Peering over her menu at the Deer Path Inn, I catch Mary Southworth looking at the current state of décor in the dining room. “This is such a lovely place, but it could use some updating,” she says gently. “I wonder what the new owners will do.”
I’m sure if they asked Mary and Kevin Boksha, her design partner of 20 years at Samlesbury Hall in downtown Lake Forest, they would have some ideas. “People tend to come to us when they’re looking for something more traditional,” says Mary. “When we opened the store, we chose English antiques over French because no matter what your taste, English antiques can always be worked into a room.”
Mary’s instincts about what the locals would like has served her well as she marches through her third decade in the interior design and antique business. “There are some advantages to being around for a long time,” she says with a laugh. “But often if we’ve done a client’s first home, we do their second, and then their vacation home, and often their children’s homes. If people like antiques, their kids typically like them too. Our clients are people of all ages who want a pretty home that they can grow with.”
While design and antique furniture have had staying power for Mary, she and Kevin are always updating and freshening what they offer in their store. “We can have antique chests, but we don’t need to have seven of them,” Mary says.
Kevin agrees. “People need not be in intimidated by our small storefront. We want you to come in and take a look. We have 5,000 square feet of retail space filled with home accessories and gift items at all prices. We have things you might not think we have.”
Mary encourages people to visit the store, especially the downstairs. “I’m shocked how many people don’t know we have two floors. Downstairs we have all types of picture frames and linens. We’re more than antiques.”
This March finds Mary and Kevin in one of their busiest months, managing a large design project while their clients are away for the winter. “The lucky thing for us is that we both really like what we’re doing,” says Kevin.
“I used to say to Bruce that his business was such a fast thing,” Mary remembers. “He used to put up these tents for an event that would take a month to build and then they would take them down the next day. I would joke that ‘at least what I put up is lasting.’”
Mary’s beloved husband Bruce passed away in September 2012. She was quoted as saying her life with him “was one big party.”
“Bruce’s nephew David worked with him for eight years or so. He has taken over Bruce’s business and is doing quite well,” Mary says. “I only have two of his filing cabinets left to go through. I had to go through all of the party stuff from all of those years. Boxes of pictures. Closets of pictures! I pushed myself to do it, sometimes just an hour a day. But I’m almost finished. I found some incredible photos of some friends of ours dancing at a party in Venice. I sent those pictures off to them and they were so happy to get them.”
Sitting with Mary and Kevin, it’s clear that you’re in the presence of good friends, as they have a chemistry that only two people who have worked together for many years would share. “We have that left-brain right-brain thing going on,” Kevin explains.
I had to ask. Who is the left brain and who is the right?
“Which is the messy one?” asks Kevin.
Typically the left.
“That’s Mary for sure,” he says.
As Mary laughs, she waves off any idea of retiring some day soon. “We do talk about it, but as long as I can keep going up and down the stairs at the store, I plan to keep working.”
-Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kirstin Ulve