Pamper Makes Perfect: Designer Jeannie Balsam

This was no assignment for a novice.

In 2009, Jeannie Balsam was selected to design an awkwardly long and narrow rear entrance hall and small powder room for the bi-annual  Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens, which benefits the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago.

Designed by Benjamin Marshall and built in 1911 for a Rand McNally executive, the grand, 14,500 sq. ft. home’s stunning views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding 22 acre grounds inspired Balsam to choose a natural color palette of taupes, grays and blues punctuated by dramatic punches of color, ultimately transforming the space from a corridor to a usable room in less than eight weeks. Here’s how she did it.

How did you approach the rear entry?
Most people don’t approach their homes from the front foyer, so I think you should treat your secondary spaces—back entries, garages and back rooms—as importantly as your primary spaces. You deserve to be as pampered as your guests!

The space feels very warm for a back entry. What’s your secret?
Fabrics are kind of my corner stone. I like layering, which means different textures: leathers, mohairs, cottons and linens. Layered rooms invite you in and slowly reveal themselves. When everything’s one note, I get tired of it. One of my clients said that she felt hugged when she walked in one of my rooms. If your home can’t recharge you and make you feel protected or comforted or hugged, what can?


What was your biggest challenge on the project?
Figuring out how to take the obstacles and make them opportunities. It was a long, very narrow hallway with closets on one side and it had really unattractive skylights. I broke the wall up by putting wainscoting in with a garden trellis below, which also created a nice two-dimensional space. Taking in all the planes including the ceiling makes rooms feel more cohesive, so I repeated the lattice in the molding on the skylights.

Why pair such a mod orange chair with the antique French desk?
Why not pop some fun into the house? Whenever I pop some fun into a room, my kids love it. Even with neutral rooms, you still need a pop of color to give the room some energy. Otherwise, the room feels a little too sleepy.

The runner adds a nice pop of color as well.
The runner was the last element we brought in, and that was kind of a fun surprise. We grabbed that gorgeous Lapchi rug with the really big flowers, and it brought in that bit of whimsy, but you still felt really pampered. It tickled me!

Any final words?
Make it happy—even if it’s your back hall.

Additional notes: Powder room (pictured at top): Balsam wanted the powder room to be beautiful but functional, so she chose an old-fashioned basin. “If you have a small dog, you can wash them off there,” says Balsam. “It’s not such a precious room that you have to worry about it.”

The lake was the inspiration for the terrazzo stone tile that looks like little crushed shells from the beach. What better way to let the outside in?
Lake Michigan oil above desk: Balsam found Enrique Santana’s oil painting of Lake Michigan at Ann Nathan Gallery in Chicago. “The mood, tone, color and size of it work well with the large, antique French desk,” says Balsam. “That’s a very large investment, but the home would deserve that.”

Editor’s note: The  Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens benefits the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago.

  Who We Are       NFP Support       Magazine       Programs       Donate