Susanne and Mark Frey’s new upstairs family room has been transformed into a relaxing Cape Cod-inspired retreat that’s comfortable for these empty nesters and their visiting family members.

From Tired Places to Refreshed Spaces

Fresh colors and new accent pieces have transformed these rooms into cozy nooks.

Susanne and Mark Frey’s new upstairs family room has been transformed into a relaxing Cape Cod-inspired retreat that’s comfortable for these empty nesters and their visiting family members.
Susanne and Mark Frey’s new upstairs family room has been transformed into a relaxing Cape Cod-inspired retreat that’s comfortable for these empty nesters and their visiting family members.

Beach-Like Escape

For the past 17 years, Susanne and Mark Frey have enjoyed their two-story Crystal Lake home. They fondly recall their children, who are now adults, spending their free time in the upstairs family room, just down the hall from the bedrooms.

“When our kids still lived at home, it was a place where they could crash on the couch and watch TV,” Susanne says. “It’s also the room that was furnished with retired pieces from a previous home.”

Recently, these empty nesters decided that, rather than let the room collect dust, it was time to convert the space into something functional and fun. The Freys turned to interior design firm Wickham Interiors, 67 N. Williams St., in Crystal Lake. President Lynne Wickham, ASID, started the business in 1982. The firm has refurbished several rooms throughout the Freys’ home and is currently helping with a kitchen remodeling project.

“We asked Lynne to come in and help us design a second family room,” says Susanne, a retired teacher. “We wanted a place that our family could use when they come back home, and also have a place for my husband and I to read, relax and enjoy listening to music.”

Last year, the Freys sat down with Wickham and talked about the ambience they wanted in the room, which is located directly at the top of the stairs. “Since our master bedroom is on the first floor, the upstairs family room isn’t in our regular traffic pattern,” says Susanne. “We had vacationed in Cape Cod years ago, and it was so relaxing to be surrounded by water. We wanted a room that gave us that peaceful, restful, rejuvenating feel. It was a good opportunity to make the room something special.”

The project took three months to complete. Wickham redesigned the entire room, starting with the color scheme. “We opted for blues and soft greens throughout the room, from the window treatments to accessories,” Susanne says. “We don’t have blue anywhere else in the house. The color recaptures that wonderful vacation by the water that we had as a family so many years ago.”

Says Wickham: “Susanne wanted an inviting, tranquil refuge with an updated Cape Cod look. So, we changed everything from the carpet to the furniture. We added soft blue, green, taupe and white, which elevated the ordinary room to a whole different ambience.”

Another subtle change made a huge impression on the Freys. “We had existing cabinetry that Lynne felt was blending in with the rest of the woodwork, so she had us repaint it black,” says Susanne. “Now, the cabinetry really stands out as an architectural feature, rather than just blending in.”

And, they replaced the furniture. “All the mismatched pieces from the past had to go,” Susanne says. “The kids were sad to see the old plaid couch go, but I was delighted.”

In its place came a soft-textured sofa in blues, greens and creams, along with a soft-blue lounge chair and ottoman. A Destin coffee table, with a butter pecan finish, anchors the room. The sofa is flanked with two Narragansett tables in a green jellybean finish. A distressed chest, in a vanilla bean finish, sits next to the chaise lounge.

“Lynne came up with a great idea to have a chaise lounge in the corner, which is a nice place to put your feet up and read a book,” says Susanne. Other standout features include a spacious bookcase, a desk area, a flat-screen TV and a cherry oak fireplace mantle.

The Freys love their new room. It’s a place where their children can relax in privacy, and the grandchildren can watch movies and play games.

“It’s a relaxing oasis,” Susanne says. “There’s a calm feeling when you walk into the room. It’s beautiful, but comfortably elegant. You wouldn’t feel uncomfortable coming in and just putting your feet up. It’s so different from the rest of the house, yet it works together perfectly. It’s really stunning and unexpected because it’s on the second floor. As you arrive at the top of the stairs, you’re anticipating several bedrooms and a couple of baths. Instead, we have this spacious, and very inviting, family room.”

