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A Fresh Perspective

A “vanilla box” in Lincoln Park goes from blah to jaw-droppingly original.

A fringe wallcovering by local artist Anna Wolfson adds texture to the colorful breakfast nook, complete with a custom banquette and dining chairs from Buckingham ID.

“We transformed a sad ugly duckling into a beautiful home,” says Buckingham Interiors + Design founder Julia Buckingham Edelmann of the pied-à-terre that she designed for a North Shore couple who wanted their youngest daughter, 8, to experience life as a “city kid” after sending their two older children off to college. After an exhaustive search, the couple, a jewelry manufacturer, and his wife, a periodontist, selected a five-bedroom townhome in Lincoln Park that was long on potential but short on style. “It was a complete blank slate, and I wanted it to feel like an urban, sophisticated home,” the wife explains.

According to Edelmann, much of the home had to be rebuilt before they could even begin working on the design. “Some of the walls had to be stripped because of water damage, and we had to reinforce a lot of the load-bearing walls,” Edelmann says. “When we started, it was a vanilla box.” To create a more functional kitchen, Edelmann incorporated additional cabinets and added a backsplash. She also added moldings and window treatments throughout the townhome’s three levels.

Adding warmth, color and texture were top priorities for Edelmann, who selected a gray color for the living room walls. “I never would have chosen the gray color on my own, but it’s so beautiful and calming,” the owner explains. “We absolutely love it.” When designing the furniture layout, Edelmann allowed form to follow function. “One of the first things [the wife] ever said to me was that she liked to have 15 to 20 people for Shabbat dinner every Friday night, so I incorporated a huge dining table that takes up way more than half of the living room,” the designer explains, noting that the room has been segmented into distinct areas for dining, music and conversation.

During the couple’s weekly dinner parties, it’s not unusual for the husband to play the ’30s-era baby grand piano that sits prominently in the center of the room. Incorporating the piece was a non-negotiable for the owners, but it posed a design challenge for Edelmann. “The pieces in that room had to be rich so that the piano wouldn’t take over,” the designer explains, noting that she enjoyed mixing fabrics and textures on the love seats and dining chairs that she designed for the space. “If you’re going to buy something custom, you might as well make it look like it is. If the back of a piece of furniture is the first thing that you see, the fabric should be dynamic enough to make a statement.”

If pattern rules the living room, color dominates in the more casual dining area, located just off the kitchen, where Edelmann created a breakfast nook with a custom white table and a built-in banquette. Solid gold, navy and deep green cushions pop even more against the neutral walls. “The owner bought that blue-green fabric from her favorite store in L.A., and it’s literally the inspiration for the entire space,” Edelmann explains. Although the room is rather narrow, the owners pushed Edelmann to incorporate as many furnishings as possible so that everybody would be comfortable when their extended family visits. “When these clients entertain, the furniture is all being moved around—ottomans are being pulled up and the stacking chairs are coming out—so everything has to look good from every angle,” Edelmann explains.

Rather than using pattern, Edelmann created interest in the space with a wallcovering made of linen burlap with fringe—one of several coverings that she incorporated throughout the house. In the lower level family room, Edelmann selected one with a boxy pattern that resembles tufted leather. In the entry foyer, for contrast, she chose a circular pattern with glass beads. Long chains strung from a rail serve as the window treatment. “It’s texture upon texture,” Edelmann explains. “It’s not a privacy feature. It’s a little bit of jewelry.”

In the master bedroom, Edelmann made the brave move of covering one bank of windows with a bold floral fabric that has hues of dark purple and plum. “The master bedroom is all windows, and I realized that there was no way that it would ever feel comfortable and cozy unless we brought in fabric,” Edelmann says. “It makes the room feel so much more finished.” Flanking the custom velvet headboard that Edelmann designed are a pair of art deco end tables that the designer and client picked out when they found themselves in Paris at the same time. “I was going to Maison & Objet, and she happened to be in Paris, so we had some one-on-one time going through the French markets,” Edelmann explains.

According to Edelmann, the yearlong project took on a different character as the months progressed. “At first, they wanted something like their place in Highland Park, which is more traditional and country, but as we moved along in the process, the wife saw that we could use interesting materials to really funk up her residence,” the designer says. “She is a joy and a gas to work with. Her heart is three times the size that she is.”

Happily ensconced in their new home, the owners credit Edelmann with helping them hit the right note. “Julia is very easy to work with, and she understood us right away,” the wife explains. “She doesn’t have a cookie-cutter approach to design, so our house actually reflects us, and that’s what we wanted.”