Luxury for Less: Redesigning a Small Space on a Budget

Two North Shore designers team up to redesign a Lincoln Park pied-à-terre for $25,000.

“I describe this project as luxury for less,” explains Randy Heller, of Randy Heller Pure & Simple Interior Design in Highland Park. The challenge for Heller was to completely redesign and furnish her clients’ 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom pied-à-terre in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood for only $25,000. For help, she turned to friend and fellow designer Ann Kendall, of Covet Studio + AHK Design in Glencoe. “Working with Ann was terrific because we have the exact same aesthetic,” Heller says.

How to create luxury for less:

Use paint: Although the designers felt that the kitchen cabinets and counter tops felt dated, their budget precluded the possibility of replacing them. Instead, they had the cabinets painted a mushroom gray color, which works very well with the black granite counter tops. “The cabinetry was not unattractive and the finish was not in bad shape, but we told the clients that painting them would give them a higher-end, more custom feel,” Kendall says.


Do custom for less: In an awkward niche in the living room, the designers placed a stunning, contemporary dining table. Although it looks like an expensive piece, they found the Saarinen-inspired, Tulip-style base on Ebay ($200). They hired a local woodworker to make them a solid walnut oval top ($700). “They can sit there and work at their computer or eat lunch and watch TV,” Kendall says.


Similarly, in the master bedroom, the designers used inexpensive linen drapes from Pottery Barn, which they dressed up with a designer trim from Kelly Wearstler. “We love the beauty in the details, and it’s so easy to tweak something that you buy off the shelf in order to make it your own,” Kendall says. “You can do the same thing with a solid pillow. Just have trim applied at the cleaners.”


Skip shipping costs: “Delivery costs can really take a lot out of your budget. To minimize transportation and shipping costs, we shopped local for furniture and whenever possible, bought pieces off the floor,” Heller explains, pointing to the stylish lacquered coffee table from West Elm.

According to the designers, using a natural fur rug gives a higher-end impression than a more standard area rug.

According to the designers, websites like also offer heavily discounted designer furnishings and free shipping. “We found this set of amazing Italian barstools ($299 each, free shipping) on,” Heller says.

Be creative: For art, the designers simply selected simple black frames, which they filled with images they cut out of magazines. “When you flip images from magazines, they look abstract,” Heller says, pointing to a pair of frames that have been placed at the end of a long hallway. “Those two photos are actually the same photo from IKEA,” Kendall explains. “We just flipped one of them upside down.” According to the designers, the hallway was so narrow that you couldn’t put anything on the sidewalls. “Hanging them at the end of the hallway gives you a visual focus,” Kendall says. 


Mix materials and furnishings: To create a high-end look, Heller and Kendall incorporated furnishings made of wood, iron, polished chrome, marble, lacquer, linen, cowhide and velvet. “We mixed it up to create variation and interest,” Heller says.

Working together, the designers were able to completely transform their client’s pied-à-terre in less than three months. “There were a lot of rabbits that we pulled out of the hat to accommodate this budget, but in the end, it doesn’t look like we cut corners, and the owners were blown away by the result,” Heller says. According to Kendall, this project is proof that luxury doesn’t have to break the bank. “You can hire designers and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune,” Kendall says.  


More photos from inside the home:

Headboard in guest bedroom: “In the guest room, we picked a simple platform bed from West Elm,” Kendall says. “We went to the upholsterer and had them make these headboards, basically a piece of plywood with some fabric wrapped around it. It looks like a custom-made bed.”


Coffee tables in living room: The low-slung contemporary lacquered coffee table that is paired with a chrome and marble side table. “We paired the tables to create a layered effect. It’s multi-use,” Kendall says. “You can pull it out and use it by the recliner chair or for other purposes in the room.”