GROWING UP in Lake Forest, Marli Jones had a mind for design, even as a young girl.
“I’ve been very passionate about design since I was a little kid and I credit Lake Forest for that. It’s an historically significant place. You grow up there being exposed to incredible design and architecture on an intimate level because you’re inside significant homes and you get to see who they’ve hired to design. I just ate it up—I was a very focused child. I knew this was what I was going to do.”
Fast forward to today: Jones and her husband, Michael Kreuser, now run Rebel House Interior Design, an award-winning design firm. Jones ran the business on her own for several years, then Kreuser joined her two and one-half years ago; Jones heads up the design team, Kreuser the management and operations side of the business. They recently opened a three-storefront office in Hubbard Woods, where they specialize in virtually every area of design, from full-service residential to boutique hospitality.
As Jones describes it, the windows sit right on Green Bay Road. “The first window is the living room and kitchen area, which we’ve designed like a show house with a rotation of furnishings currently featuring makers and dealers from around Chicago. The middle window is an office, so you can see us working, which is kind of fun.” The last window will become their material library. This creative and visually engaging layout makes Rebel House Interior Design a welcome addition to the popular retail, restaurant, and window-shopping corridor.
When Jones and her team first meet with a new client, they begin by doing a lot of listening. “We talk about their expectations. I like to hear what they’re looking for. Everyone has a Pinterest or Instagram account or cut up magazine clippings of things they love. And we take that in, in a really unobstructed way,” Jones says. “From there, we start with translating their imagery into mood boards, budgets, and floor plan options. After our first design meeting together, we walk away with a very focused understanding of what we’re accomplishing and what the budget will be to accomplish it.”
“We run a tight ship,” Jones says. “I’m very aware that it is an overwhelming process for homeowners, and we’ve tried to find a way to break it down so that the decisions are managable and we are handling our time effectively. As a client, you know how we manage everything from beginning to end.”
Rebel House recently completed a full renovation project for Larry Baumann and Dana Brehm. With the purchase of a condo in the Carlyle, Baumann and Brehm were ready to move back from St. Louis, fulfilling a lifelong goal of living in downtown Chicago. Jones, Kreuser, and their team worked on every aspect of the renovation, hiring the architect and builder, and turning Baumann and Brehm’s dream into a stunning reality. “Our experience was fabulous,” Baumann says. “Jones was very spot-on. She has a super intellectual approach to design.”
Baumann and Brehm say that Jones’ educational background, combined with her extensive experience in both residential and commercial design, gives her a complete understanding of the financial aspects of design and rehab along with a strong respect for budget. Incredibly, the entire project took place while Baumann and Brehm were at their Florida residence. They credit Kreuser taking over as project manager for allowing this to happen. “He was fabulous. He’d be hands-on every day, managing everything and keeping us informed.”
There are clearly many things that set Rebel House apart from other designers. “We try to take a creative approach to each project, and part of that is the rebel part of our name and mindset,” Jones says. “How do we bring a different experience visually to the client? And how are we creating an interior that feels fun and not just a carbon copy of something they’ve seen? So, again, taking that inspirational imagery and then crafting something unique for each of our clients is really important. “
They are also extremely focused on the service side of their business. “We’re really big on making sure that our service is top notch. Our clients are making an important investment in their project and interior, and we want to echo that and provide a level of service that feels commensurate with that investment.”
“I worked for a number of designers and showrooms while I was in school because interior design requires a practical foundation. You’re running a business. You’re dealing with clients. The creative part of it is deceiving … it is a much smaller percentage of the job versus processing furniture orders and understanding how you meet deadlines and service clients correctly. I think that experience was the key to me really understanding how to launch a firm in my twenties.”
One of the first places Jones worked was the award-winning West Coast design firm of Martha Angus Inc. “Martha brought me up from design assistant all the way to senior designer, and I cut my teeth on some magnificent homes in Silicon Valley. We were doing wine country estates, some really beautiful homes in downtown San Francisco. And it was an amazing experience to understand luxury at that level and how you design in such a different climate and culture.”
But from there, Jones shares, “I missed Chicago. I am from Lake Forest and my mom is from Lake Forest and so I think it was just calling me back.”
Jones took a job with the Graduate Hotels collection. “I learned all about how you put together a boutique line of hotels. It was a very fun, incredibly creative group of people. And that’s when I was able to work on the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans and the rooftop bar at J. Parker.”
And then the calls began. “Because I was back in Chicago, friends and friends of friends were asking me, ‘Please come out and design my house.’”
“My very first project was new construction and it was a great lesson. My husband and I put together an LLC, knowing I could not start designing without some substance behind me. We established a structure for our business right off the bat.”
Like many people in the industry, Jones has noticed an uptick in the business since the beginning of the pandemic. “I would say it has been a massive overnight shift in residential design. Everybody wants to do something to their homes because everybody has been stuck inside, sick of staring at their four walls the same way that they’ve been since March of last year.”
If anyone can breathe new life into those walls, it is Jones and her Rebel House team.
Rebel House Interior Design is located at 905 Green Bay Road in Winnetka. To schedule an appointment, call their design office at 773-661-9661 or email [email protected].