When Jen Talbot took on the remodel of a three-story home in the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, she knew she was in for a challenge: The 120-year-old house was badly damaged and in need of a total gut renovation. But Talbot, a designer known for her minimal, sculptural aesthetic, was more than prepared to meet the moment.
Built in 1900, the house was located in the diverse area surrounding the University of Chicago that’s filled with turn-of-the-century beauties. (It also happens to be where the Obamas live when they’re in town.) “The husband is a history professor at the University of Chicago and the wife is an acclaimed writer with a book landing on Oprah’s Must-read List,” Talbot says of new owners, who have two young children. “They had spent years walking past the house on the way to the university, so when it finally came to the market, they jumped on it.”
Luckily, the house had great bones, with original trim, large windows, and tall ceilings; on the flip side, the poorly-remodeled 1980s kitchen was closed off, the floors were in bad shape, and the bathrooms would need a total redo. Later, Talbot would come to find out that plumbing leaks had caused extensive problems, while termites had caused structural damage to the kitchen floor, which had to be ripped out and replaced.
Initially, the clients were leaning towards a neutral, clean-lined look, but Talbot suggested a mix of colorful, one-of-a-kind vintage items to make the space feel more personal. “Much like a Prada suit, we work to source high-end vintage of the era, so the pieces are innate, classic and lasting,” says the designer, who has a background in installation art.
The living room’s vintage 1970s Baker sofa, upholstered in blush mohair, became the jumping-off point; in the dining room, Talbot added reverse-painted molding, dramatic dusty pink drapery and bold berry chairs for full-on Parisian glam. The kitchen got a drastic makeover with a custom unlacquered brass hood, Carrara marble and white oak cabinetry. Upstairs, Talbot made the main bedroom feel extra luxe with the addition of a seating area with lilac marble floors.
Each piece became key to the home’s story, says Talbot, who managed to wrap the project up in under a year. “It was curated one piece at a time.”
The homeowners’ existing art made a big impact. Sconces: Triple Seven Home. Chandelier: Blue Print Lighting. Benches: vintage, through Chairish. Table: Rest and Repine.
The 1970s Baker sofa (from One Vintage) was in pristine condition when Talbot found it, with the original mohair upholstery still intact. Rug: ABC Home. Coffee table: Eny Parker. Side table: House of Hipster. Floor lamp: Light Cookie.
Pierre Paulin chairs: 1stDibs. Vintage rug: Oscar Epiran. Leather chairs: Arta Form. Sculpture: Dial M. Cluster tables: Burke Decor.
“The client knew she didn’t want upper cabinets, so we used something to make a statement and draw the eye up,” Talbot says of the brass hood by Bader Art Metal. Cabinets: JJ Designs. Sconces: Circa Lighting. Table: Lumens. Chairs: 1stDibs.
“She had a photo that was shot at a deteriorating theater in New York that we knew had to go in there,” says Talbot. Dining table: Design Within Reach. Chairs: Interior Define. Sconces: Allied Maker. Chandelier: France and Sons. Vase: Jen Talbot Design.
Adjacent to the dining room, the clients use the cozy space all the time. Sofa: Interior Define. Rug: vintage, Semikha Textiles. Side tables: West Elm. Console: Oken House Studios. Stools: Ferm Living. Chair fabric: Caryn Cramer
Two smaller rooms were combined to make the clients’ bedroom into a sprawling space. Sofa: Wayfair. Lounger: Wayfair. Rug: Stark Carpet. Floor lamp: CB2. Chandelier: Triple Seven Home. Pillow: Etsy.
The library, which doubles as the husband’s office, features cozy gray built-ins. Desk: Theodore Alexander. Chair: Design Within Reach. Bench fabric: Schumacher. Chandelier: Circa Lighting.
“The powder bath is where we had the most fun,” says the designer. Faucet: Rejuvenation. Wallpaper: These Walls. Mirror: Vintage through Etsy. Ottoman: Kristan Dam Studio.
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