A Total Renovation Transformed a Dark and Dated Kenilworth Attic into a Chic Space for Teenagers

Dated and dark with aging electrical wiring and old carpeting, the third-floor attic in the early 1900s Georgian in Kenilworth did not befit the 12 and 15-year-old sisters who spent most of their time there, either in their respective bedrooms or in a spacious playroom.  

Hoping to resolve such issues while creating a space that better reflected her daughters, the homeowner hired Orren Pickell Building Group and M + M Interior Design for a total renovation. While Pickell’s quote was not the lowest of the bids she received, “I felt so comfortable with them,” she said. “I had never done a big project like this, so I needed help along the way.”

Designed by M + M Interior Design’s Leslie Martin and built by Orren Pickell’s Carpentry Division, the staircase railing sets the tone for the fully renovated third floor attic in this Kenilworth home. The ceiling fixture is from Circa Lighting. Photo by Mike Kaskel.

After clearing the proverbial table in a down-to-the-studs demolition, Orren Pickell completely rebuilt the space to modern specs. New white oak flooring and shiplap walls, for example, distinguish the playroom-turned-media lounge. “Shiplap is a great way to add some texture,” says Rob Oldenburg, Orren Pickell Building Group project manager. “It added some height and depth, so it made the space feel larger.”

Fixtures by Circa Lighting illuminate the artwork in a corridor that connects the two bedrooms and chic third-floor lounge of this historic Kenilworth home. Photo by Heather Talbert.

Rather than break up the line of the wall planks, Orren Pickell made custom doors with horizontal grooves that perfectly align with the shiplap, practically disappearing from view.

Photo by Mike Kaskel.

Underneath large woven chandelier that takes advantage of the pitched ceiling, a black and white striped area rug anchors a dual-chaise sofa and a round upholstered ottoman covered in a patterned blue fabric that plays off a slotted storage console. A pair of yellow poufs that resemble knotted yarn “add some fun and whimsy,” says interior designer, Leslie Martin.

A woven pendant from Serena & Lily floats over a plush sectional sofa by Lee Industries from CAI Designs in the third-floor lounge. The rug is from Stark Carpet. Photo by Mike Kaskel.

The fresh palette also characterizes the bedrooms. In the 15-year-old’s room, a patterned wallcovering makes a stimulating backdrop for an upholstered bed dressed in crisp white bedding with decorative throw pillows.

A patterned wall covering from Galbraith & Paul creates a sophisticated backdrop for tailored furnishings in this 15-year-old girl’s third-floor bedroom. The sconces are from Circa Lighting, and the nightstands are from Burke Décor. Photo by Mike Kaskel.

“It’s kind of an oceanic color palette,” Martin says. Flanking the bed, white and brass midcentury-inspired sconces coordinate with both the side tables and a streamlined desk.

Photo by Mike Kaskel.

The milieu in the 12-year-old’s room leans in a more traditional direction. Flanked by brass sconces with woven shades, an olive upholstered headboard plays off a floral wallcovering in deeper shades of blue and green. A light blue desk underneath a pin-up board provides a dedicated spot for homework. Since the rooms are directly across from each other, “they needed to complement each other, which was a challenge, but they work nicely together,” Martin says.

A wallcovering by Christopher Farr establishes the palette in the soon-to-be 13-year-old daughter’s room. The sconces are by Lumens. Photo by Mike Kaskel.

While the family lived downstairs during the months-long renovation, when it was time to furnish the space, the designer banished them from the premises and brought in her team to stage it to perfection. Seeing it on paper had not prepared them for the transformation.

“It’s just so beautiful,” the wife says, noting that despite the challenges of living through months of construction, “I had such a great experience.”

So great, in fact, that she recently got the proverbial band back together to take on her nearly 13-year-old son’s room. Why mess with perfection?

How Orren Pickell and M+M Interior Design Give Back

Orren Pickell supports Matthew HomesFuller Center and JRS Foundation with architectural services, and several of the firm’s skilled carpenters and maintenance techs have donated time to construction.

OBPG’s Anna Sorrensen is also involved with Designs 4 Dignity and uses her Interior Design background to donate time to their efforts.

OPBG President Lisa Pickell is a Chicago Architecture Center docent since 2015 and leads walking tours and the CAC River Cruise.

M+M Interior Design supports Digs With Dignity, regularly donating to the organization on behalf of clients.  

How to Help:

Consider giving to a local housing nonprofit. The below are all previous Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award Winners:

  • A Safe Haven Foundation provides food, shelter, treatment, medical care, education, job training and job placement to people in crisis and helps them transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
  • Mercy Housing Lakefront is a nonprofit developer of program-enriched, affordable housing for people in need.
  • The Night Ministry provides housing, health care, outreach, spiritual care and social services to adults and youth who struggle with homelessness, poverty and loneliness.
  • Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (H.O.M.E) helps seniors remain independent and active in their community by offering intergenerational living opportunities and a variety of citywide support services.

If you’re interested in helping more people have access to design services, you can support the nonprofit Designs for Dignity, which transforms nonprofit environments through pro bono design services and in-kind donations.

If you have the opportunity to join a local housewalk tour of private homes, many partner with nonprofits and local museums, like the Wilmette Historical Museum or Evanston History Center.

Tate Gunnerson is a Chicago-based freelance journalist with an equal appreciation for natural beauty and good design. He is a passionate supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Kidney Foundation.

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