The home of Ken and Grace, in the outskirts of Chicago in Elmhurst, remained practically empty for two years. Grace had selected sophisticated finishes, paint colors, and drapery but hadn’t found the right pieces to furnish their forever home. With an elegant blank canvas for designer Mary Ellen Wilson of Walter E. Smithe to work with, she was able to bring in a beautiful mix of old and new into the home.

“I wanted the living room to look elegant and chic, maybe like a Paris or London flat, where the architecture is classic while the furnishings are more of-the-moment,” she explained. “Because the home’s architectural features were quite traditional, I wanted to contrast that with mostly modern, clean-lined furniture, with a few exceptions to relate back to the architecture.” An a-typical requirement from the homeowners was to keep the living-room rug free so as to show off the herringbone hardwood floors that grace the space. Designer Mary Ellen happily obliged and chose clean-lined curvy pieces for the living room. An inexpensive metallic garden stool was paired with a high-end muslin c-shaped sofa and opposite facing armchairs. “The absence of a rug makes the room’s furnishings look more dramatic, like jewels sitting on a dark background,” she said.

The homeowners wanted their dining room to have a bold flash of color. Mary Ellen chose a grass green, picked up from the patterned draperies, for the host chairs. As for the rest of the dining chairs? “The channel-tufted dining side chairs are in a bright white herringbone pattern, with stain-resistant Crypton fabric protectant built into the fabric for practicality,” she explained. Paired with the warmth of the mahogany starburst dining table and contemporary glass chandelier the dining room exudes good taste.

“Because these rooms were fairly monochromatic, I did pay particular attention to choosing fabrics with a wide variety of textures and tones. The ‘beiges’ had pink, purple, green or yellow undertones to them. So there is color, but extremely subtle,” Mary Ellen shared. On the whole, the project required the homeowners to have quite a bit of faith in her. “Pretty much everything except for the dining chair frames was not in our local showroom. So the clients had to trust us that the furnishings would fit well and look far more beautiful in real life than in a catalog or on a computer screen.”