Tour Designer Summer Thornton’s Enchanting Chicago Townhouse 2022

The Thorntons’ house hunt was going nowhere – one property after another proving “so expensive and yet so simple”, recalls Josh Thornton. At the end of a particularly frustrating day, he asked his then-pregnant wife, designer Summer Thornton, “If we could live anywhere, where would it be?”

She did not hesitate: “This white house at the corner of the street. She was referring to an elegant but dilapidated 19th-century townhouse a few blocks from their Chicago condo. Even though it wasn’t for sale, Josh contacted the elderly owners anyway. Luckily, they were happy to sell as long as they could rent the ground floor as a base for themselves. “It’s Josh’s MO,” Summer says. “He can always find a way to shake things up.” This division of labor is key to the couple’s strength as a team, both as life partners and business partners. “Where summer is super dreamy and fantastical, I’m very rational,” says Josh, owner and general manager of Summer Thornton Design, Inc.

The sunny kitchen on the second floor overlooks an enclosed courtyard.

Werner Straube

After a quick renovation, the Thorntons moved into the upper floors of the house, then spent the next five years planning a full renovation while expanding both their business and their family (they now have two children). Summer’s focus for the house never wavered. “Romance is the word I kept coming back to,” she says. “I am an escapee; I love the idea of ​​creating imaginative worlds that elicit a childlike sense of joy. (No wonder his recently released book is titled Wonderland: Decorating Adventures.)

In the heart of a cold, pragmatic Chicago, Summer turned to fairy tales and faraway latitudes for inspiration and envisioned a storybook-worthy home for her family. The apricot hue on the living room walls came from a sunny building she had seen in Venice; Venetian-style handmade marbled paper covers the ceiling. The radiant blue of the entrance hall is enhanced by Cinderella’s ball gown. Embroidered fabrics from Mexico huipils (traditional tunics) sing of ornate native craftsmanship, while William Morris wallpapers and an English garden-inspired latticework verandah send up wild flowers of nature. Furnishings can seem almost animated: pieces like a gregarious, oversized orange sofa in the living room and the fantastic custom daybed in the bay window. “I like this The beauty and the Beast quality, where the furniture feels like it could come to life,” she says.

Inside Summer Thornton’s Chicago Townhouse

Summer and her son greet guests in an entryway stairwell covered in a panther-print rug

The courtyard is pure New Orleans nobility, from its wrought-iron balconies and majestic staircase to its checkerboard floor. Not that the Big Easy is easy to transport thousands of miles north. To create the courtyard’s black-and-white floor, stone was quarried in the coldest parts of northern China and Europe, then cut two inches thick to withstand Chicago’s brutal winters. .

Improving the connection between indoor and outdoor spaces was key. The overgrown rear of the house structure was demolished to allow for the construction of French doors, a balcony, and new fireplaces inside and out. (Summer jokes that while other women get jewelry for their birthdays, she gets fireplaces.) with great indoor-outdoor flow,” says Summer. Upholstered daybeds allow the space to double as an additional guest bedroom. The trellis walls, meanwhile, are “my ode to The Decorator — legends like Bunny Mellon, Parish Hadley,” she says.

trellis garden furniture

Trellis garden furniture

Melanie Acevedo

For all her daydreaming, Summer has a set designer’s instinct for quick-change versatility. Gracie’s silver leaf wallpaper in the dining room, for example, features fruit trees in a lush spectrum of colors, to better suit changing seasonal palettes. And in place of artwork, she hung racks that display a rotating assortment of artwork.

And yet, under the spell, the couple does not hesitate to admit the reality that accompanies any major renovation. Doesn’t the stress multiply when husband and wife work as a design company? Josh says, “I admit I’m not a very good customer. »

“We’re both horrible,” Summer laughs.

“We’re passionate,” admits Josh. “But we are good at leveraging our different strengths. We know how to stay in our own sandboxes.

And it’s bliss forever as exalted as any castle in the clouds. After all, says Summer, “we want to build houses together for a long time.”

summer thornton chicago townhouse house tour wonderland book


Discover more of Summer’s projects in her just-released book, Wonderland: Decorating Adventures (Rizzoli, 2022).

Featured in our May/June 2022 issue. Interior and architectural design by Summer Thornton; Photograph by Melanie Acevedo and Werner Straube; Written by Celia Barbour.

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