Sisters Kristina Phillips and Stephanie Meyer have always been close. Before settling in Maryland, their family moved from the Bahamas to Berlin to France, and the girls also spent time with their mother’s family in Sweden. For Phillips, who owns Kristina Phillips Interior Design based in Ridgewood, New Jersey, this international childhood shaped her design sense.
“In Swedish culture, things are beautiful, but also highly functional and practical,” she says. “That’s the approach I take in my design work.”
While Scandinavia is well known for its modern, minimal design aesthetic, Sweden also has a rich heritage of adornment and decorative arts, as evidenced in the country’s famous Dala horses. Phillips married these two elements when she came up with a refresh for her sister Stephanie’s Colonial home in Winnetka, Illinois.
Stephanie and her husband bought the house in 2014, delighted with the family room addition and kitchen renovation that the previous owners had completed. However, after living in the house with their three children for just over five years, they were ready to give it a new look that reflected their family’s liveliness.
One complicating factor was that Meyer—having the larger house of the two siblings—inherited the bulk of the family’s Swedish antiques when their grandmother died.
“Stephanie’s house was starting to look a little like a grandma’s house, with a lot of brown wood,” Phillips says. “It was a little stodgy and lacked interest.”
Meyer agrees with her sister’s assessment. “I needed help adding fresh life to the mix,” she says. “I didn’t want to recreate my grandmother’s house!”
The Breakfast Room
The breakfast room, which is visible from the kitchen and dining room, sets the tone for the updated decor. Phillips suggested painting the walls a rich teal and the room’s architectural details a bright white, which emphasizes the room’s fanlight windows and arched built-ins on two sides.
“For that color, I had to say, ‘It’s only paint, just trust me,’” Phillips explains. “Sure enough, it’s gorgeous and they both love it.”
She also gave the room’s vintage faux bamboo dining set a coat of white lacquer, which instantly updated its look.
The Dining Room
The peacock blue color reappears in smaller doses throughout the house as a unifying element from space to space. In the dining room, which has a more formal vibe thanks to Chinoiserie wallpaper, the color appears in the custom drapes.
“The dining room had pale gray walls, and I wanted something more interesting,” Meyer says. “Kristina suggested the chinoiserie wallpaper, which I love, and now the dining room feels like a new destination in the house.” Phillips mixed in several pieces of modern art to keep the room from feeling too traditional.
The Living Room
The living room, which has a lot of the family’s vintage Swedish pieces, shows off the teal color on the 2 barrel-back chairs and in the artwork. Phillips chose to cover the walls in a putty-colored grasscloth that gives the room texture and—similar to the breakfast room—provide a contrast to the white painted architectural details.
The grasscloth also provides a lovely neutral backdrop for pieces like the coffin-style piano that came from the sisters’ great-grandmother. They have wonderful family stories of their great-grandmother, who played the piano in Stockholm’s first movie theater.
The Family Room
In the comfortable family room, there’s a subtle nautical theme, thanks to the art, which is a mix of vintage and contemporary.
“The ship painting is from my husband’s family. It hung in the front of a hardware store in his hometown,” Meyer says. “When the store closed, they gave it to John’s grandparents, and after they died, John asked for it.” The contemporary paintings on the adjacent wall are of the family’s favorite islands: Nantucket and the Bahamas.
The project gave the Meyer family a refreshed and beautiful home, but almost as important, it gave the sisters an excuse for more visits and conversations.
“It was fun for me to have someone who understood the origin of these pieces and who understood that anything we add has to mesh with them,” Meyer says. “It’s a huge perk of working with your sister. I’m sure there’ll be more projects like this down the road.”
Spotlight on Sustainability: Tips and Tricks for Mixing Modern and Vintage, Plus Phillips’ Favorite Places to Shop
In her sister’s home, designer Kristina Phillips mixed family heirlooms with more contemporary pieces to create a look that’s fresh and not at all precious. Here are her tips on how to achieve the perfect mix:
Don’t be afraid to mix styles and decades. In some rooms, a Lucite ’70s table would work well with Louis XVI chairs
Add contemporary art. Putting contemporary art over a vintage sofa adds energy to the room. Color and shape are ways to tie the two together.
Switch up the fabric. Reupholstering a piece makes it look and feel fresh. Contemporary fabrics are a lot more durable and, therefore, family-friendly.
Banish the brown. High gloss paint can make a tired wooden piece into a glamorous addition.
Where to shop for vintage? The major online destinations are 1stDibs, Chairish and Etsy. Phillips also frequently scouts Facebook Marketplace and Circawho. In person, she loves shopping at tri-annual Brimfield Flea Market in Connecticut—a mecca for antique collectors.