The Freys credit Wickham for having the vision to make a once-dreary room into a vibrant space. “Lynne can visualize things and has so much knowledge of design,” says Susanne. “She’s a great listener who can pull things together and really capture the feeling we’re looking for. She brings out examples, and if they don’t touch upon what we’re trying to do, we’ll say we’re looking for something else. She’ll go back to the drawing board as many times as necessary to get what we want. We have a saying: In Lynne We Trust. The bottom line is that she’s always right. She guides us in ways we never imagined, and it always turns out gorgeous.”

Wickham is equally pleased with the end result. “We kept the room livable and delightful,” she says. “We brought a light, happy mood to the space. Our mission was to make this room a cozy getaway. The end result was that the room almost feels like it’s in the sky, a restful little piece of heaven.”

Subtle Touches

Mike and Lynda Trimarco knew it was time for a change in the dining room of their St. Charles home.

“It was time for something new that allowed for more seating for entertaining and holidays,” says Mike, a banker. “We also wanted to change the style to match the decor in the rest of our house.”

So, about 1.5 years ago, the Trimarcos enlisted the help of Strawflower Shop, an interior design firm and home accents retailer at 210 W. State St., in Geneva. Strawflower’s influence is all over the Trimarcos’ home.

“For the past eight years, we’ve done a Strawflower project every year, just by going through the house, picking a room and updating it,” Mike says. “They’ve freshened up our living room, den, family room, bedrooms, sunroom and kitchen.” Up next, he adds, is the basement.

The couple worked with Rebekah Brigham, an interior designer who has worked for Strawflower Shop for seven years. Her approach is simple. “From floor to ceiling, I do it,” she says. “I choose the paint colors, the furniture, art for the walls, and all of the accessories, from rugs to lighting. I get a feel for the client’s home and what their lifestyle is, what direction they want to go, and what makes them feel comfortable.”

While the Trimarcos were initially looking for more seating, Brigham saw a broader need in the couple’s dining room. “It really needed to be updated,” she says. “The furniture was very old. The legs on the dining room table were thin, and china cabinets have become passe. It needed a transformation.”

The furniture was replaced with a handmade dining room table and chairs from the Foxglove line. Brigham replaced the china cabinet with a buffet table and mirror against a long wall.

“I took out another display cabinet against another wall and added a nicer, narrower piece and angled it for another dimension,” says Brigham, who added a small console near the stairs to fill an empty space. Window treatments were swapped out, and a beautiful chandelier was installed over the table.

Brigham also added smaller accents, like a table runner, a new art piece above the console and a floral centerpiece. “Accessories pull it all together,” says Brigham.

Additionally, Brigham brightened the room with two new lamps, something that the Trimarcos have done with other rooms. “I’m big on lamps,” says Brigham. “It’s a great accessory that’s wonderful for ambience. Lamps are so important to a room. They make everything cozier.”

Initially, Mike didn’t think much of the idea, but quickly changed his mind. “I like the lower, softer lighting, rather than using the bright chandelier,” he says.

Not everything is new. Brigham opted not to paint the cinnamon-colored walls, which matched the new furniture perfectly. Most of the artwork and a fine area rug remained.

“They weren’t out of style,” she says. “You don’t have to get rid of everything and start anew. I believe that if something’s not broken, don’t fix it. We can always work with existing pieces that mean something to the homeowner. I’ve always been able to incorporate sentimental pieces that have meaning.”

Mike and Lynda agreed with that philosophy. “I don’t want to gut a room in every project,” Mike says. “That takes time and money. The Strawflower Shop always does a good job of providing nice solutions by including existing pieces from either that room or other rooms in the house.”

Overall, the project took less than six weeks to complete. Both the homeowners and designer are pleased with the results.

“The dining room and living room are the first rooms you see when you walk in the front door,” says Mike. “Our dining room looks so much better. And, it’s given us the additional seating that we desperately needed.”

“I always tell clients, ‘You have to love what you see – you live here,” says Brigham. “I’m here for two hours and I walk away, but you have to look at it every single day. It’s important to love what you choose.’”