Judi Mills-Grossman Gives Modern Flair to Her Classic Home
THE NEW COLONIALIST: A designer gives her traditionally styled house in River Forest a sophisticated modern spin
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Judi Mills-Grossman and Reilly, the family’s puggle, contemplate a walk. She chose
contemporary art for the foyer and other rooms; this painting is by Charles Dwyer.
See more photos in the gallery below.
FROM THE CURB, THE HOUSE SHOUTS WILLIAMSBURG, or at least a suburban take on it, but George Washington never slept anywhere remotely like this. Yes, the architecture of the 1946 house is colonial—bricks red, windows mullioned, front door flanked by white columns—a style any self-respecting real-estate agent would reflexively call traditional. But designer Judi Mills-Grossman’s modern spin on the old Dolley Madison look is pure genius.
“I wanted to stay true to the colonial detail, but I tend toward contemporary,” explains Mills-Grossman, who is also the homeowner. “For example, white moldings on the living room walls embellish the traditional look, but then what’s inside those moldings is modern wallpaper.” The gold paper is gently reined in by the pale blue paint she chose for the walls. “Blue and gold is a colonial palette, so I perked up the look once again with that unusual ottoman,” she says, referring to the mammoth pouf that dominates a corner of the room. “It says, ‘I’m tufted, and I’m an ottoman appropriate to a colonial home—but I’m turquoise!’”
It’s that friction of colonial rectitude rubbing up against modern flair that creates the excitement. Although Mills-Grossman and her husband, Michael, reconfigured the first floor and added 2,200 square feet overall to accommodate a larger kitchen and a new family room (as well as a powder room, a mudroom, and a garage), this wasn’t the kind of project where a shockingly minimalist interior is created behind a traditional façade. “I specialize in renovating old houses and building new houses from scratch, and we work on the space plan, not just the furniture,” Mills-Grossman says. “That’s the best way to keep architecture and interior design consistent.”
Her affection for the traditional bones of the house is most obvious in the kitchen, where the focal point is an elaborate pedimented cabinet with a built-in clock. (In this house, even the fridge enclosure takes its cues from Federalist ornament.) Classic millwork and a coffered ceiling mix effortlessly with a banquette and chairs dressed in snappy modern fabric. “This is a hard-working family kitchen,” says Mills-Grossman, mother of two teenagers. “It had to feel appropriate to the house but also work in a modern w ay.”
Throughout her home, the designer added details that heighten the Revolutionary-era appeal but have a bit of 21st-century daring. The bed in the master bedroom is a modern riff on a colonial four-poster, and the library’s draperies were pieced together from four contrasting fabrics. “The curtains are contemporary, but they are also intricate, the way a traditional window treatment in a colonial house would be,” says Mills-Grossman. “I don’t like anything to be just one note.” The result is a beautiful home that marches happily to its own drummer (fife optional).
Photography: Werner Straube
Styling: Diane Ewing