Based in Chicago, designer Summer Thornton has mastered the art of the personalized interior, creating uniquely eccentric spaces with plenty of pizzaz. How does she do it? Armed with a wild array of colors and one-of-a-kind vintage finds, Summer throws the rules out to create marvelously maximalist homes. Her work has been recognized by design stalwarts like Traditional Home and Modern Luxury earning her marks as one of Chicago’s top designers. Here, take a peek at Summer’s collection of Chairish faves, and read on to discover her sources for design inspiration and go-to Chicago hot spots!
What do you love about shopping on Chairish?
I’m always looking for the unexpected and unusual and Chairish has that. Vintage and antique things give home that extra personality and individuality that you can’t get from new products.
Favorite way to add drama to a room:
Spectacular antique or vintage lighting!
Favorite source for design inspiration:
I’m a travel addict and find inspiration from over-the-top experiences. I’ve heard some people say they’re inspired by the everyday, but that’s not me. I like to visit grand palaces, museums, beautiful cities, exquisite restaurants and awe-inducing architectural marvels to get my creative thoughts flowing.
Favorite paint color:
I can’t pick a favorite! That’s like saying you have a favorite child! I almost never use the same paint color twice… I’m always looking for a new look, fresh color, etc., so once I’ve used something I rarely use it again.
Favorite pattern (and how you love to use it):
Much like paint colors, once I use a pattern I rarely use it again. It catches my heart and I put it into the world, but soon I find another love and find a way to work it into a project. I’ve been having a more British design mood for the past few months which may be skewing my favorites right now. We took a team trip to London and that really inspired me, so I’ve been weaving-in more Soane and small-scale block prints that give homes a cozy feel. But ask me again in 6 months and I’ll be on to the next. I see design as ever-changing and evolving and I am always incorporating new elements from various cultures and eras.
Favorite design rule to break:
All of them…just not all at once! Truly, I think the best designs have to break some rules, but if they break too many, they look trendy or like they’re trying too hard, and there’s nothing worse than a design that looks contrived. I’ll play with scale, contrasting colors, and laying of patterns in my projects all the time. It’s about finding the right balance of what feels different and new but still has enough familiarity and classicism not to feel jarring.
Favorite color combo:
I love when 10 or more colors all seamlessly blended together. Sure, there may be a lead or dominate color in some rooms, but most of my designs have over twenty colors in one room. I don’t believe in ‘schemes’ or ‘combos’ because I think they’re too isolated. I believe that when you blend twenty colors and patterns together you create a symphony-like feeling as opposed to a singular-instrument feeling that you might get from a more limited palette. One feels so much richer, diverse, and well-rounded whereas a more limited color combo feels flat in comparison.
Favorite way to mix high and low:
Great design is great design, regardless of price. I’ve seen amazing hand-made craftsmanship accessories or handicrafts while traveling abroad for $10-$20 but I’ve also at times found the perfect high-end accessory that costs thousands. When you find the right mix, the low items flow with the high and the whole look feels elevated.
Favorite way to work a bit of vintage into a room:
The more vintage the better if you ask me. So for me its not so much ‘working it in’ as it is the challenge of finding the right vintage pieces. But most of my design work early in concept work includes searching for vintage items. Finding a few that really catch my eye brings the concept to life. We use more vintage and antique than most other firms that I know— we think that age adds character and interest to each space so the more vintage the better!
Can you share with us any big projects you’re working on in 2019?
Every year we get some exciting new projects. Right now we’re designing a boutique hotel and we’re so fortunate that the developer is really trusting us to create a lifestyle experience that breaks the mold and is both irreverent and cultured at the same time. We’re just wrapping up a 3-year long custom 10,000 sqft home design & build that is going to be quite stunning. We’re also working on a large estate in Buckhead creating some of the chicest rooms we’ve ever designed. Those are just a few— We’ve got about 10-15 projects throughout the country going on at any given time. The variety of projects we get to work on every day is what keeps me creatively challenged and invigorated.
You live in Chicago. Is there such a thing as Chicago or “Midwest Design? What do your Chicago-based clients tend to ask for in terms of style?
I think great design transcends location. Certainly we make some decisions that are climate appropriate—for Chicago projects we incorporate mud rooms for snowy boots rather than open air verandas—but we’re working on projects all over the country now and most people come to us when they want a feeling of tradition and classicism but done in a fresh way, oftentimes with lots of color, pattern, and layers. Most of the people that hire our firm aren’t looking for the more typical midwestern design, they want something with more personality and a point of view.
Favorite travel destination to relax:
We take two weeks in Sayulita, Mexico every year where flip flops and a swimsuit are about all you need, plus a surfboard, if that’s your jam.
Favorite travel destination for design inspiration:
I take one international trip each year to a place I’ve never been before specifically for inspiration research. I’ve been to Russia, Argentina, Italy, France, India, Mexico, the UK. There are others, but those within the last few years. My favorites are typically cities with a European influence and classicism found in the architecture. Each has their charm and draw for different reasons. For color and textiles, India is great. For palaces and opulence, France or Russia. For moody romantic, it’s Buenos Aires, and for refinement and style, it’s Palm Beach.
Favorite hotel to check in to:
Any luxury boutique hotel in a foreign country.
Pinterest can create a dangerous rabbit hole.
Favorite morning beverage (and how you take it):
I drink good ol’ H20, preferably cold, but with no ice.
Favorite adult beverage:
We have ‘Wine Wednesday’ at our office for a reason.
Favorite thing to collect:
Everything. I collect vases, crosses, books, boxes, vintage fabrics, and the list goes on and on! Beautiful vintage boxes probably are my greatest weakness.
Your City: Chicago
Favorite hotel to recommend to visiting friends:
The Langham is the ultimate luxury experience—great staff, the only 5-star spa in Chicago, nice views, and a good location—what more could you ask for? But in a couple of years there will be a new hotel designed by our firm… So then you’ll have to switch!
Favorite local flea market/vintage hunting ground:
Redefined Decor is my favorite shop for picking up vintage treasures.
Lead image by Nick Johnson