BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Designing windows at Ultimo, Chicago’s first luxury boutique, which reigned for 40 years on Oak Street, introduced Eva Quateman to interior design.
“I started as a salesgirl but when the window dresser went on vacation, Joan Weinstein asked me to fill in. It was easy when one designer such as Missoni or Sonia Rykiel was being featured, but at the end of the season we would have to show an eclectic mix of designers because so much had already sold. Joan loved what I did with a little bit of this and that—very eclectic—which is something you find in interior design.”
From window dressing and accessory buying at Ultimo for its legendary owner Joan Weinstein and freelance photo styling at Marshall Field’s to designing her son’s room to the raves of family members 33 years ago, Eva has carved out a career designing for the discerning.
Not surprisingly, with her fashion background, Eva always starts an interior design project for her clients from across the continent (as well as in Chicago) with fabric. That is her key; her foundation.
“Even when it starts with construction, I think of fabrics first. Textiles do so much for the room and set the whole tone, color, and feel of a room. As a matter of fact, it makes me crazy when someone asks, ‘What color should I paint the room?’ I would say let’s find the fabrics first and then we’ll decide.”
When she is unable to locate the exact fabric she envisions, Eva creates it, including a recent set of silk draperies. Sewing together two different fabrics, adding trim to pillows—this is all is part of her aim to find the greater perfection.
“Years ago, a client gave me 100 yards of mohair to work with, saying that she wanted a whole room designed around it. Now, mohair isn’t my favorite fabric nor brown my favorite color, but one thing lead to another and I began to see it as an opportunity to think out of the box. I had fun pulling textiles together, adding red and brown draperies, and all of a sudden it became my favorite room in the house, thanks to the variety of fabrics.”
When asked to fill the massive Merchandise Mart front window with a living room space for the Design Center’s DreamHome last year, Eva realized that what she had came up with reminded her of an updated version of her own home which she created 10 years ago.
“I wanted a very sophisticated, glamorous apartment. I was going for post-war New York, when New York was the epicenter of design. Mixing a modern sofa with a French bergère, and an abstract piece of art topped off with a touch of chinoiserie, I aimed for a modern salon. I have added new fabrics which give a subtle update.”
With work that takes her from Mexico to Rhode Island and frequently to Florida, Eva finds it hard to fit in stay-at-home time. But Eva her new furniture line of occasional pieces, little side tables and small chairs with an antique feel that she calls “little jewels,” will certainly help brighten up our own time in our own homes.
She graciously took time from her travels to answer our design questions.
What are your color tenets?
I love contrasting colors like black and white. Or sometimes I use the exact same color over and over with different textures and sheens. I then like to break it up with art, accessories, and touches of gold and black.
Overall, what are you trying to achieve with your designs?
A mix of scale is most important. I like large sofas with small tables and little chairs with tall ceilings.
What tips would you give to someone looking to make a few changes in their environment that might bring them joy and provide a fresh outlook?
Clear out the clutter. A few well-placed things in a sensible arrangement look better than a whole bunch of stuff.
I like to leave some negative space in a room. I frequently donate two hours of my time for charity auctions and then edit at a person’s home—they say they love it!
How do you deal with a client’s art and accessories?
Sometimes we have a whole project surrounding a person’s art—that’s the star of the show. On the other hand, some projects have the interior as the star, and the art becomes the supporting player.
What trends do you see in second and third houses?
In Florida, we have built several houses from the ground up and the flow with the outside, off of verandas and into gardens, is equally as important as the house’s interior. I do not do landscapes but will consider how you progress down to the pool house, for example.
Are there certain rooms that tend to be client favorites?
Multi-purpose rooms are fun and so important to get right. People are devoted to their TVs and we find ways to hide them behind cabinets and make the old idea of a ‘TV room’ something much, much more.
And like her creations, Eva is something “much, much more.” She is not just a designer, but a dedicated volunteer and philanthropist. Eva and her husband Gary devote significant time to the local chapter of Boys Hope Girls Hope, which provides children with stable homes, education, and financial and emotional support. The couple personally helped to renovate 14 bathrooms for student residences in Evanston. Last year they were honored with the Sheridan S.J. Leadership Award, recognizing their continued service to the non-profit.
In addition to her charity work, what Eva most loves is working with her clients, many of whom she says are 10 to 15 years younger than she is. She says, “I am at a stage where I am old enough to mentor them, but young enough to still be hip.”
We have a feeling, no matter her age, Eva will always be hip.