Home Decor

How a Bold Design Move Transformed This 120-Year-Old House

When it came to decorating their heritage home, this couple let their instincts lead the way.

January 22, 2020
Photo by Sydney Walters

In 1896, a corporate attorney and his wife, an artist, broke ground on a home in Chicago’s Oak Park neighborhood. At 3,500 square feet, the two-story plot would come to boast all of the era’s most beloved accents: hearty crown molding, brass door handles and ornate window casings. It was fashionable to say the least.

Over 120 years later the current homeowners are, in a strange twist of fate, another artist and attorney duo, BASH Party Goods' Angela Wator and Jeramy Webb. The pair weren’t in the market for a home when they first came across the listing online, but their two young daughters were growing up fast, and their apartment seemed to be shrinking by the day.

Angela and Jeramy’s home is in Oak Park, a neighborhood due west of downtown Chicago. Photo by Sydney Walters

For two months, the couple drove to the Oak Park home as often as they could, idling outside, imagining a life within its walls. Angela excitedly followed every nugget of information on the home until she had a pretty clear picture of the families that once lived within it. She came across a picture of the original owners posing on the front porch together, a shot of another couple at the home in their wedding day best, and an exhaustive list of changes the various owners had made to the house since its completion. The fantasy of it all fascinated her, but again, she and Jeramy weren’t looking to buy quite yet.

I so badly wanted to find something wrong with the house so we could stop thinking about it.
Angela Wator

Because of the poor timing, Angela admits she hoped to find a fatal flaw when she and Jeramy finally secured a tour of the property—“I so badly wanted to find something wrong with the house so we could stop thinking about it,” she says—but instead she was nearly brought to tears while walking about. She recalls, “I kept imagining our kids running around, our colorful furniture and artwork, and I knew we would bring a ton of warmth and vibrancy to the home.”

Shortly thereafter, she and Jeramy threw caution to the wind and got the keys.

Since moving in, the couple has enjoyed filling each room with happy memories, but they’ve also quickly added their own offbeat chapter to the home’s visual history through a bold use of color. It’s uncommon to see historic homes like theirs updated with such wild brushstrokes and wallpaper, but Angela and Jeramy tell us once they got going it just felt right. Chunky crown molding now floats light as a feather thanks to a coat of purple paint, and original cabinetry feels like new set against salmon-colored wallpaper.

These stylistic moves were risky for sure, but that’s what makes the results so captivating. Their choices are proof that when it comes to decorating your home, following your gut is always a good idea. Scroll down to see how Angela and Jeramy have thoughtfully transformed their space without sacrificing any of its original details.

The Living Room

Many of Angela and Jeramy’s previous homes have boasted bold pops of color. They’ve even had purple walls before. Choosing the right shade for their current home, though, took quite some time because it’s the largest canvas Angela’s ever worked with. “I painted sample swatches on every wall before finally committing to a shade!” she says. “I wanted a purple that would feel bright during the day and elegant at night. After going through a million paint samples and a couple custom colors, I landed on this one.”

Photo by Sydney Walters

Angela and Jeramy didn’t stop with the walls. They proceeded to paint the living room’s trim and window frames the same color. The decision to match the two came about for financial reasons: “I couldn’t even begin to think about refinishing [the trim] when we have three very old bathrooms, porches with rot and a bunch of other major projects to tackle,” Angela explains. The trick, a designer twist that’s finally becoming commonplace, lets the couple enjoy the depth and texture of the trim without it visually chopping up the space.

The Dining Room

Wallpaper is a fantastic way to refresh a space, but picking the right pattern can be daunting. Angela’s selection shines because it straddles two eras: its intricate pattern nods to the origins of her home while the bold salmon hue feels very current. The rich color also frames the room’s original woodwork, making the century-old detail feel fresh.

Instead of replacing the home’s ornate, original hardware, the couple cleaned it up and reinstalled it where they could. Angela tells us keeping these details provided her with an exciting design challenge: “I had fun playing with the contrast of bright, modern lines against the floral wallpaper and original brass accents!”

The Entryway

Photo by Sydney Walters

In order to modernize the entryway, Angela relied on mid-century accessories such as a sputnik pendant light and a teal stool. She was inspired to mix eras like this after coming across photos of “dark, serious antique elements contrasted by weird, unexpected furniture.” The wallpaper was installed in the 1950s.

The Bedrooms

In the bedrooms, a range of colors bridge the gap between the home’s former design and its new feel. In Angela and Jeramy’s room, for example, pink walls and warm accents pay homage to the previous owners’ hot pink carpet. Ramona and Penelope’s rooms, on the other hand, are full of calming, cool tones not much different than those leftover by the previous family.

Pops of pink now fill Angela and Jeramy’s redecorated bedroom. Photo by Sydney Walters

Which of these rooms is your favorite transformation? Tell us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Luana
  • Claudia T
    Claudia T
  • Mary Ann Hughes
    Mary Ann Hughes
  • emmett
  • M
Garrett Fleming

Written by: Garrett Fleming

Interiors Editor & Art Director


Luana January 3, 2021
I am in love with the purple living room & pink/salmon bedroom. These are such tricky colours (especially the purple). Is it possible to know their names & which company makes them? Thank you, from Montreal. Oh...I just read that the purple was a custom colour...perhaps you have the reference for the pink?
Claudia T. February 26, 2020
It's bot my style but I love it! Its so much nicer and brighter for a family with growing children.
Mary A. February 13, 2020
Thank you so much for preserving the house's integrity. I've seen so many houses which have been ruined by being stripped of whatever the original vision had been in order to conform to current fashion. (The weirdest being a suburban ranch house whose interior had been turned into a log cabin by one of those "Little House on the Prairie" fanatics of the 1970s).
emmett February 2, 2020
Amazing purple! What is that? Where can I get some??
Garrett F. February 2, 2020
Hi Emmett,

It’s a custom color. It took a few tries to get right.
M January 22, 2020
I absolutely love that she collected history about her home and I really wish this piece shared the images. Theres a lot of beauty and fascination in small slices of the past, if we take a minute to look for it. A couple who fell in love with a house, researched its history, and cherished its historic bones didn't transform it. They unveiled and embraced it.

If only all guts had that much thoughtfulness and skill.
Arati M. January 31, 2020
Hi M. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. We did toy with the idea of dipping into past owners and images, but decided against it because of privacy reasons. But I totally agree with you—I love getting glimpses of a home's history...now if only those walls could speak!