. All they needed was a bit of updating in the form of a chic black-and-cream print and a spot in Rebecca’s private upstairs sitting room. “That was a great surprise. Now they look really modern,” Rebecca says. “I loved them as a child, and now I get to have them in my life.”
Stylish, but with a big heart. Horner and the Bessers were on the same page. Together they created a home ready-made for welcoming guests, complete with a custom walnut dining room table that not only expands from six to 20 seats but also easily changes shape from square to round to oval with the strategic additions of table leaves and pedestals.
While the three-level stone-clad house graciously welcomes guests, it is also a safe haven for family-only time—this group has been known to cozy up together in the master bedroom to watch TV on the bed—and it comfortably accommodates the special needs of Jacqueline, the Bessers’ 16-year-old daughter, who is autistic. “She’s our angel, and the reason we built this house,” says Rebecca, who worked closely with Horner to create a suite for Jacqueline. “We find that when we make decisions with her at the forefront, everything turns out so well.”
The palette that Horner used in the Besser house is a symphony of golds, beiges, and creams against dove-white walls. “We’re so busy and always traveling,” says Rebecca. “These colors make us feel calm and relaxed.” Rebecca gives her time to a fleet of charitable groups, including the Service Club of Chicago, said to be the oldest philanthropic women’s group in the city. Charlie gives of his time, too—when he’s not running his sports marketing and events business. The Bessers weren’t so busy that they wanted to completely outsource the design of their house, however. “Martin didn’t tell me what to do,” says Rebecca. “What he did was guide me into what I like.”
The decorator-client relationship may have been predestined: When they first met, Rebecca showed Horner a picture of an apartment she admired, and it happened to be his own (though it was the previous owner’s version). Certainly the client knew what she wanted. “She was going for something classic and timeless, not trendy,” says the designer.
He gave the family solid Beaux-Arts bones for the interior architecture: serious moldings, hardwood floors, fireplaces that seem to be a century old. These elements, as well as the structure itself, designed by Chicago architect Wayne Zediker, helped it fit perfectly into the venerable neighborhood north of the Loop.
But into those spaces Horner placed relatively clean-lined furniture in soothing hues, with very few large sofas. The idea was that a variety of chairs would allow the Bessers to move things around anytime in the interest of staying flexible for the many family members and friends who were sure to drop by. As Rebecca puts it, “We love to celebrate.”
Because Rebecca’s stated goal was “traditional, but with some hipness,” Horner threw in a pop of contemporary style here and there. For the master bathroom, Rebecca got a Lucite-legged ottoman topped by a puffy white cloud of mohair pelt. (Charlie’s special treat was a bit more practical: a custom-made sandwich station in the kitchen that Horner created out of maple and pine.)
Touches like these, requested by the Bessers and shepherded with care by Horner, all add up to a long-haul prospect for this family. As Rebecca puts it, “This is the house for us.”
Architect: Wayne Zediker, Advanced Architectural Design Ltd., 410 N. Maple St., Mount Prospect, IL 60056; 847/392-5309, architecturaldesignchicago.com 
Interior design, kitchen design: Shea Soucie and Martin Horner, Soucie Horner Ltd., 208 W. Kinzie St., 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL 60610; 312/755-0202, souciehorner.com 
Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Hilary Rose
Matching antique mirrors flank the living room fireplace and “Blue Triptych” mixed-media art by Mary Rousseaux.
Upholstered chairs and a trio of glass-topped Swaim cocktail tables are easily moved to accommodate large groups or small intimate gatherings.
Their mutual love of classical architecture led designer Horner to pick up pieces on his travels that he knew Rebecca would like, such as the white opaline vase that is one of a pair that flank the living room fireplace.
Inspired by a 1920s design, the 40-inch-tall, gilt-and-glass light fixture hangs from a skylight at the top of the three-level winding staircase.
Martin Horner spotted this seeded glass ball in a Portland, Oregon, shop. He carted it home in his suitcase, and repurposed it as a dazzling accent on the antique newel post at the bottom of the front hall stair.
The custom dining room table adapts to many occasions, seating 20 or breaking down into separate tables that each seat four. It also has leaves that alter its shape, from square and rectangular to round and oval.
The dining room sideboard is a Regency-era antique. The striking sconces were custom-made. “We added the crystal detail to jazz them up,” designer Horner says. “We wanted to give them a little glam.”
In the family room, Brennan Besser plays his guitar next to spacious windows with views of the backyard. Two sofas, upholstered chairs, an ottoman, and a rug from The Larsen Collection provide plenty of lounging areas for family TV nights.
Large islands—one in the center of the room, the other dividing the kitchen from the family room—make things handy for caterers serving at dinner parties. A home office is tucked into one end of the kitchen.
Ivory and gold “Madrid” wall covering by Scalamandré and a chandelier from Century Lighting give the master bedroom a vintage feel. The headboard of the custom bed is upholstered in “Velvet Linen”by Cowtan & Tout.
In the master sitting room, black lacquer armchairs, inherited from Rebecca’s grandmother, were updated with a black-and-cream Charles Pollock upholstery fabric.
Mongolian mohair tops an acrylic bench from the McLaughlin Collection. The marble statue belonged to Rebecca’s father.
Daughter Elena “is all about sparkle,” Horner says. “The chandelier in her bedroom is from the Bessers’ old dining room—and that glamour/sparkle set the stage. It’s all about texture and sparkle, like Elena’s personality.”
Double doors at the entry of the new home on Chicago’s Gold Coast are illuminated by custom brass-and-black steel sconces made by Archistoric Workshop in Chicago.
Rebecca Besser stands next to the salvaged newel post that Horner topped with a decorative seeded glass ball found in Portland, Oregon.