Renowned designer, Jean Stoffer, shares her creative process in the complete floor-to-ceiling renovation of The Madison. Learn how she infused her classic style into the historic home.
How did you get into design?
I always felt like my safe space was numbers and analytical-type stuff, so I got a business degree with a focus in marketing. The economic climate when I graduated in 1982 was not great. There really weren’t that many people hiring. My dad suggested I get a real estate license, and at 22, I started selling real estate. It was my first realization that people could do amazing things with homes in terms of design. I saw a world open up to me, and it really interested me. I started getting design magazines and paying attention.
After I got married, I became an admin for an interior design firm in Chicago. It was a small firm, and the two women who owned it were really nice. They showed me the ins and outs of the industry: taking me to the merchandise mart, in some cases giving me little opportunities to do some selection for them. I enrolled in a drafting class at the junior college, and little by little I started doing things in my own home. My husband and I and a partner bought an apartment complex that needed to be gutted, and I designed all the kitchens on graph paper. I would study magazines and books and try to apply what I learned. And it really became something I liked more and more.
Custom 14"x14" Stone
How would you describe a Jean Stoffer home?
I think our experiences really shape how we think about things. I was raised in a family that really didn’t pay much attention to design and was more about making you feel welcome and comfortable. My friends loved coming to my house because it felt so warm. There was nothing about it that was designed! As I became more aware of the aesthetics of things, I wanted my home to also to be captivating and beautiful and function well, and that’s why the kitchen’s so interesting to me. A well-functioning kitchen is a thing of beauty.
Custom 14"x14" Stone
You’re working on your biggest renovation yet, the Madison. How did you get involved with that?
Soon after I finished our first project here in town, the builder and I said that we needed to do another project together. A client brought up a historic house downtown that dropped its price by $100,000. That made me curious. It was at a price point I couldn’t believe, I sent my oldest son, and he said, “This has amazing potential.”
I was very excited. But I know what these projects are like, and there’s no way I could have done it without being partners with a contractor. So I called Cory, the builder, and said, “I think we should buy it together as a spec house. I do all the design, you do the construction, and we make something amazing.” He went over there with his dad and he called me from the house and said, “I want it.” We closed on it the next month, in December 2017, and we have been working on it ever since.
It required literally everything: every system, we had to tear the staircase out, relocate bathrooms, digging out the basement—I can’t even. But it’s turning out to be something pretty doggone amazing.
Why did you choose to use Ann Sacks in the Madison?
There are several reasons why I use Ann Sacks, and not just in the Madison. There is a wide range of price points, so it can fit into almost any project. There is something about the texture on the tile surfaces that I find so interesting. The texture combined with the colors available are just right in our zone. We tend to go to the earthy, organic glazes, and Ann Sacks does it so right. The stone selections are also excellent. We truly are able to combine Ann Sacks stone with ceramics in so many great combinations, and we’re dealing with all one vendor. We have had superb customer service. From help in the showroom, to help over the phone, and then a box of samples—exactly what we need shows up what seems like the next day. All our interactions are so positive and helpful.
How did you choose the tile for that project?
There are seven bathrooms, a kitchen, a coffee bar, a cocktail bar, a basement bar, a butler’s pantry, a master coffee kitchen—there is tile everywhere in that house!
There is this sunroom that is almost 30-by-23, with windows on three sides, and it’s all going have this Ann Sacks tile that’s 14-by-14 antiqued marble, black and kind of dark charcoal and white. We’re going to do a checkerboard in the sunroom.
Custom 14"x14" Stone
Custom 14"x14" Stone
I love the idea of something with an understated glamour at a cocktail bar. So for the backsplash, we went with the Versailles Mesh Field tile, an antiqued mirror tile with wire mesh embedded in it. It has the perfect aesthetic of old and smoky, with a dash of rough thrown in. It will reflect the glassware in front of it, and pull some natural light from the windows on the other side of the room. It will be one moody, textured, fascinating spot to stir up a good cocktail.
For the coffee bar backsplash, I was fascinated by the subtle crackle in the Crackle Collection by Kohler WasteLAB. It’s a beautiful replication of old crazed tile, or tile with hairline cracks in the surface, found in buildings and homes of the era of the Madison. In fact, the original bathrooms and fireplaces had this naturally crazed finish on all the tiles. The coffee bar tile is a shade that looks like bone china. It is just luscious and works perfectly with the surrounding materials. I love the fact that the tile is made from crushing old Kohler porcelain pieces destined for a landfill. This tile is a great resource for my philosophy of finding and using the good things in a renovation or remodeling project and adapting them to a new use that elevates and inspires.
And then there’s the master bathroom, which is the height of luxury. It has the most beautiful fixtures and fittings, and so the finishes had to be at the same level of quality and design. I felt the floor tile was an excellent place to bring in the modern aesthetic that blends so well with classic design. A room that has both classic and modern elements seems to endure in a way that a room that is all one or the other cannot. The pattern and combination of marbles used to achieve the pattern in the Kelly Wearstler Doheny tile immediately drew my attention, and I knew it would be perfect for master bath. We laid the pattern in a random fashion to give the sense of a painting instead of a grid. I cannot handle how good it looks!
How does designing for spec differ from designing for clients?
It’s harder and easier depending on the situation. Logistically it’s a lot more cumbersome working with a client, although that’s what most of us are doing, and we really enjoy our clients. But also I’m not the one having to make the final decision. Luckily there are certain things that are universally tried and true; they’re amazing, classic, they’ve stood the test of time. I chose to stain all the floors in the Madison dark brown, because that’s always going to look good. There are trends that go here or there—bleached floors, gray floors, black floors—but dark brown in a historic home is always going to look good. It might not be everyone’s taste, but it’s very appropriate.