In 1908, a Prairie School architect named E. E. Roberts was commissioned to build a home on Third Street for Hinsdalean Albert W. True, secretary and treasurer of the True & True Company, who had acquired the two acres of ground and erected a modern home with 12 rooms. “The interior decoration, as may be expected in the case of a gentleman of Mr. True’s knowledge of such matters, is artistic throughout,” writes a purchase listing in The Lumber World, Volume 11.
The house joined many others in what became known as one of the finest streets in the village. But as decades passed, it began to fall into disrepair from years of neglect. That’s when a preservation-minded couple decided to buy the property and save it from the wrecking ball—enlisting the help of Hinsdale interior designer Donna Mondi.
“The way I approach design, especially if it’s historical architecture, is to start with the architectural cues we’re taking from the home,” says Mondi. “This house was unique in that it had three influences: art nouveau, Prairie School, and Vienna secession. I tried to blend those three together, but I always want to modernize it, too. It’s not period work, but it’s something that has those influences in today’s world.”
Projects such as this are what inspired Mondi to launch her namesake interior design studio in 2001, building a practice on a love for design and a determination to cultivate a different and thoughtfully personalized client experience. More than a decade later, Mondi and her team are still passionately creating interiors that blend European Classicism with American Modernism.
Walk into the beautifully restored True House and that aesthetic is evident.
Because of its history and pedigree, the client was incredibly passionate about saving the home and not doing a teardown, even though it had fallen on such hard times after its earlier owners passed away that it might have warranted one. The exterior was painstakingly recreated from historic photos, and the landscape design makes the house itself the focal point. And the interiors honor the heritage of the house, with Mondi saving as many elements of the original home as possible, either by restoration or recreation, through art glass installations and custom millwork. Even though there were no giant flat screen televisions in 1908 Vienna, Mondi’s design makes one seem natural. In that aspect, the 2018 version of this landmark is a better version of itself—one more suitable for modern living.
“It’s very difficult to tell what was old or what is new, which is the true test,” says Mondi. “I wouldn’t approach another project this way. This one was telling us what it needed, and we just had to listen and stay relevant to today’s lifestyle.”
The lifestyle aspect was important to a family with three kids and two large dogs. Mondi strived to create rooms that weren’t too precious to actually live in.
“I like to infuse glamour into functional, livable and comfortable spaces,” Mondi explains. “That’s right in line with my style. Why waste a great space because you can’t sit on the furniture, or you have to worry every time someone is over?”
One of her favorite rooms in the home is the master bedroom, which she describes as really soft, soothing, rich, and decadent. Granted, the room gets great light, but it’s also a testament to Mondi’s design chops: the walls go right up into the soft curves of the ceiling so it seems like there’s no start or end to the space. She also highlights the antler head wallpaper in the dining room, which Mondi refers to as “super cool and edgy.” But the repeating pattern helps it fit right into the luxe space.
Mondi credits the homeowner with being open to the unexpected and for being fearless of the unknown.
“One of the things that made this project so special was really the passion that everyone had for the project,” she shares. “When you look at this home, you feel the emotion. There’s so much detail and so much decadence in such a casual, comfortable way. It was definitely one that touched my heart.”
It’s important to Mondi and her team to incorporate those elements of forward thinking into every project they do. There are very established trends in Hinsdale, and people often refer her to what they’ve seen on Pinterest or to what their neighbor is doing. “We work better with clients that are looking at the next decade in design,” says Mondi. “We are successful when someone doesn’t want what everyone else has.”
That said, Mondi shared a few trends to keep in mind this spring. She’s most excited about where things are headed with countertops and marble.
“Carrera and Calacatta are beautiful and timeless, but they’ve been overdone,” she explains. “Everywhere you look you’ll find a Carrera bathroom in Hinsdale. We’re now seeing beautiful marbles with strong veining and a higher contrast, more colors, a lot of gold, and a lot of black. It’s a huge trend. People are also going beyond the modern farmhouse into something a bit more urban chic but still livable for a suburban home.” Finally, she still loves a strong geometric pattern in the bathroom with interesting materials, like a mixture of marbles.
In the end, Mondi was able to honor the heritage of the house without making it a museum to the era. People live there, after all. In fact, the homeowners describe the restoration as a smashing success.
“Our reward comes nightly, as passing cars slow to take in what True House has become,” they say. “We preserved just a small amount of Hinsdale’s heritage. We enhanced a property for generations to come. Beyond that, we hope our real accomplishment will be to inspire others to recognize not just the joy, but also the civic virtue, in preserving an old home.”