Vintage Finds Mingle With New Decor in This Historic Home Outside Chicago

When a couple walked into a stucco-clad Kenilworth house, built in 1893 as a dormitory for a private school, they quickly realized they’d found the perfect home for their family, which included two young children and a third on the way. The front foyer was bathed in natural daylight, which streamed in from the third-floor skylight. Unlike in many older homes, the main rooms were spacious and the layout was open and breezy, which appealed to the wife (the couple prefer not to be named). “I just wanted the kitchen to connect to the family room so that I wasn’t alone doing the dishes,” she says.

Sarah Montgomery helped a Kenilworth couple redesign this century-old house into their dream home. Photo courtesy of @properties.

The house, original structure pictured on the right, was built in 1893 as the headmaster’s house and dormitory for the Rugby School for Boys, a private school. The school opened in Kenilworth in 1891, two years after the village was founded. Photo courtesy of the Kenilworth Historical Society.

Mixing Old and New

To help them make the house their own, the couple turned to Chicago interior designer Sarah Montgomery, who started her eponymous interior design studio in 2017, after years of designing window displays, stage sets and products (most recently for the local bedding and soft home furnishings manufacturer Eastern Accents). “She was younger in her career, and her ideas were really fresh,” the wife says. Montgomery quickly got to know her clients, noting that although they were largely on the same page, the husband gravitated toward a more traditional style than the wife, whose tastes were eclectic.

Reviewing the inspiration images the couple pulled from magazines and Pinterest “gave me an idea about the space they wanted, a space that would be very personal and very layered with art and accessories,” the designer explains. “They had a big blank slate and didn’t know where to start.” Working room by room, the designer incorporated a mix of vintage and antique finds alongside new furnishings, existing heirlooms and an intriguing art collection that included everything from antique oil paintings to outsider art. “It feels collected and thoughtful, but not too precious,” Montgomery says.  

The Living Room

A traditional Persian rug layered over a larger sisal one adds color, pattern and texture to the formal living room, perfecting coordinating with the chevron pattern on the backs of the recovered chairs. Interior photos by Margaret Rajic.

In the formal living room, a traditional Persian rug layered over a larger sisal one creates a pleasing backdrop for a plush navy sofa and a pair of 1970s French provincial style club chairs recovered in an embroidered fabric. The colorful oversized chevron pattern on the chair backs can be seen from the street. “They were willing to do some adventurous things,” Montgomery says.

Just as interesting are the recessed shelves flanking the fireplace, which Montgomery painted in a dark gray and styled with leatherbound books, potted plants and a mix of objets d’art. Steps away, a children’s wooden rocker carved in the shape of a ram — a gift from the prior owners — adds to the collected atmosphere.

Interior designer, Sarah Montgomery, repurposed an old card catalog as a functional cabinet, pairing it with a modern floor lamp from West Elm.

Decorative accent pillows from Jayson Home and Ralph Lauren Home enliven a dark navy sofa.

A gift from the former owners, a mid-20th-century carved wooden rocking ram purchased in North Carolina contributes to the home’s collected look. On the bookshelf is a curated selection of vintage leatherbound books, thrift-store finds and family heirlooms.

The Family Room

In the family room, embroidered window treatments from Eastern Accents play off the zebra hide-covered stools and black furnishings. The round black table belonged to the owner. The chairs are from Hayneedle.

In this room, a traditional patterned rug in shades of blue and olive green establishes a serene color palette, playing off the tailored white sofa and a dusty blue velvet chair. Zebra hide-covered footstools and embroidered window treatments add panache.

In front of the window alongside the fireplace, the designer found a place for the family’s old black kitchen table, which she paired with two new chairs – a delightful spot to enjoy the view. “I love this room,” the wife says. “It’s so calming.”

Sporting a traditional pattern in a modern colorway, an area rug by Surya sets the tone for the family room, which is furnished with a tailored sofa by Meg Made and a blue velvet chair around a 1930s French Empire Neoclassical-style pedestal coffee table from Chairish.

The Dining Room

Zebra-hide host chairs and side chairs from Ethan Allen surround a long wooden table by Walter E. Smith in the formal dining room. A brass wall mirror from Mirror Image Home is flanked by sculptural contemporary table lamps from Rejuvenation. The black console table is from Four Hands.

The mix of influences flows throughout the interior. In the dining room, for example, a pair of zebra-patterned host chairs energize a traditional wooden table and black side chairs. On opposite walls, a vibrant abstract still-life painting is juxtaposed with a rather serious-looking oil painting that came from the wife’s grandparents.  

In this dining-room nook, a colorful abstract still-life artwork from Chairish hangs above a table that can serve as a bar.

Preserving the History

Also left behind by the prior owners are sketches of the historic house, a large-scaled framed photo of the exterior and a pair of rolled up blueprints from a prior renovation decades ago, which are now displayed in the office. The blend of old and new appeals to the newly minted suburbanites, who have already referred Montgomery to their neighbors. The wife says, “I love that our house is approachable and unpretentious.”

This article originally appeared on

How to Help:

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.

More from Better:

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.

  Who We Are       NFP Support       Magazine       Programs       Donate