DIY Decorating: Mixing Antiques and Contemporary Styles

Sylvia Cardenas relied on instinct and advice to decorate her Highland Park home.

When George and Sylvia Cardenas first bought the Highland Park lot where their home stands today, the surrounding area was mostly farmland. “We used it to park the trucks for our business,” explains Sylvia Cardenas, of George Cardenas Landscape Design in Highland Park.

When their two children left for college, the couple hired architect Mark Di Ganci, of Design Studio 24 in Northbrook, to design a 3-bedroom home with an open floor plan, lofted ceilings and a ground floor master bedroom that overlooks their large backyard garden. When the house was finished, Sylvia tried working with decorators before deciding to take on the project by herself.

Why did you decide to decorate on your own?
One of my friends suggested working with a decorator because they don’t make mistakes. I’m sure if you get the right one they can guide you, but I thought it was very frustrating. We ended up throwing a lot of money away.

How did you decide where to start?
We lived in our other house for seven years, and it was very contemporary with lots of black and white. I wanted to bring in warmer colors and antiques to go along with my more modern pieces.

The architecture is also contemporary. What appeals to you about the mix?
I never want the house to look old and stuffy inside. The mix keeps it a little more interesting. That’s the way I dress, and that’s how I put things together.

Where do you enjoy shopping for antiques?
I’ve learned so much from people like Fern Simon at Arts 220 and Alan at Marco Polo (in Harbor Country, Michigan). They love talking about their passion, and I love listening and learning from them. We also love Golden Triangle in Chicago, Kimball and Bean in Woodstock and Anne’s Mostly Mahogany in Highwood, where we’ve picked up a few wonderful things.

Where do you most enjoy spending time in the house?
We live in the family room.  Even when we have company, people gravitate to this room. There’s something about it that feels cozy.

What do you most enjoy about decorating?
I love putzing around my house adding and editing (the décor). It’s a slow process that’s still not complete, but it gives me satisfaction. If I weren’t doing what I’m doing, I’d love to learn more about design and decorating.

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