“British Country manqué” —that’s how former print and runway model and owner of Gavin in Evanston, Lauren Cavallo-Runzel, recalled the décor of her home when she and husband Bill first laid eyes on its interior in 2001.
She said that it was too conservative—and not her at all. She really wanted it to be modern and eclectic. But the dated pink carpeting and overly traditional design scheme didn’t stop the mother of six (three boys, three girls), from volunteering her home for a house walk that was scheduled to be held just a few short months after they closed on the sale.
To help her create a new look in such a short time frame, Runzel took a chance and hired family friend and then newly minted interior designer, Lani Belanger. “She was my first client,” Belanger recalls. “It was a big undertaking. We scoured every corner of Chicago.”
Belanger and Runzel completed the interior design in time for the house walk, and their Franco-eclectic design scheme earned rave reviews. But as Belanger soon discovered, Runzel’s ever-evolving taste meant their collaboration was far from over. “Lauren acquired so many pieces from her travels and walks through life— inherited pieces, art and curiosities from around the globe.” Belanger explains that Lauren’s house was like her wardrobe in that she was constantly observing trends and styles. She was always adding, and Belanger was always editing.
When Runzel decided that the sunken living room needed a refresh several years ago, she and Belanger accomplished the task in a single afternoon with a visit to one of their favorite Chicago furniture showrooms. “What I love about Jayson Home and Garden is that you could shop there to decorate five different homes and none of them would look alike,” Belanger explains. “We knocked out the entire living room in three hours.”
According to Belanger, flexibility is the key to working with the constant influx of new design elements. “The house has a lot of space, so I have flexibility to move things from room to room,” Belanger explains.
But ultimately, their collaboration succeeded because both women were willing to consider new ideas. According to Belanger, open minds yield successful rooms. “It doesn’t mean that a client has to embrace every idea that you have, but the outcome is always better when both sides maintain an open mind,” she says. “Lauren had a million great ideas that taught me to look at things in different ways. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be so rigid about adhering to a plan, that everything doesn’t have to fall into the slots.”
Lauren Cavallo-Runzel passed away on May 26th after a long battle with cancer, but the multi-faceted wife, mother and friend lived life to the fullest. “Her oncologist told her that he wasn’t used to working around his patient’s travel schedules, but that’s Lauren,” interior designer and family friend Lani Belanger says.
Despite going through another round of treatment, Lauren made time to talk with me about her home, and even followed up a few days later to pitch a story about her Evanston boutique Gavin. She will be missed by all who knew and loved her.
Tile floors: Runzel wanted tile floors and explained, “Nobody thought I should do tile floors, but I lived in France forever, and this is what French homes look like. Wood floors are British, and this isn’t a British house. This is a French Normandy.”
Sunroom: The bright and cozy rear sun porch was one of Runzel’s favorite rooms.