A Colorful, Neo-Trad Apartment in Chicago

A French-blue range by BlueStar is offset by a striking gold RangeCraft hood.Of all the words one might use to describe Summer Thornton, bland isn’t one of them. The Chicago-based interior designer has a penchant for bold hues, high-drama prints, and wallpaper not for the faint of heart. “I strongly believe that color and pattern should not be feared,” says Thornton. “They create a mood and feeling that’s hard to replicate.” So when an equally chroma-happy client approached her to overhaul her all-brown apartment in the heart of the city’s historic Old Town neighborhood, the designer took a more-is-more approach.

To start, Thornton set to work upgrading the two-bedroom space’s interior architecture, recasting the layout and arrangement of the apartment’s existing rooms to better fit her client’s entertaining lifestyle. She remodeled the kitchen, improving the flow by replacing the dark cabinets with white ones, covering walls with a coat of pale gray paint, and adding a bright French blue stove. Thornton also converted one of the bedrooms into an office, installed a built-in bookcase around an otherwise forgettable fireplace wall, and added decorative pendants in the hallways.

Once the interior improvements were in place, the designer used color and pattern to maximal effect throughout the space for a youthful, preppy feel. “Literally the entire apartment was brown—not cute,” says Thornton. So she opted for a fresh, sophisticated palette based on vivid hues, such as periwinkle, poppy red, kelly green, and lavender, and layered graphic elements in complementary scales. The dominant feature in the office is a berry-laden branch wall motif, which offsets a vibrant coral-toned daybed that’s topped with diamond-printed throw pillows by Serena & Lily. Across the room, Roman shades made with Rose Cumming’s Antibes fabric in a crisp shade of robin’s egg blue recall striped awnings down the shore. The combination feels eclectic and collected over time, never busy or overwhelming.

The visual interest is no less compelling in the main living room, where a navy mantel echoes a collection of blue-and-white chinoiserie ginger jars on the dining table, a pale-blue painted ceiling, and richly ornamented Roman shades made with Quadrille’s ornate Arbre de Matisse Reverse fabric. Preppy staples such as Chippendale chairs mix with more contemporary streamlined styles, such as Jonathan Adler’s black-and-gold x-bench. And trad accessories—everything from rope knots and foo dogs to garden stools and flowery hatboxes—abound.

Part of revamping the apartment also involved testing the limits of what could be accomplished in a small space. While some may balk at the idea of incorporating so much design in such close quarters, Thornton embraced the challenge. “I was truly inspired by the homeowner—she is young, tons of fun, and a true ‘girl’s girl,’” she says. “I was happy to bring her style to life.” To that effect, in the living room, a patterned settee finds unexpected balance with a pair of lilac-striped throw pillows. A range of different metal finishes appear throughout the home—in gilded antique pagoda lanterns and polished-nickel faucets and brass sconces—for a quirky, curated feel.

The result of so much interplay between color, pattern, and texture is a space that feels authentic and original—a place the owner can truly call home. “Sure, this isn’t for everyone, but that’s the beauty of having a client who loves color and pattern,” says Thornton. “With all of my clients, I just try to bring out who they are in the design. It’s like taking their soul and putting it on the walls and sofa and curtains and pillows so that when they walk in the door they say ‘this is me.’” In this apartment, no one could argue otherwise.