Winnetka-based interior designer Mark Lavender of M. Lavender Interiors has been designing North Shore homes for almost a decade, making a name for himself—and for his firm—as an expert in clean and timeless interiors. Before striking out on his own, Lavender worked for two of Chicago’s most prestigious architectural firms, VOA Associates and HOK. Overall, Lavender has 30 years of architectural experience.
“Design should tell your story,” he says. “Those are the words that I live by. Your home should reflect your personality and who you are. When friends or family stop by, they should immediately see ‘you’ in the space. That’s what is most important to me.”
That said, an M. Lavender home typically has a few trademarks. Think traditional lines and English-inspired interiors with bright hues. “We try very hard to use classic colors, instead of shades like blush and peach that will look dated in five years,” explains Lavender. “Although, our look is not stuffy or what someone might call your grandmother’s idea of traditional.”
Take, for example, this 1914 Wilmette home that Lavender and his team recently finished for clients and their five sons. Even though the house spans 6,000-square-feet and has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, and two half baths, it still feels cozy and family-friendly thanks to Lavender’s handiwork.
The clients, Lavender explains, love the chinoiserie style, a blend of elegant European design with exotic East Asian artistic traditions.
“We called it amped up traditional,” says Lavender. “The wife had collected family heirlooms from her parents, which were very important to her, so we used those as a jumping-off place.”
In the living room, Lavender repurposed a sofa from the client’s grandmother by reupholstering it to appear more modern but still maintain the character of the home and furnishings.
Lavender replicated the existing color palette of deep reds, blues, greens, and golds carried throughout the home in wallpaper, pillows, and upholstery. “It was an older house with really warm, happy colors,” says Lavender. “We mixed colors we had never mixed before by using traditional fabrics and fun prints and patterns, like stripes.”
To balance the variety of tones here, Lavender primarily relied on a neutral paint backdrop in shades of classic taupe and beige. The hues let the furniture, wallpaper, and window treatments be the stars of the show instead of a dramatic wall color. In the living room, for example, Lavender used Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter, a chameleon-like warm gray that pairs well with almost everything.
Lavender took a few risks too, adding an abundance of wallpaper from heritage brands like Phillip Jeffries and Scalamandré, a major vendor in the home. His favorite room is the sitting room between the kitchen and foyer, which is light and airy with oversized windows. “If you stand in the foyer with its vivid wallpaper and look into this next room, it’s really peaceful,” says Lavender.
With five boys—three in college—the clients needed a home that would be durable and, as Lavender calls it, “boy-proof.” He used fabrics and upholstery from upstanding brands like Brunschwig & Fils and Colefax and Fowler, along with antique furniture that had already proven to stand the test of time.
“The kids are all involved in sports, and some play in college,” says Lavender. “In the large family room downstairs, we went with a country lodge look that is heavy on the plaid and decorated it with football helmets, antique jerseys, and antler chandeliers. Of course, there are three TVs, too.”
“My firm relies mostly on word-of-mouth, and referrals have kept me going in business,” says Lavender. Even during the pandemic, M. Lavender Interiors has continued to grow. When everything shut down last year, Lavender had a heart-to-heart with a client in Door County, who said she was still on board despite delays. Similarly, Lavender just finished phase one of a clubhouse renovation in Evanston thanks to a pause on in-person events that left the space available for construction and design.
“Every time I think we are going to be slow, the phone always rings,” he notes. And that’s a testament to the firm’s colorful and lively spaces that bring out the best in their owners.
M. Lavender Interiors is located at 567 Hill Terrace in Winnetka, 312-450-4251, mlavenderinteriors.com.