It could be Justine Bianco’s West Coast upbringing or perhaps her passion to embrace art in all of its forms, but there is not a fussy or pretentious bone in her body.When Bianco and her family relocated to Evanston several years ago after a cross-country tour of the states and a six-month European adventure in a Volkswagen van, they had a very specific list for where they would call home upon their return.
“We wanted to be in a college town, near a swimmable body of a water, that was near a big city with a vibrant art scene. Evanston had it all,” Bianco says.
But when it came to buying a home, it was all about the character and charm.
“We ended up buying the most San Francisco house on the market in Evanston,” she says, choosing one on Hinman Avenue that was built around 1870. “It’s easily the oldest house on the block and only had three or four owners in that time. We bought it from a family who had owned it for the last 60 years. This home perfectly fit my kooky California sensibilities and how we like to live.”
Seeing beyond the dark Victorian wallpaper and drapes that ornately defined every corner and crevice of a home the past owners called the “Grand Old Lady,” Bianco initiated its rebirth by washing all of its surfaces in shades of white and cream—enhancing the Grand Old Lady’s abundance of natural light.
“As we’ve been making updates, it’s been important for us to keep the home’s original integrity but modernize things where it made sense,” she says. “When we refinished the floors, our contractor sold us hard on replacing them, but we loved the imperfections in the wood and the stories that they told so we kept them.”
It’s her eye as a fine artist that has guided every design decision Bianco has made about their family’s home.
“I’m a fine artist at my core, meaning I don’t always know what the outcome of my art will be,” she explains. “That has been true every step of the way with updating this house. How to live with our treasures, while also making a house aesthetically beautiful is a tricky process to navigate,” Some of Bianco’s most precious finds can be credited to her father-in-law. “We were on vacation at my husband’s family’s farm in Vermont and I discovered this workbench in the basement that his
father had built,” Bianco says. “At that time, we were remodeling our kitchen and I was desperately trying to figure out what our kitchen island would be. The workbench was perfect. We rented a U-Haul and brought it home.”
Bianco retrofitted the workbench to accommodate the kitchen needs of her family of five. “Art school maybe didn’t teach me how to help my son with his math homework, but it did prepare me to find my way around a tile cutter.”
Just across from the kitchen’s island is a make-shift backsplash—composed of dollhouse miniatures and travel souvenirs that her children have been gifted. “We have an abundance of treasures, and for me, it always comes back to how we live with them. I didn’t want a traditional backsplash, so we just adhered these little items to the wall. It’s a great talking piece and something we can all enjoy all of the time rather than having them tucked away in boxes.”
Another focal piece in the Bianco home can be found in the family’s creative hub at the center of their residence. “My husband’s father designed this table and had it built, but if we had put antique chairs around it, we would feel socked in. Instead, with these Ikea stools, we can gather around a piece of our family’s history while making art or playing a game.”
When Bianco isn’t spearheading artful home projects, she’s the co-owner of Platform in Evanston, an unconventional gallery space that she founded with Winnetka’s Maggie Meiners.
“We’re inviting artists that we’re interested in showing,” she says. “We adopt everyone into our fold, but we really want to show more adventurous installation art. We’re little mini museum. We don’t need to make a buck from this.”
The goal of Platform is to encourage collectors, enthusiasts, and their people to assemble there, see art and discuss it fully. Their hope is to provide a “platform” for people to connect with one another through art. Connecting through art is a common theme in Bianco’s life and she instills this with her
family at home. “We’re hard livers,” she jokes. “Our home is not a museum. It’s a celebration of our family, its legacy, and what we love.”
Platform is located at 904 Sherman Avenue in Evanston, 773-383-9197, platform904.com.