Kate's "House of Romanov" House Tour

Kate's "House of Romanov" House Tour

Carolyn Purnell
Nov 15, 2013
(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

Name: Kate Heilman
Location: North Center; Chicago, Illinois
Size: 1,200 square feet (2 bedroom, 2 bathroom)
Years lived in: 6.5 years; owned

Kate Heilman has proved that it's possible to have a two-bedroom palace right in the center of Chicago. Drawing heavily on family heritage, a love of Alexander Palace, and a fascination with history, she has managed to build a cozy, light-filled sanctuary brimming with books, icons, Russian antiques, and bespoke art.

(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

Every element of Kate's home is carefully considered. Objects with deep history, like the antique samovar given to her by her parents, intermingle with personal collections, such as the Soviet propaganda that lines the hallway and the small souvenirs from Kate's many travels, which can be found amongst her impressive stock of books. It may be a little unconventional but Lenin, who kickstarted the whole propaganda collection, has pride of place by the front door. Kate also went against the grain with her decision to convert the smaller, darker bedroom into her master, leaving the large, light-filled room at the front of the condo available for use as a library. Because of the deep thought that Kate has put into each aspect of her home, it feels exceedingly comfortable and conducive to her day-to-day life.

Even the newer items in the home have been purchased with a great deal of forethought. The bookshelves in the library were modeled after a photo with which Kate fell in love, an image of Aleksandra Romanov nestled into a reading nook in her private quarters. All of the upholstered furniture was methodically researched and tested for Kate's ultimate criterion: comfort. Instead of the low-slung, sleek lines of mid-century modern, Kate takes her cues from the cushy, plump curves of traditional furnishings. "I want a chair that you can sink into and put your feet up in," she told me, and one distinctly gets the sense that a piece of furniture only gets the green light from Kate if you could spend all day in it with a blanket, tea, and a good book. (Or, a blanket, tea, and some beadwork, since Kate's favorite creative outlet is making jewelry.)

Kate is a master of slow decorating, and the search for the perfect piece can take her years (was was the case with the recently acquired leaf-print armchair). As a result, her apartment has organically taken shape, unfolding gradually over the years into a deeply meaningful space.

(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Homage to the Romanovs and Soviet propaganda meets plush furniture.

Inspiration: I have always worked to make where I live a comfortable refuge. When I bought my place a few years ago, I was able to able to create a room I have always wanted – a library – that was inspired by the Mauve Boudoir, which was the private refuge of Empress Aleksandra of Russia.

I am drawn to pieces with colors and textures, but most importantly, furniture has to be comfortable. As I keep things for a long time, it can take me a while to select and decide on a piece.

Favorite Element: My library/jewelry work space. When I moved in, I had set aside some money to have my bookcase sectional designed, and I love how they turned out. I found a carpenter online and had him design it to my specifications.

Biggest Challenge: Finishing my place. When you search for the perfect pieces it can delay the process.

What Friends Say: “When can I move in?” or “How are things at the Katherine Palace?” My dad always talks about how much he loves my place, and when new people come over he wants to know if they like it.

Biggest Embarrassment: That I do not use my large balcony; I think I am the only person in my building without any furniture on theirs.

Proudest DIY: If DIY includes one’s parents, then hanging the wall of framed Soviet propaganda I collected over the years.

Biggest Indulgence: The bookcase in my library.

Best Advice: From my sister — to use the second bedroom as my room, as it is dark and quiet, both of which I need in order to sleep.

Dream Sources: The Alexander Palace that was redecorated by Aleksandra; places I have traveled; memories of family and friends.

(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

Resources of Note:


  • Red wooden bench: Nadeau
  • Antique mirror: Bought at a local shop going out of business
  • Hallway of framed Soviet propaganda
  • Black and oat colored indoor/outdoor rug: Ballard Designs


  • Kitchen Aid
  • Russian tea set: Lomonosov Porcelain Cobalt Net (carried back from St. Petersburg by my mom and aunt)
  • Dining room table: Ashford table from Pottery Barn
  • Dining room chairs: 6 Pertsorka slipcovers and Parsons chairs, Cassona
  • Buffet: Nadeau
  • Antique Russian Samovar: my high school graduation gift from my parents
  • Framed pictures above the dining table: from a street artist in St. Petersburg, Russia


  • Coffee table: World Market
  • LG Plasma TV: ABT
  • Media hutch: Kavari Storage and Media Console, Crate and Barrel
  • Plush leaf print chair: Walter E. Smithe
  • Estate sofa, tone-on-tone rust color: Walter E. Smithe
  • Adeline rug: Pottery Barn
  • Two framed pictures by Karla Gudeon
  • Two framed paintings by my friend Lena Kapitonova
  • Framed painting of woman's eyes by Ukranian artist


  • Wall of bookcases: Chicago Woodworks
  • Armchair and ottoman: Sutton chair in willow, Arhaus
  • Vine print sofa/pull-out couch: Sofa Express
  • Off-white wicker end table: Jamaica Bedroom and Bath Collection, Pier 1
  • Off-white wicker trunk: Jamaica Bedroom and Bath Collection, Pier 1
  • Black Oxford file cabinet: Home Decorators
  • Black MS Larsson Desk: Home Decorators
  • Variety of pictures: scenes of St. Petersburg, Prague, Romanovs, two leaf collage pictures by a local artist
  • Floral end tables: Cassona
  • Terra cotta artwork by an Israeli artist
  • Black end table: CB2
  • Clare floor lamp in antique bronze: Crate and Barrel
  • Sliding panels: IKEA
  • Bird clock: Praha
  • Romanov icon corner: Russian Orthodox icons
  • Custom designed Russian nesting dolls (matryoshki) of the last Romanovs (Nicholas, Aleksandra, Anastasia, etc.)
  • Various tchotchkes from my travels and Russia
  • Many, many books


  • Vintage 1960s wooden dresser: this was my sister's (and then my) dresser from our nursery furniture set
  • Maroon wooden floor lamp: Praha
  • Red brick with studs storage bench: Grandin Road
  • Framed pictures: prints from Venice, two inherited pictures, Tree of Life picture
  • Two wooden nightstands: Nadeau
  • Standing Britton Mirror (1930s look): Ballard Designs
(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

Thanks, Kate!

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