By Emma Bazilian and Tori Mellott
With just five months to turn her family’s turn-of-the-century Chicago townhouse into a bright, liveable home, designer Jenny Holladay pulls out her floral-embellished bag of tricks—courtesy of her mentor, Summer Thornton.
The butterflies quickly turned to pure nerves when Holladay learned that she only had five months to pull off the renovation: Unbeknownst to her, her husband had gone ahead and sold their existing condo. “There was no discussion of a timeline—he’s in finance, so he didn’t really understand what would go into a project like this,” Holladay laughs. “I still give him a hard time about it!”
Luckily, Holladay had the tool kit to pull it off, having worked alongside Thornton on numerous high-profile projects in historic homes. “I knew exactly who to call to build my cabinets and fix my plumbing and all of those other crucial things, thanks to her,” Holladay explains. She also credits Thornton with the design ethos she came to live by: When in doubt, just add pattern. And more pattern. And maybe another pattern, for good measure.
“Summer taught me that pattern just brings so much life into a space,” says Holladay, who took a no-holds-barred approach to deploying them in her own home, where eye-catching motifs play a starring role in nearly every room, from the front hall to the third-floor closet. The unabashedly bold blue-and-white Pyne Hollyhock wallpaper in the living room (“I knew I wanted to use it before I even had a house!” says Holladay) is the backdrop to chintz-covered chairs and tiger-print pillows. In a guest room, the small-scale botanical on the walls plays nicely with a ticking-stripe headboard and gathered ikat lampshades on the bedside tables. When walls are left bare, ceilings received Holladay’s pattern-happy treatment: A busy floral wallcovering pulls the eye upward in the white-walled foyer, while a whimsical raspberry-hued border of animals and palm trees highlights the existing millwork in her daughter’s room. (That attention to the “fifth wall” is yet another Thornton signature, the designer notes.)
While the mix has a certain amount of mad-granny feel to it, Holladay was careful not to venture too far over the threshold that separates eclectic from eccentric. “I didn’t want it to become precious—the idea was to create a happy, colorful home that’s filled with hope and life and energy,” explains the designer. To add verve to the old-fashioned florals, she relied on gutsy, unexpected colors: fuchsia velvet for a bullion-fringed sofa, lavender paint on the dining room walls, pitch-black trim in the main bath. There’s plenty of traditional brown furniture, some of it actually inherited from Holladay’s grandmother and great-grandmother (“I think every room needs a bit of brown furniture to make it feel collected and authentic,” she states), incorporated with mid-century finds, like a set of vintage French dining chairs and a 1960s Carl Fagerlund for Orrefors chandelier, to break up the period feel. Holladay’s art choices, too, are part of a carefully considered strategy to lighten the mood: For every heavy gilt mirror hanging on the walls, you’ll find pieces of the pop art and Slim Aarons variety alongside them.
As a reward to herself for whipping the house into shape in just five short months, Holladay indulged in an unabashedly feminine walk-in closet, carved from a onetime “office-slash-junk room” next to the main bedroom. Open shelving on one side shows off her (unsurprisingly) colorful, pattern-filled wardrobe; cabinets on the other hold her husband’s. Liberal doses of brass hardware and lighting sparkle like vintage costume jewelry. An oft-used rolling library ladder allows the couple to take advantage of every square inch of space, all the way up to the marbleized-paper ceiling.