Cottage Journal

Gold Coast Collab

Written by Bethany Adams | Photographed by Heather Talbert

Despite the distance between them, Texas-based interior designer Sara Johnson didn’t hesitate when an old friend reached out from Chicago, Illinois, with a proposal. “She had been working with a local designer,” says Sara—but that designer had become unavailable.“Even though we’re not in the same city, [the homeowner] thought we would be a good fit to finish the project.” The prospect was attractive in part because Sara already knew what would make her client happy. “I knew she had kind of a preppy flair to her,” Sara says. “She’s also an art history major, and she has worked for some of the auction houses. And so, I knew that color and fun, whimsical patterns were going to be a good starting point for us.”

Still, one of the first things Sara noticed on the initial walk-through was the need to rearrange the combined living and dining areas in order to make the narrow space function for entertaining. The solution was to reverse the layout, centering the dining set on the original fireplace and setting the living area against the window. With the new footprint in place, the décor sprang from the Katie Ridder fabric that the homeowner already had on her wingback chairs.

“Knowing that one of her favorite colors was navy, I definitely wanted to do that in a sofa,” Sara says. As symmetry was paramount in the living space, she incorporated two sofas, anchoring them with a coffee table that added architectural character and a textured finish. “And then, she wanted to splurge on those Christopher Spitzmiller cocktail tables,” Sara adds. Connecting the living space and dining area is a grass cloth wall covering with a large weave selected to show the gray lacquer beneath. “I didn’t want the walls to become busy, but I also wanted texture in the room,” says Sara. Vintage dining chairs received a fresh coat of paint, but it’s the original fireplace that makes dinner gatherings special, lending coziness during Chicago’s harsh winters and showcasing the homeowner’s collections of ginger jars and Staffordshire dogs.

As a contrast to the more subdued wall covering in the main space, Sara had a bit of fun in the kitchen. “It was really an all-white kitchen, so we were able to play with a little bit more of a whimsical pattern on the wall,” Sara says, noting the selection also featured a femininity that suited her client. The paper informed the palette for the rest of the kitchen, inspiring gray-painted barstools and a blue-and-white pinstripe used in the adjacent work space.

Sara continued the color scheme through the utility room—which was formerly an office space—and into the powder room, where a bamboo-pattern Mylar wallpaper was customized to match the barstools. “It’s so Palm Beach,” Sara says of the paper. “[It] perfectly describes my client.” The same can be said for the rest of the design, which, in spite of the distance, came together into a beautiful end product. “It’s nice to have clients who trust you and who are willing to kind of take a few risks,” Sara says. “I just think that gives everybody an opportunity to have such a unique space.”