A Family Affair

December 2017 View more

Like many suburban homes, the Esslinger family’s two-story Downers Grove abode is chock full of life’s daily accessories: School papers, sports cleats and electronics dot their beautiful house, remnants of a full life that couple Chad and Patty relish, especially during the holidays. Their ease with each other and their three children— Maddie, 10, Hannah, 8 and Ben, 6—creates a comfortable setting for both work, play and entertaining.

While Patty works in a nearby office as a CEO, Chad works from home—and his home office is, quite literally, his work. As principal of Chad Esslinger Design, his passion is the creation of meaningful living spaces, including his own. Naperville magazine recently spent some time with the Esslingers to get pro tips from Chad on seasonal and holiday decorating. As a devoted husband, father and designer, you’ll find his approach is both charming and realistic.

The large, arched window in the front living room makes the perfect backdrop for the larger of two family Christmas trees (the kid-friendly ornaments are on a smaller tree in the family room), decorated with coordinating ornaments. “We call that room the lounge,” says Chad. “It’s kind of a vintage-looking room meant to spark conversation.”

Some of the antiques in the Esslinger’s home belonged to Chad’s maternal grandmother, Nadine Massey. He says about the same time he was furnishing his first apartment, “she had these really cool older pieces and gave them to relatives, and I took as much as I could so it wouldn’t disappear.”

“I love mixing old and new,” Chad says. “A room decorated with vintage and contemporary pieces looks a lot more personalized, not cookie-cutter.”

Prior to her death in 2015, Chad’s grandmother “entertained a lot and had a lot of great things,” he says. Massey’s love of entertaining rubbed off on the couple, and now Patty and Chad host family and friends for most holidays.

Unique light fixtures are a standout feature of the Esslinger home. “Lighting to me,” says Chad, “is the number-one way to update a house and really give it personality.”

Another seasonal suggestion he offers is adding wreaths inside and out, which creates warmth in a home during the gloomy winter months. “As things get gray outside, it’s really nice to have green on the windows,” says Chad. He hangs several preserved boxwood wreaths (purchased from Wayfair.com) in front of windows using decorative ribbons that match each room’s décor. His designer tip: staple ribbon loops together, hiding the seams behind or on top of window coverings (see opposite page).

Another of Chad’s favorite tools of the trade: spray paint. He uses this inexpensive product to give modern DIY pops of color to antique furniture. The teal end table to the left of the couch in the cabin (opposite page) is an example of a modern accent in an otherwise traditional room.

Giving attention to these small details makes a big impact in design. From the sparkle of metallic ornaments to the richness of seasonal textiles, it’s the little things that make any home shine bright during the holidays with minimal budget and effort.

Home: The decorative shelves are full of family artifacts that Chad has turned into artistic keepsakes, including an antique film projector. “Hannah loves movies and she wants to be an actress. And the red pinewood derby car,” he continues, “was from when I was a kid.”

For Mother’s Day last year, Esslinger created these three silhouettes of their children for his wife, Patty. “I love having things that tell stories.”

Esslinger studied industrial design at the University of Illinois and spent the first part of his career designing products, including this mirror.

Kitchen: The Esslingers added crown molding and new hardware to update existing cabinets after purchasing their home three years ago.

Updates to the kitchen island included beadboard and a contrasting paint color, creating an inviting family activity center.

Cabin in the ’Burbs
Each room in the Esslinger home is decorated a little differently. A sunroom in the back of the house—affectionately referred to as “The Cabin”—has a woodsy feel. “But it’s not traditional country cabin,” says Chad. A faux animal head spray-painted in glossy white gives it a modern twist. Most of the décor in the room stays year-round, but Chad changes the pillows seasonally. “Pillows are one of my favorite things to add personality to a room. I rarely do two of the same pillow as a pair.”

Holiday Accents
Chad incorporates greenery throughout the home all year, but especially during the holidays. He says boxwood sprigs and loose ornaments “add a little pop of color and sparkle.” When asked for his local greenery source, he chuckles and admits,
“I saved them when I trimmed the bushes for the last time this fall.”