Melissa Trandel has been known to preface any tour of her impeccably appointed Winnetka home with the humble declaration that she’s not a professional interior designer.
“I know what I like,” she’ll say graciously. “I was once told that if you love something enough, you will find a place for it and make it work and I believe that to be true.”
But what soon becomes evident is that a lack of formal design training does not mean a lack of design education. In fact, some might say she’s been studying the art of proportion and color and texture since she was a little girl.
She learned by watching her mother and grandmother transform fine antiques and decorate their family’s historic southern Illinois home fearlessly, never afraid to move pieces around or even admit if a must-have object ended up not being the best choice. She also learned by seeing the world and taking note of every single detail, whether it be the architectural flourish of a posh London flat or how a French country manor in Haute Provence can feel as intimate as it is elegant.
“I spent many hours as a child with my mom and grandma at antique stores, watching them decorate—sometimes spending days deciding which paint color to go with, which antique chandelier would look best, or finding the absolute perfect knob for a door or drawer,” she explains. “It’s definitely in my DNA.”
So when she and her commercial real estate developer husband David Trandel of Springbank Capital Advisors sat down with North Shore architect Scott Renken to design their home on a prime plot of Sheridan Road property, they both knew what they wanted and Melissa took on the challenge of decorating every inch of it.
The house would need to be large enough to accommodate a growing family, as well as, provide space for occasional visits from family and friends. It would need to be thoroughly modern in efficiency and amenities, but with an aesthetic that paid homage to those great North Shore architects who populated the shores of Lake Michigan with European-style villas more than a century ago.
“It’s about as intimate as a large house can feel,” says David, who shares his wife’s affinity for France, especially after having worked with the iconic, internationally acclaimed architect Lucien LaGrange on his firm’s most recent Winnetka development. “There is no formal side or informal side of the house. It really is a reflection of who we are and how we live.”
The couple starts a recent tour in the home’s stunning foyer, where a two-story window is the dramatic backdrop for a curved staircase trimmed with wrought iron, just like those Paris apartments. A European wall hanging and marble floors set the tone for the rest of the interiors, a carefully curated set of rooms that are grand, but not too big; formal, yet comfortable.
With the home currently on the market, Melissa is quick to point out that not all of her favorite things are on display. And yet, walking through her designer kitchen into the dining room and adjacent family room, it’s hard to imagine what might be missing.
The formal dining room alone is a study in eclectic chic, with a crystal chandelier, marble floors, and two walls of arched windows—one with a view out to a secluded terrace filled with vintage wrought iron garden antiques and statuary. Melissa says her decision not to use window treatments in that room was in part to keep that postcard vista open and give the feeling of a true European villa.
“Due to the height and arch of the French doors, I chose to keep the look airy and wait until I found the perfect solution” Melissa notes. Not long after deciding against a traditional look, she came across a set of black Chinoiserie screens. She saw them and knew exactly where they would go and that they would beautifully filter light through the west facing windows.
Another statement piece in the dining room, a floor to ceiling gilded mirror that looks like something from a European palace, was a discovery Melissa’s mother found at an antique warehouse near her hometown. “She called and said that a must-see piece had caught her eye and she knew it was exactly what I had been looking for and wanted for the space.” Melissa recalls. “I love it; it turned out to be a fabulous find!”
The dining room flows into a larger family living and entertaining space with coffered ceilings, a majestic stone fireplace, sprawling sofas, and its own terrace entrance. On this particular tour, Melissa and David’s 8-year-old son, Jude, is doing homework, wearing a Bayern Munich soccer top he bought on a recent family trip to Germany. His older sister, 11-year-old Ava, is upstairs in her room—a gorgeous little Parisian jewel box that includes a gilded French antique bedroom set.
And that’s the fun part about this house. No room is quite the same as the other, each with its own identity.
There is an office area covered in leopard print wallpaper with a velvety antique chair and a gilded Beaux Arts vibe. One of the half baths on the first floor is a shimmery tribute to old Hollywood glam. And on the other side of the house, adjacent to a more formal living room filled with sheet music and family antiques, is the room that is distinctly David—a turn-of-the-century style space that could be a library but is instead a grand billiard room, with another terrace entrance suitable for an evening of cigars and cocktails.
“I love Asian, I love French, I love Art Nouveau … and I enjoy displaying it all together,” Melissa says, as the tour continues down into the lower level, where a full English-style pub and an en suite guest bedroom connect to the entrance from a three-car, heated underground garage (with a heated driveway). “I love the creativity element to decorating and collecting, but I’m also a sentimentalist. If there are furnishing that aren’t necessarily my style but they’ve been in mine or David’s family and passed down to us, I will make it work and mix in with other pieces.”
While the collections that make this house feel like home for the Trandels will not be included in the property sale, the couple’s meticulously refined taste is reflected in the choices they made throughout the house. The finest quality materials were used throughout, with six spacious bedrooms, five fireplaces, a wine cellar, and a third floor retreat with a private bath and lake views from a private terrace.
“Possessions are just things, but family is the real blessing. Our collectibles and furnishings are reminders of where we’ve been and what we’ve created together as a family,” Melissa says. “We live life to the fullest and make the most of the time we share together. We love to have fun and no matter where we live or what our house may be filled with, being together is what matters most.”
The Trandel house is currently being offered by Berkshire Hathaway. For more information, call 312-953-3425.