This breakfast room by Olafsen Design Group, Chicago, blends modern aesthetics, in the table and wall painting, with traditional colors and patterns.

Extra Touches Make a Meaningful Impact

Sometimes, a room needs a little extra oomph to become a cozy and inviting space. In these two examples, designers accomplished that and more.

This breakfast room by Olafsen Design Group, Chicago, blends modern aesthetics, in the table and wall painting, with traditional colors and patterns.
This breakfast room by Olafsen Design Group, Chicago, blends modern aesthetics, in the table and wall painting, with traditional colors and patterns.

Sometimes a space in our home lacks warmth and functionality. Maybe it’s a passage to someplace else or a dark room lacking natural light. What to do? Interior designers have plenty of answers.

William Olafsen, ASID, of the Olafsen Design Group, 860 N. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, has transformed many residential problem areas into warm, inviting spaces where people want to spend time.

Olafsen Design Group specializes in high-end, large-scale residential interior design for a discriminating clientele, and is known for going to extraordinary lengths to understand the interests and lifestyle of its clients.

In one recent project, Olafsen blended traditional and modern tastes in the redesign of a breakfast nook and transitional area in a Chicago high-rise.

“As you enter the apartment, this entry room is off to the left,” Olafsen says. “It was an odd little room that really didn’t have a purpose, other than being a pass-through to a powder room.”

The homeowner, however, wanted a more functional space. So, Olafsen created a library with traditional aesthetics.

“I designed bookcases and lower cabinets, and the area to the left is a bar with a little refrigerator tucked away behind the paneling,” he says. “We decided to add the self-venting fireplace. It’s a nice way to get the warmth and glow of the fireplace without needing to run an exhaust pipe to the outside.”

A pair of pocket doors allows residents to close off the space from the adjacent family room during more formal occasions, or to open them up to create a casual, flowing space. At just 210 square feet, the small space packs a lot of purpose.

“It still serves as a passageway to the powder room, but it’s also a place to relax, read and enjoy the fire,” Olafsen says. “It has worked very well for the clients. I think they tend to use it as a place to sit and relax, with no TV – just a quiet area to slip into and be very calm. It really allows a space that didn’t have much function to become a place where people spend time because it’s cozy,” Olafsen says.

Because the room lacks natural light, Olafsen added layers of lighting, with an antique alabaster fixture and recessed lighting on the ceiling, sconces on the walls and tall reading lamps on the floor.

“We always try to achieve the best effect we can with lighting, creating flexibility to allow rooms to be very cozy and warm, or bright and cheerful,” Olafsen says.

While working for the high-rise client, Olafsen also cozied up the breakfast room. The clients wanted this small space, separated from the kitchen by a pair of doors, to seat between two and four people.

Like the library, the nook is a pass-through space, a conduit between the terrace, an office and a guest room. Thus, the new space had to satisfy several practical needs. It had to feel like a room, rather than a corridor, and it had to feel comfortable for dining.

The round table and four chairs are positioned close to the large glass doors that face the terrace. Because plenty of natural light spills through the windows, Olafsen added sheer draperies.

Opposite the windows, a large cabinet from Bath, England, adds decoration and functionality. The pine cabinet has a natural waxed finish and walnut drawer pulls. A floor rug draws the room together visually.

“The loomed rug was made large enough to unite the table arrangement with the mid-18th century apothecary cabinet, a fixture that addresses the room’s storage needs,” says Olafsen.

“It’s casual and comfortable, and provides a sense of being in a more rural area,” he adds. “The desire was to make the room a place to relax and possibly linger over breakfast or lunch. By using fabrics and objects with tactile qualities, a cabinet with age and patina, and English Georgian-inspired chairs, the bright, cheery room took on a welcoming feeling.”

At the same time, the Gene Summers sculptured table and the contemporary painting provide a more modern aesthetic.

“The clients were looking for a room with character not burdened with too many objects, that feels fresh and youthful without feeling too contemporary.”

SeBern added some custom touches to this new home, including an illuminated “exposed beam” in the foyer. The blue-violet tint on the ceiling is the glow of an LED strip built into the exposed beam.
SeBern added some custom touches to this new home, including an illuminated “exposed beam” in the foyer. The blue-violet tint on the ceiling is the glow of an LED strip built into the exposed beam.

Creativity in Constraints
When it comes to designing a custom home, it’s easy to dream big. Inevitably, every project is grounded by certain constraints, most often budgetary.

“People have these grandiose ideas – and that’s great,” says Kenneth Bernhard of SeBern Custom Homes, 36W995 Red Gate Road, St. Charles. “But then, you have to figure out how to implement them in a cost-effective manner, to get the impact you’re looking for.”

For more than 20 years, SeBern has specialized in designing, custom-building and remodeling luxury homes. In every custom project, Bernhard tries to find a happy medium between a client’s big dreams and project limitations.

Bernhard found a stylish balance when designing a recently completed new home in St. Charles. Inside the two-story dinette, the client requested a transitional style, an aesthetic that’s somewhere between traditional and contemporary. Bernhard says the client wanted a space that felt a little different.

To fill the lofty room, Bernhard visually lowered the ceiling with suspended beams that hang about 4.5 feet below the actual ceiling. The beams reach out from each corner of the room toward a suspended rectangle.The geometry presented certain engineering challenges.

“We had to go to our architects and say, ‘Here’s our concept, here’s how we think we should build it,’” says Bernhard. “They had to make sure it was structurally sound for this room with 20-foot ceilings.”

The next challenge was lighting the room. Bernhard started with uplighting that could illuminate the suspended beams. Passing through the center of the beams, a dramatic fixture lights up the dining table. Its eight modern-style lamps cast a warm glow.

Meanwhile, Bernhard also added some clever touches to the home’s high-ceilinged family room. At its center, positioned between two high rows of windows, stands a two-story fireplace – another challenging design.

“We had to determine how to make it tie in with everything else,” Bernhard says. “In the past, we’ve built more traditional fireplaces, but this client wanted something more creative, more cutting-edge and contemporary.”

Rather than create a familiar flagstone fireplace, Bernhard covered the structure with a thin, linear limestone that’s stacked horizontally. But between the mantle and the ceiling is a recessed space, framed with the same dark-toned wood used on the mantle and the crown molding. Here, Bernhard flipped the stone so that it runs vertically and creates visual appeal.

Overhead, Bernhard repeated the exposed beam elements seen in the dining room – except that these beams are affixed to the ceiling. Built as a cross dissecting a square, the gray overhead beams sit between recessed lighting.

The exposed beam element also repeats itself in the home’s high foyer.

“We left the ceiling flat and added a crown molding light shelf around the beam,” says Bernhard. “The ceiling is illuminated by an LED strip installed within the shelf. It’s really a gorgeous look.”

Hanging from the center of the light shelf is a globe made from strips of metal. At its center, several candelabras illuminate the entryway.

“I always tell people there’s no ‘no’ in custom homes,” says Bernhard. “Every customer wants something special, and we can make it happen.”

In the end, it’s the small touches, the little design elements, that tie a room together.

“It’s a matter of finishing correctly – picking the right door hardware, faucets, sinks, backsplashes,” says Bernhard. “Putting a house together is like a big puzzle, and it becomes a piece of art in the end. That’s what makes the end result an interesting, unique product for our clients. It’s exciting for us and them.”