O'Shea-Evans:As I understand it, this is your new old house. Explain, please.
Kirk: My husband, Chad, and I were in the process of adopting a baby, and we’d been living in this 1,600-square-foot apartment in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood for a decade. We couldn’t picture raising a child here, with our easy-to-stain linen sofas and limited storage; we were searching for an outdoor area, another bedroom, and more living space. But after two years of looking, we had an aha! moment: If we were to find this apartment on the market now, we’d probably draft an offer on the spot. We decided to keep and renovate our current home, and then just pretend we were moving into someplace new — the idea was so liberating.
Did you move out during the renovation?
No, we lived through every minute. Renovating the bathroom was the toughest part, since we have only the one. To decorate, I shopped our own apartment, from furniture to accessories and art. I created a game plan for all the big pieces of furniture but avoided making floor plans, relying instead on instinct. I shuffled things around until they felt right. I love slow decorating — where things evolve over time — and it was satisfying and felt more cohesive to treat this like a real project. My first piece of advice is just to start — that’s the hardest part. Once I began selling off and donating furniture, there was no going back.
That foyer is a showstopper.
It’s cuckoo. When people find out I hand- painted it, they’re like, “Oh my gawd.” It took me more than 100 hours. I started at the top and worked my way around, using linoleum blocks to mark the design, which I then filled in with a paintbrush. I got just five rows done while listening to the entire Serial podcast. I did it because I had been looking for a special, bold wallpaper and couldn’t find any I loved. It’s funny, because when we first saw this apartment, I noticed that the owner had painted clouds on the ceiling and was horrified. Now, I am that lady.
Ha! Clearly, this was before you became a parent!
Totally. I did it during the adoption process, which was a long, stressful haul, and it was good for me to focus on something I could control. We waited two years to get Harry. Painting the wall was kind of therapeutic.
What design revisions did the baby’s arrival demand?
We had to make broad changes in the way we thought about the spaces. The second bedroom had been a television den. We needed to turn it into a nursery, but we also wanted the room to feel connected to the rest of our home. We had a formal dining room that we used only a couple of times a year, so we transformed it into a combination dining–family room. We also had collections that had grown very large: Chad has every single music book of every song ever written, and I don’t come home from anywhere without a trinket. So we installed storage shelves in the living room. I designed the sofa in there for Jayson Home with Sunbrella upholstery that you can actually bleach without harming it. It’s that indestructible.
Can we talk about that other sofa? The one in the TV area?
I used to have a phobia about sectional sofas. I didn’t want to be that person. But I had to squeeze a hangout area into our dining room, and the upholstery — inspired by mod, psychedelic fabrics — makes it cool. That fabric hides spills, which is less stressful with the little guy’s feedings and bottles. And when guests come over, it puts them at ease. So it’s not only a knockout but practical too. We’re just having trouble finding the remote.
Everything here has a story.
We’re collectors. I was 23 when I started at Jayson Home, back when it was just a cherished neighborhood shop. I’ve worked there for 15 years and grown up with the company. We just opened a long-term pop-up in New York’s SoHo, and of course, we now have an online business and a catalog. I do so much traveling for work and always come home with something. I imagine people coming to my estate sale someday and finding something that makes their day.
Any favorite finds?
The butterflies above the mantel; they’re from Deyrolle in Paris. Our special thing to do is to go pick out a new butterfly every time we are together in Paris. Last summer, we brought Harry and got the tiniest little butterfly we could find to add to our collection. They used to be shoved into the corner, but when we decided we were staying here, we gave them a prime spot on the mantel. When Harry is fussy, we take him over there and say, “Look at the butterflies!”
This story was originally published in the February 2018 issue of CQ.