Dressing Up an Empty Nest

Becoming an empty nester can be bittersweet, but when it comes to decorating, the empty nest is full of possibilities.

This traditional-style home in Lake Forest was built in the 1980s on a curving subdivision road near the Onwentsia Club. Entering the home, everything appears beautifully staged: Piles of art books are stacked on coffee tables, topped by large glass vases and other breakable and artful items. No toys, no sports equipment.

“Once the kids are gone, the house can be a little dressier,” says interior designer Chris Paschen of Evanston’s Garrett Paschen Ltd.

Paschen should know. She first decorated the house after it was built in the 1980s, when the homeowners had a family to raise. And recently, Paschen and her daughter and business partner Alexis Garrett came back to freshen things up. By upping the level of sophistication in the home, Paschen and Garrett have created spaces that are as dramatic as they are comfortable.

The living room is the perfect example. It’s cozy, almost rustic, decorated in dark brown with red accents, intended to warm up the room.

“Brown is one of my favorite colors to work with, and it looks fabulous with red,” Paschen says.

In redecorating, Paschen upped the formality by adding a red lacquered Asian-style buffet and had an oversized square coffee table made for the space (those are red vinyl insets on the top—no need for coasters). The room is ideal for entertaining, but also cozy enough that you’d want to curl up with a book next to the curved stone fireplace.

Gesturing to the white upholstered couch in the living room, she says, “Even if you have kids and don’t want white upholstery, you can get the same look with white slipcovers. White is actually the best color for slipcovers, because you can wash them with bleach.”

That dramatic dark brown color on the living room walls? It’s actually fabric. But you can get the same look with good old-fashioned paint. Try Benjamin Moore’s Deep Taupe (211-10).

Those intricate, woven living room shades are handmade from Conrad Handwoven Window Coverings. You can get a similar look with matchstick blinds from retailers like Home Depot, West Elm, or online at the Shade Store.

Achieve the white upholstered couch look for less by using white slipcovers from retailers like Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel, or have them made by an upholsterer or seamstress.

Swapping out an old light fixture for an updated one can change the entire look of a room—and that’s exactly what Paschen did over the kitchen table. Each season, Circa Lighting copies many of the best designer lighting options, and their lamps and fixtures will cost you hundreds of dollars instead of thousands.

Wicker chairs are a fabulous idea in the kitchen. They add loads of textural interest for little money. You can buy inexpensive wicker at Cost Plus World Market and Pier One, and to get the look shown in the kitchen, you can paint them. Here, the chairs are dark green, which looks stunning with the dark wood table, and much more interesting than matching dark wood chairs would.

Sconces are inexpensive, and Paschen used them cleverly in the upstairs hallway, where they double as picture lights. Buy a series of botanical prints (Pottery Barn sells them, and antique malls are also a good source), have them framed, and hang them under the sconces. The series is pleasing to the eye and creates a uniform look.

Bed linens are the most inexpensive and efficient way to update a bedroom, and white linens are always fresh looking and comfy, because they use no fabric dyes. Charisma is a brand that Paschen recommends. Take your sheets to be monogrammed, and purchase seam binding and attach it to the pillowcases. Since sheet sets don’t include pillow shams, you can buy extra flat sheets and have a seamstress turn them into shams. A single, large decorative pillow and matching throw is all you need to complete a fresh, finished look.