A gingerbread-trimmed Victorian is decked for the holidays
With all the energy of a Chicago snowstorm, Randy Fifield blew into her hometown and shook up a stuffy old red-brick Victorian in the heart of the Windy City.
In a five-month stretch, Randy and her husband, Steve, fearlessly ripped out, built in, and otherwise renovated the 1883 house into a cheery, California-inspired home for their family of five children and four dogs. White paint transformed the previously oppressive formal front hall into a bright and welcoming space with a gingerbread staircase, lacy decorative iron accents, scallop- shell crown moldings, and a charming tiled fireplace—all decked out at Christmas in holiday greens, bows, and gold balls.
It was 2010, and the family was moving to Chicago from California, where they had lived for about five years. Randy and Steve, who own a residential and commercial development business, were completing one project in Los Angeles and launching new ones in Chicago. Although most families with school-age kids and multiple pets opt for the suburbs, Randy set her sights on Chicago’s Gold Coast. The several-block neighborhood near Lake Michigan is where many late-19th-century business tycoons built homes after the Chicago fire in 1871.
“This is a prestigious area, but it also has the walkability factor that was important to me,” Randy says. “Now my kids can walk to school. I can walk to the grocery story. We’re a block from the lake, a block from the zoo. We’re right in the heart of it all.”
During the Christmas holidays, the family walks to the annual Chicago Festival of Lights Parade on Michigan Avenue and to Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
While the walkable location was a draw, so was the house itself. Built by an up-and-coming Chicago advertising executive, the interiors are elegantly appointed with quarter-sawn oak floors, solid-wood pocket doors, oak-paneled walls, ornate plaster moldings, Tiffany leaded-glass windows, and all the gingerbread trim of the era. Ceilings are 11 feet high on all three levels.
“It was a unique house before the renovation, with a very whimsical exterior. I hadn’t laid my eyes on anything this old and in such good condition in a long time,” says Randy. The house wasn’t without issues, however—a crumbling facade being the most obvious. The dark-stained paneled walls and trim made the house seem dreary and claustrophobic, and a previous owner had added some architecturally inappropriate and out-of-scale fireplace mantels, shelves, and other built-in details.
Randy’s business is remodeling and selling residences, and after renovating 26 houses in 25 years from Los Angeles to Nantucket, she knew where to start. (“I do the work nobody else wants to,” she says with a laugh. “I have a lot of energy, and I love the process.”)
Up went scaffolding as stone artisans repaired the facade and replaced broken sandstone details. “We archived all the pieces and had them reproduced in Indiana limestone,” Randy explains. New heated limestone steps, driveway, and patios were added to melt Chicago’s snow and ice. “We can cook out 12 months a year because there is no snow removal to deal with,” she says.
Inside, the oak paneling and trim were painted white and walls in the foyer were finished with Venetian plaster burnished to a milk-chocolate brown. Skimpy fireplace mantels and built-ins that were not original to the house were ripped out and replaced with scale-appropriate travertine fireplace surrounds and hearths. Floors were refinished with a dark wood stain.
Randy lightened interiors with clean-lined furnishings and gold and taupe fabric tones. “I wanted to bring California colors and transitional design concepts into that house,” she says.
During Christmas, a ceiling-high tree sits in the Tiffany leaded- glass bay window in the living room decked out in ornaments as inclusive as the family—handmade children’s crafts, Christopher Radko collectibles, and family heirlooms. Artisan-made Santa Clauses (Randy has collected nearly 20) peek out from every corner as the family feasts on traditional turkey dinners served on Randy’s grandmother’s gold-rimmed china.
“Our holidays are very traditional,” Randy says. “We always have the same foods that my mother and grandmother prepared. It fills the whole house with generations of history.”
On the home’s exterior, new limestone replicates the original sandstone trim. In the 1950s, a high-rise was built on one side of the house but, soon after, the city stopped the demolition of historic houses in the gold coast neighborhood.
Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Hilary Rose
White paint plays up architectural features, such as stair spindles, key motifs, and medallions. “It became a more three-dimensional and interesting house,” says homeowner Randy Fifield. The stair runner is by Stark.
Hand-carved plaster moldings of shells, roses, and ropes on the stairs are plenty of decoration, but for the holiday touch, Randy uses her holiday standard—fresh greens, white tulips, and holly berries.
A narrow tree stands in a charming niche in the front entry. The scrolled piece of metal in the doorway is original to the house.
Details on the following slide.
Gold decorations hang in the entry hall and complement the gold and ivory holiday decorating scheme.
The tiled fireplace and mirror with its multi-armed sconces are original to the house. The dark-stained oak paneling and trim were painted Benjamin Moore “Decorator White.” Walls were finished with chocolate- hued Venetian plaster. A Horton’s Home Lighting silver-gold ceiling light adds a modern element to the Victorian-era house.
An elegant travertine fireplace surround and hearth replaced the overly ornate (and not original) oak mantel. Wheat-colored Maya Romanoff wall covering and Oscar de la Renta rug warm the room.
The family enjoys Christmas dinner served on Tiffany holiday dishes combined with family china.
Dining Room Buffet
An antique English sideboard blends effortlessly with the Baker dining table and Century chairs. “I wanted to bring California colors and concepts into the house to make it feel more transitional in style,” Randy says.
Gingerbread cookies and snacks spice up the holidays.
With five children, the kitchen island is a hub of activity. Randy visually lightened the room by painting the stained cherry cabinets white and replacing dark green granite countertops with white marble. “Abacus” stools are from Noir Furniture and the “Grosvenor” light fixture from Circa.
A farmhouse-style table from pottery barn has served the family well. “It’s totally etched with scribbles from when the kids were little,” Randy says. Old windows with mirrors hang above the banquette.
Swivel armchairs from Century flank the Christmas tree by the leaded-glass Tiffany windows. The colors in the antique rug and the window inspired the blue, green, and cream palette. Drapery fabric is from Lee Jofa.
Coffee Table Vignette
A plate of snowflake Christmas cookies on the coffee table matches the home’s decor.
The Tiffany leaded glass is original to the house.
A mink-dressed Santa sits near the Christmas tree in the living room. Randy has been collecting Santas for years.
The Fifield family from upper step down, Randy Fifield with Teddy Bear, a blonde Pekingese; Samantha, 18; Alexa, 19; Niki, 14, and 13-year-old twins Kate (holding Shefu, a Pekingese) and Jack (sitting with Sirius Black, a Newfoundland). Steve stands next to Daisy, also a Newfoundland.