Time for another Design Diaries, my loves! Today I’m featuring Summer Thornton of Summer Thornton Design! Known for her bold and colorful interiors, her designs bring light to any room she touches. While she considers the inspiration for her own home to be an adorable ‘granny chic’, Summer doesn’t have a signature style. Instead she focuses on bringing her client’s homes to life with their passions, quirks, and personality. Each room is a different layer of the owners soul. Needless to say – with Summer’s undeniable talent and enigmatic presence, this #bossbabe is going to do big things!
Check out my interview with Summer for her favorite tips and why sometimes a little wanderlust is the best inspiration! For more Design Diaries features, visit my new Design Diaries page :) XO
Design Diaries: Summer Thornton
1. How did you initially get into the interior design business?
I always had an interest in fashion and homes since I was a little kid. I can still remember looking at wallpaper borders with my mom as a toddler. As I went through high school I had a home economics class – I dont know if they even have those any more – but I got to do a few little projects with both fashion and interior design. The more time I spent with it, I really loved interiors.
So I pursued it further in college where I started working for another designer as an intern, then assistant. After college I worked for several designers and really owe a lot of my knowledge to them, but in 2007 I decided to take the leap and started my own firm.
2. Where do you seek inspiration if you ever feel like you are in a creative rut?
Anytime I can experience something fantastical and experiential it energizes me. Whether I’m taking a vacation to a remote island or touring a palace in France or Russia, I’m always inspired by beauty – natural or a historical man-made beauty. For me, when I can escape the every day, I’m able to recharge and the creative ideas start flowing again. For this very reason, I try to take a trip somewhere interesting or exotic at least 4 times per year so I’ve always got an upcoming event to get me inspired and designing something great again.
In the past couple years I’ve been to India, Thailand, Russia, France, Mexico, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Palm Springs, Palm Beach, etc etc. Here’s a post about a trip to Palm Beach I took.
3. How would you describe your personal/signature style when it comes to designing homes?
My style is definitely traditional at its core, but infused with bold color and curated pieces that give each space a unique personality. I don’t believe in a ‘signature style’ – some designers have one look, but I just don’t identify with that philosophy. I like to create a broader range of looks by understanding each client’s personality and really bringing that to the forefront in their project’s design. For my own home I’d say I’m an old fashioned maximalist. Layers, pattern, texture, a little granny chic but enough edge to keep it fresh and young too.
4. Do you have a specific home that you have designed that became your favorite project?
I always think the next project will be my favorite. For me the creative process, coming up with new ideas and the spark of creativity, is really what excites me most. Once it’s complete I’m more excited about the next opportunity to design again. But definitely there have been projects that stood out and were particularly fun.
When I worked on my friend Andrea Levoff’s house, we had so much fun. She wasn’t afraid to make a statement – she’s hilarious (she’s a comedian) so we laughed all the time, and she was so trusting even when we had crazy ideas. I think she approved about 98% of our recommendations immediately with no questions asked, just an ‘Yes, I love it, lets do it!”. When you have that level of trust and willingness to go for it, the end result is always fantastic. In this case it was bold, colorful, whimsical, & fearless – it represented her personality so well. Now we’re working on a second home for her which is proving to be just as fun as the 1st. Here’s a tour of her Lincoln Park Home.
We source a ton of vintage and antique pieces for our projects because they add a lot of personality and style.
5. Are there any brands that you consistently use when you are designing homes?
Some people have their ‘go to’ brands, but for me I’m always looking for something really different. Once I’ve used something, I rarely want to use it again. Last year our firm bought from over 300 different sources – that’s why nothing in our portfolio looks like a catalog, but instead looks like it was curated over time. In particular we source a ton of vintage and antique pieces for our projects because they add a lot of personality and style, so while it isn’t a particular ‘brand’, we do have a handful of favorite vintage shops that we regularly source from.
6. Do you have any tips for Chicagoans transitioning their home into spring / for a fresh look?
I do a light refresh on my home each spring. As an example, in my living room I swap out an oriental rug for sisal, I change deep red lampshades for white linen, and I swap a few deeper-toned pillows in velvet for lighter ones in cotton. It gives it a fresh feel to accompany fresh cut tulips, peonies, and spring flowers. Then in the fall I flip it back!
I believe that homes should be timeless and treated differently than fashion… So when I started to see trends, I usually try to steer my designs away from it.
7. Are there any decor trends that you are seeing and loving for 2017?
I’m anti-trend …sometimes I say “today’s trendy is tomorrow’s tacky.” I believe that homes should be timeless and treated differently than fashion. Sure I’ll do a few quick little fun trendy accessories or pillows here and there but I know they have to go after a year or two. So when I start to see trends, I usually try to steer my designs away from it.
The big trends that I’m seeing right now are heavy pushes for industrial looks – exposed brick, industrial plumbing fixtures, lots of brown and black, etc. I might mix in a piece or two that’s more industrial but overall I think that singular look has been overdone and will look dated in a few years. When every restaurant in Chicago has the same look, you know its been overdone. The ‘all white kitchen’ is another thing that I’m over and I hope will go away. I’m not opposed to some white cabinets, but white cabinet, with white countertop with white sink is boring and unoriginal and in 10 years will be dated to the 2010-2020 era.
8. Do you have any quick tips for homeowners wanting to reorganize their spaces but in a stylish way?
There’s nothing more beautiful than built-ins. They can make any hot mess look organized and stylish when done right. Your weird collection of trinkets and pile of books you haven’t read in 20 years can look fabulous in a well designed built-in.
9. What would your dream home look like?
I’d probably have 5 or 6 if we’re really dreaming here, and each would be different. I’d have a beach house in Mexico that’s all white stucco with tons of fun brightly colored Mexican embroidery and religious icons. I’d have a city house here in Chicago – victorian era with original plaster moldings and updated in a fresh but traditional manner. I’d have an old Parisian pied-a-terre with chevron floors, ornate dental moldings, and tons of antiques from the St Ouen Marche aux Puces flea market. The list goes on but those would be at the top of the list…
10. Are there any decor tips that everyone should know?
- A colorful home makes for a colorful life.
- If your neighbors are doing it, you probably shouldnt.
- Collections and curiosities give a home soul
- If you’re seeing it everywhere (particularly in catalogs) its overdone and already out of style
- Tradition never goes out of style
- Antique and vintage pieces are more kid-friendly than new – they’ve already got a few chips and scratches – its called character!
- Beige is for boring people.
- No great design was ever created without a little bit of risk
- Your home is a reflection of your personality – dont be afraid to stand out
- Always say no to faux – natural materials will patina and age adding character to the design
Summer Thornton Design is a boutique luxury interior design firm located in Chicago.
Follow Summer + the Summer Thornton team on Instagram to stay up to date with her current projects!