A Scandinavian-Inspired Renovation on a Budget in Chicago

updated Apr 30, 2019

A Scandinavian-Inspired Renovation on a Budget in Chicago

updated Apr 30, 2019
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Square feet
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Name: Nara, John, Halina and Lars
Location: Bucktown — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 1900 square feet
Years lived in: 2 ½ years

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While house hunting, home designer Nara and her husband stumbled across a short sale home with a very neglected interior. Although hesitant to take the plunge, Nara could envision the potential under the questionable (and very red) cosmetic surface. Now, two years and a lot of work later, the family cozily lives in their Scandinavian-inspired home.

Nara says the home really only needed cosmetic updating, but a lot of it. The first step involved the removal of the overwhelming red. Nara’s designer’s eye could see under the red mantel, marble, blinds, staircase carpets, and cabinets to reveal a less domineering facade. Slowly, they updated each room and accumulated both new and refurbished furniture to complete the vision.

Though the transformation required some patience, they are now very pleased with the results. In her words, “I am a designer and it’s my true passion in life. I love working on complete gut rehabs to simple home updates.”

“We really like the mid-century and contemporary look and have mixed a lot of new pieces with some great finds on Craigslist that I have re-painted or re-vamped a bit. Our whole goal was to do as much as we could ourselves and be budget conscious.”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: As a designer (Nara Staging and Design), I like a lot of different styles. I gravitate more to mid-century modern or Scandinavian design personally. I also like bohemian elements mixed in.

Inspiration: I love reading design blogs and get inspired by the effortless way people put together their homes. I really enjoy reading Emily Henderson’s blog. I also like bold patterns and colors from Jonathan Adler.

I also get inspired by giving a high-end look but not spending those high-end prices. I have a lot of pieces in my home that I have refurbished a bit and bought on Craigslist. Everything that is in my home was also at a great deal or on a super sale.

Favorite Element: We bought our home as a short sale, so when we initially moved in we started changing a lot of stuff. We had a lot of burgundy red in the house initially. We wanted the entire house to feel light and airy.

I think that the most drastic change that made the biggest impact was our staircase. The staircase itself was oak wood and had burgundy red carpet going all the way up and through our upstairs hallway. We put in hardwood floors and stained them gray, painted the banisters white, and added metal spindles to give it a more modern feel. I also love that we have a white kitchen now. We used to have dark cherry cabinets. We had them painted white and added the hardware and installed the subway tile backsplash ourselves.

Biggest Challenge: I think picking the perfect paint colors can be difficult at times. And wallpaper. I wanted something that I wouldn’t get tired of but was still striking at the same time.

What Friends Say: Our friends who have seen the house before we started rehabbing it cannot believe how different the staircase made it look!

People who come to the house for the first time always seem to like the wallpaper and the chandelier.

Biggest Embarrassment: I have two main ones. The outside! Especially the front yard. The grass will NOT grow. We had new sod put in and it keeps dying due to the lack of sun that we get because of the trees.

The other one is our master bathroom vanity. We painted it a while ago and there was a drawer front missing that we just recently installed, but now we just need to paint it. It’s minor but we still need to do it.

Proudest DIY: Neither John or I have done any tiling before, but we installed the kitchen backsplash ourselves. We literally watched Youtube like a 100 times to make sure we were going to do it right. It’s something that would probably take a professional like two hours to do and it took us all day, but we got it done and it saved us a lot of money!

Biggest Indulgence: Like I said, I’m a high/low designer. I like to get a high-end look at low prices and I hate paying full price on anything. It’s hard for me to splurge. But sometimes you need to spend a little more money for quality. We kind of splurged on our bed frame. I feel like the style is simple and we will never get tired of it.

Best Advice: Take time to really know what you like. Sometimes I feel like people just buy something to fill an empty space, which is fine, but sometimes finding what you really like takes time.

Also, don’t be afraid of color or patterns. Try new things! Paint can always be changed. Pillows are such an easy way to change the look of a room season to season, or just when you’re bored.

Dream Sources: My dream is to be able to totally gut an entire house and make it my own in every way! A Scandinavian modern farmhouse to be exact. I would also love to own some iconic original pieces like a womb chair or eames lounge chair.


Living Room/Kitchen – Sherwin-Williams Mountain Air
Staircase – Sherwin-Williams Languid Blue
Kitchen Cabinets – Benjamin Moore White Dove
Powder Room – Sherwin-Williams Springtime
Master Bedroom – Sherwin-Williams Daybreak
Master Bathroom – Sherwin-Williams Buoyant Blue
Nursery – Sherwin-Williams Repose Gray
Upstairs hallway bathroom – Benjamin Moore Wythe Blue
2nd bedroom (daughter’s room) – Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee, accent wall Benjamin Moore African Violet
Living room wallpaper – Graham & Brown

Custom Cabinet crafted by Design O9
Chandelier – Hand-me-down brass chandelier spray painted white

Lamp – West Elm
Coffee Table – Craigslist where base was spray painted white
Cabinet – Craigslist
Pillows – CB2
White chairs – Crate and Barrel Outlet with custom upholstered cushions
Bird Prints — Etsy
Curtains – Crate and Barrel

Dining Table – World Market
Credenza – Ikea custom designed
Chandelier – CB2
Dining chairs – CB2
Jellyfish Picture – garage sale find

Cabinets painted by Design O9
Plants – Sprout Chicago
Bench – CB2
Coathook – Eames knockoff (Wayfair)

Bed frame – Crate and Barrel
Taj Perez picture — Homegoods
Dresser — IKEA
Curtains – Homegoods
Chair – Craigslist with reupholstered cushions

Furniture was a hand me down from my sister
Moon Decal – Etsy
Owl mobile – Etsy
Black & White prints – Etsy
Bedding – Land of Nod

Bed — IKEA
Cabinet — IKEA
Cloud decals — Etsy
Chair – allie find, but from CB2
Black & White Prints — Etsy

Thanks, John and Nara!

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