The kitchen’s not quite right. The family room is too small. And that spartan master bath needs the spa treatment. Few properties tick every box. There’s always a little—and more often than not—a lot of work to be done before a house that has that special something is the place you’re proud to call home. That was certainly the case for one Winnetka couple. But with an imaginative assist from designer Leigh Dyer, the house they liked is now a home they love.
Clad in stone and sporting a French-inflected facade, the six-bedroom residence was built in 2008. Initially, its interiors reflected a manor house look, elegant and restrained. Tasteful, but a tad formal. Not any more. “It’s still a traditional home,” says Dyer, “but we lightened it up.”
Dyer’s intervention is evident the minute one enters the foyer. With a 20-foot ceiling, the space could be overwhelmingly grand. But with an eye for color, pattern, and texture, she’s created an entryway that’s more engaging than intimidating. Benches upholstered in an eye-popping, pink and blue floral fabric from Matthew Williamson, are paired with a custom-designed console table covered in a deep blue vinyl. “The idea,” explains Dyer, “is to let people know the minute they walk in that this is a fun, happy house.”
That joie de vivre is everywhere in the home. In reconfiguring the kitchen, Dyer removed walls to open the space, and replaced the ornate cabinetry with more simple, paneled cupboards. She also added a pantry. But this isn’t any old larder. Positioned behind a sliding door, this handy, functional space is covered in a rich blue wallpaper with a silk-like texture from Elitis. “It is a little extravagant to wallpaper a pantry,” admits Dyer, “but my client felt very strongly that since she’s in the kitchen making three meals a day, she needed some nice, feminine touches. That includes the mosaic backsplash, which has a lot of sparkle and prettiness to it.”
As Dyer’s color choices for the foyer and pantry indicate, her clients are fans of blue and white and the classic combo pervades the home, from the comfy upholstered chairs in the bright, white kitchen to the carpet and drapes in the family room. And when it came to the formal dining room, Dyer went all out. While the table rests on classically curved, Queen Anne legs and the chairs are Louis XVI, the room is anything but conventional. The blue and white rug that grounds the space reads like a cross between the night sky and the patterned skin of a whale shark. And the paper that fills the millwork panels on the wall is practically psychedelic. “I saw this wild, exotic wallpaper and decided to push my clients beyond their comfort zone,” shares Dyer. “They loved it and really got onboard with the idea that sometimes, going a little bit further than usual can have a maximum impact.”
In outfitting the home, Dyer cast a wide net, sourcing rugs from Stark Carpet and furniture from Sawbridge Studios, and incorporating random resale shop finds, such as a bud vase in the shape of a peacock. Custom pieces include a Lucite pedestal table in the family room. “There’s inexpensive acrylic, but this is the real deal,” says Dyer. “It’s very thick, very heavy. We waited three months for that baby. I think it’s a nice complement to the reading chair we’ve paired it with.” One of Dyer’s most eye-popping finds is a brightly-hued abstract canvas by artist Lindsay Cowles. “I follow her on Instagram,” relates Dyer. “This was for sale and I looped the client in and we bought it within two hours. That really reveals the power of Instagram and how we are making purchases nowadays.”
While some of Dyer’s design choices were somewhat outside the box for a home that doesn’t swing contemporary, the fact that she had worked with the couple previously helped pave the way. “Plus,” notes Dyer, “I grew up in Winnetka. I am very well versed in traditional design. I get it; I get it through and through. But deep down, everyone wants to be unique. They just have to have the confidence to make bold choices and to take those risks. I’m there to hold their hands and say, ‘You can do this, we can do this together.’”
Fore more information about Leigh Dyer, visit leighdyerdesign.com.