A contemporary house in Chicago. The ground floor has a kitchen and adjacent living room, then a sitting room and formal dining area, plus a WC and entrance area. The basement has a family room, cinema room, three bedrooms (all en suite), and a home gym. Upstairs are two further bedrooms, three bathrooms, the master suite, an office and a utility room.
Designer Jen Talbot’s take on this contemporary Chicago house is proof that the 1980s is a surprisingly rich style seam that’s ripe for mining. However, Jen points out, in looking back, selectivity was the key.
‘The client and I were both teenagers in the 80s, so we still had vivid memories of neon, pink squiggles and triangles. Not to mention big hair and too much eyeliner…’
But by keeping a tight focus, Jen has dipped into the decade of excess and picked out its greatest, most elegant hits. ‘I was very conscious of keeping things sophisticated,’ she says. ‘That way, the rooms will still feel relevant in the future.’
Getting into the right 1980s groove, Jen says, ‘Was a fantastic challenge. It pushed me into seeing things in a different light, and putting things together in fresh ways.’
Jen consciously avoided anything to faddy because, even when you’re referencing an era or a style, ‘You’re still looking for an element of timelessness’. She equates it to the allure of vintage fashion: ‘If you find a 1980s suit by Gucci or Dior, there’s a quality to its cut that elevates it and keeps it relevant.’
Graphic outlines and sugar-coated colours collide tocreate a new kind of harmony.
‘Colours will sometimes be applied in large sweeps with a wide brush; other times a tiny, delicate touch is all that’s needed,’ she says. ‘Those brushstrokes depend on the room itself and the client.’ Whether her strokes are large- or small-scale, Jen errs towards muted or deep tones rather than simplistic primary colours. ‘That way, colour feels more nuanced,’ she explains.
In Jen’s spaces, scale and texture also play their parts: ‘I’m always thinking in terms of balancing proportions and visual textures,’ she says.
Jen customised key vintage pieces, including this dining table, which is a combination of a bespoke oak top and a 1980s base. Statement dining chairs are similarly refreshed with a pretty in pink pattern.
Jen’s clients were high profile luxury property redevelopments, so the design bar was already set pretty high. ‘They have incredible taste but they also gave me free reign. And that’s when I work best,’ Jen explains.
Built in 2013, the contemporary style of this house was a change for Jen. ‘I usually feel at home in houses with period features, rather than a sleek box,’ she says.
Without fireplaces or mouldings to shape the spaces, Jen had to create her own focal points, but once she got researching, she was not short on standout statements.
Orbs, curves and cylindrical shapes create one supremely comfortable scheme in the living room.
Colour is a large part of this home’s style, with shades of turquoise, blush, camel and rust setting a luxurious mood, alongside expanses of granite. Jen’s approach to colour is fearless – and stems from her art school training and previous career as an installation artist.
‘I approach adding colour to a room in the same way as a painter approaches a canvas,’ she explains. This means that rather than use bright colours as a shock tactic, Jen always maintains a sense of the overall composition, be it the room or the house as a whole.
A curvaceous 1980s bed base had the sculptural shape Jen wanted, but was previously covered in an uninspiringmottled grey. Jen reupholstered it in a woven teal fabric to create this luxe centrepiece.
The 1980s artwork in the master bedroom plays with geometric shapes, while the wallpaper has echoes of op art.
Jen updated her vintage finds by setting them alongside pieces by new international designers, but also customised many of the late 1970s and 1980s pieces she sourced. A brilliantly bulbous bed base, shapely Giovanni Offerdi chairs and a three-piece suite encased in geometric frames all benefitted from her elegant revamps with fresh upholstery.
‘I loved being able to see the potential in a piece of furniture that other people overlooked simply because the fabric was sludgy and dull,’ she says.
And by bringing out the beauty of a design by recasting it in a deep teal or blush pink fabric, Jen has added another layer to its story. ‘To see the shape emerge again in a fresh colour was amazing,’ she adds.
Zigzags meet crisp-lined geometry - and the odd dash of bling.
With plenty of high-impact designs in each space, Jen keeps her compositions uncrowded, so neighbouring pieces of furniture don’t vie for attention: ‘You have to let some items in the room be the understudy,’ she adds.
‘In this smallest space, we just decided to go for it and have some fun,’ says Jen of this nightclub-worthy powder room.
The final 1980s element that brings this home to life is a superb selection of curves. They are at work everywhere, from the flowing folds of the Soriana sofa by Tobia Scarpa to contemporary tables by Agnes Studio and Sarah Ellison.
In part, the 1980s are responsible, but Jen is also thinking to the future. ‘To me, they soften the hard angles in this home and keep it feeling contemporary,’ she says. As Jen demonstrates, when delving into the 1980s, moderation is everything…
See more of Jen Talbot’s interior designs at jentalbotdesign.com
Photography / Dustin Halleck & Margaret Rajic