The more color, the better. The wackier, the better. The more unlikely, the better. An interior design directive rooted in feminine maximalism is what Katie Dunn shared with her longtime decorator Jenny Martell of Martell Interiors Design for her new home—an fresh start—in Winnetka.
“My 23-year marriage imploded last year,” says Dunn. “Suddenly, I was divorced with five kids and needed to leave our family home in Glenview. While it sounds like a sad story, it actually ended up being a happy one.”
Dunn found the perfect home in the Hubbard Woods neighborhood of Winnetka, not far from where she grew up and where her parents still live. The new house: A newly rehabbed home in a quiet neighborhood complete with a neutral base palette that could easily be updated to fit Dunn’s preferred aesthetic.
“It was important to me to make this home bright and fresh for myself and my kids in our new life chapter,” says Dunn. “It felt like a clean slate, and I knew Jenny and I could completely rework the canvas. It gave me something positive to focus on during a really uncertain time.”
That’s an understatement. Dunn closed on the home in early March, just as the world shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her movers had to keep rescheduling— Dunn was unable to move into the home until May—but that meant Dunn and Martell had an extra two months to source wallpaper, tile, update the stainless-steel hardware to gold, and order new furniture.
“It felt like The Hunger Games in the beginning,” jokes Martell, who launched her namesake firm in 2003 and who had previously worked with Dunn on her cabin in northern Michigan.
The final result in Winnetka does not adhere to any one particular style but instead seamlessly mixes a traditional foundation with pops of eclectic and “funky” twists. Think, for example, classically beautiful grasscloth wallcoverings with a metallic sheen for an extra pop of texture and dimension.
Martell calls Dunn an “obsessive art collector,” and Dunn’s collection is fully on display throughout the home. In the family room, a series of paintings by Michigan-based artist Melanie Parke reflect on the female response to the pandemic. Dunn also has work by Richard Kooyman, Sally Michel Avery, Suzanne Wilson, Francine Turk, René Romero Schuler, Stephen Durren, Clare Malloy, and even by her mother and aunt, both of whom are artists.
The use of wallpaper, which Dunn says is “excessive” but also her favorite element, serves as its own form of artistry with a range of everything from Phillip Jeffries in the living and family rooms and Quadrille China Seas in the mudroom to signature Scalamandré zebras in the powder room. “It feels layered and gives the house depth,” she says.
Adds Martell, “We committed to a more is more approach, and we wanted it to feel happy but also familiar for her kids. I can’t even take credit for it. I’d tell Katie something was too scary, but she’d push me, and it’d look great. The takeaway is that if you love it, it’ll work.”
A significant downsize in terms of square footage from her previous house, Dunn figured she’d be okay with less space because three of her kids were going to be away at college. Then, with stay-at-home orders and a nationwide lockdown last spring, she ended up with a full house.
“Suddenly my son Rich is flying home from California, my daughter Mary Kate is headed back from Michigan and my son Patrick is not headed to Marquette University as he had intended,” says Dunn. “I unexpectedly had five kids in the house. Every morning I’d wake up to see who was sleeping where.”
Martell designed an orange and pink bedroom for Mary Kate with an elephant-inspired motif and added a purple-hued floral wallcovering to the primary bedroom, along with Dash & Albert jute rugs, an Eastern Accents bedframe, and oversize artwork.
She carried patterned textiles throughout the rest of the home, too, with Lee Jofa fabric-covered sofas and Pierre Frey curtains in the living room.
“No space is left undecorated,” says Martell. “We even put wallpaper in the pantry and art in the mudroom. Katie’s bedroom is so wild and over-the-top and is such a reflection of her. It all makes her happy every day.”
Martell says she found inspiration in design magazines, at the Merchandise Mart, and on iconic television shows like Sex and the City, citing Big’s fireplace as “amazing,” but ultimately— and mostly—in Dunn’s vision.
“This is the first time I’ve been on my own in 23 years, and there’s no way I could have survived without Jenny,” echoes Dunn. “We had so much fun. This house is definitely an expression of me, my personality, and my hopes for the next chapter. Even my oldest son Rich said, ‘Your house is really cool,’ which was so validating. Mission accomplished.”
For more information about Martell Interiors Design, visit martellinteriorsdesign.com.