House Tour: Simple Everlasting
A few days into December, 8-year-old Arabella DiSanto greets visitors holding her rain boot. She tips it to show off what’s inside—candy left by St. Nick overnight. The European tradition feels just right in the DiSantos’ Cotswold-style Tudor home west of Chicago.
David and Renee moved to suburban Glen Ellyn eight years ago. “We looked at newer homes, but the older ones have charming nooks and features you don’t find in new constructions,” Renee says. The area was a health resort community at the turn of the last century, and in the decades following, quaint, old-world-style homes sprung up around Lake Ellyn. The DiSanto home dates to 1940. Though its distinct architecture attracted the couple, Renee (co-founder of the interior design firm Park and Oak) had no interest in creating a time capsule. “I intentionally mix different styles to create something unique and timeless,” she says. Scandinavian, French provincial, British Colonial … anything goes. The eclectic elements are bound by a common palette of natural wood, warm metals, modern whites and chic grays.
“One of the more difficult things to achieve is simplicity,” Renee reflects. She’s talking about the challenge of interior design, but the same could be said of the holidays. Luckily, Renee has a trick for that: Aside from a few festive throw pillows and a set of campy Christmas mugs, she goes almost entirely green. Garlands, wreaths and sprays (some real, some faux) deck every hall, room, door—even cake—in the house. After all, if any decorating choice is timeless, it’s evergreen at Christmas.
David and Renee renovated the home significantly when they moved in, opening up the kitchen to the main living room and painting most spaces white. One exception: the navy-verging-on-black island, which echoes the study’s deep gray walls. Preserved boxwood wreaths strung with dark red ribbons adorn the windows.
Olive, the DiSanto Bernedoodle, ambles through the master bedroom’s unpainted oak double doors. “The standard would be to paint them white or gray, but I wanted something unexpected,” Renee explains. “The natural wood adds something you might not notice, but it just feels different.”
In the kitchen, Renee included details like a farmhouse sink, vintage runner and brass cabinetry hardware to give a timeworn feel to an entirely new space.
Although Renee is a former baker, she doesn’t always have time for scratch-made goodies. “I’ll get a buttercream cake from Whole Foods,” she confides, “and decorate the top with sprigs of live greenery and fresh berries.”
Thoughtful use of vintage pieces is an insurance policy against a home looking dated—and can even feel modern. Renee explains how to nail an old-new look.
Leaning too heavily into one time period, such as mid mod or Mission, can feel theme-y. Shop across styles for a more natural, interesting and timeless look. Some of Renee’s top online sources for quality antiques include 1stdibs, Chairish, Sotheby’s Home and One Kings Lane.
Don’t limit an object to its original purpose. Renee has used a trunk as both a bench and a coffee table, and a secretary desk as a landing pad in the foyer and also as a mini bar. Besides being resourceful, repurposing can add a spark of spontaneity to a room.
Renee says white walls give vintage pieces a modern feel. A few shades she turns to again and again: Benjamin Moore’s Super White for its subtle gray undertones; White Dove for an off-white that’s not too warm or too cool; and Chantilly Lace for a crisp, clean style.
Holiday throw pillows dress the banquette in the breakfast nook (formerly the mudroom), and a fresh cedar swag drapes along the windows. “I like using faux greenery,” Renee says, “but I love the holiday scent fresh brings indoors.” Mist fresh evergreens daily to ward off dryness.
To decorate her table, Renee starts with a base of cedar clippings or a garland nestled around mismatched brass candlesticks, linen napkins, and antique glassware. Her favorite cut flowers for the holidays are white and black anemones and white hydrangeas, mixed with sprays of feathery seeded eucalyptus.
Renee’s oil paintings, abstract works and black-and-white photos in assorted frames make a strong argument for letting loose on a gallery wall. You don’t have to do all white frames or all photos, but you do have to play around a lot with the arrangement, Renee says: “It’s all about balancing the textures and tones.” The display flanks an antique chest where she stores board games and toys, topped for the holidays with a lively bunch of faux orange branches.
On her shelves, Renee mixes vintage treasures with new art or travel souvenirs for a two-way halo effect: New pieces give fresh life to the old, and old pieces give an heirloom-by-association quality to the new.
Since the study is a pass-through from the entry to the living room, Renee painted it dark gray so that it would have a distinct character from the white spaces on either side. A twinkly faux evergreen garland tops the shelves. Renee’s favorite sources for lifelike greens include Terrain, Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and Target.
Renee tucks petite floral arrangements anywhere she can, including on the study’s tray table-turned-mini bar.
The wood-burning brick fireplace is original to the house. A large mirror above the mantel doubles as a gilt frame for the wreath. “This room is my favorite,” Renee says. “It’s so cozy."