Summer Thornton is one of my favorite young designers. She has such a knack for creating luxurious spaces, blending rich colors and textures with bold patterns and classic silhouettes. Her designs infuse high-end interiors with modern elegance and a major dose of glamour. Based in Chicago, Summer has completed projects across the nation. After honing her design skills working at a high-end European textile company as well as working with several other interior designers, Summer decided to go into business for herself and founded her design firm in 2007.
One of the things I love most about Summer’s work is the fact that the spaces she designs are completely chic and luxurious, yet I don’t find them to be reflective of any specific age group. They don’t feel too young or too stuffy which is one of the defining marks of a well-designed home. I recently had the opportunity to visit with Summer about her work, inspiration, and her recently revamped website. Be sure to visit for an in-depth look at her gorgeous work. Her words of advice in her “About” section are priceless: “Reference the past, don’t repeat it. More is more. Use patterns and colors recklessly.”—I couldn’t agree more!
La Dolce Vita: What inspired you to begin your career in interior design?
Summer Thornton: Looking back it seems rather obvious that I would end up doing interior design. I can still remember picking out my own wallpaper for my bedroom as a very young child, I was always fascinated by pretty restaurants & light fixtures, and unique furnishings, and I always loved helping my mom with our family home. But it never really dawned on me that I could make a living appreciating, collecting, and designing those beautiful things until I was in college.
LDV: What do you love most about your profession?
SD: Where else can you get paid to shop with someone else’s money? I’m not sure what could be more fun than that. Ha. But actually my favorite part of the job is being able to create, to stretch my mind with new color combinations, new patterns, new textures, and weave them all together into a cohesive and stimulating final product. My favorite days are the days where I get to just purely think of new design plans/ideas, and the days where we actually install and complete those plans – the first is where I see it in my head, and the latter is where it actually becomes a reality and everyone else can see it the way I envisioned it.
LDV: How would you describe your style?
ST: This is probably the toughest question to answer for me. Part of my design sensibilities are to never do the same thing twice and to have every project look unlike any other that I’ve done before, so pinpointing a particular style is tough. I really love being able to provide a range of different aesthetics – that’s what keeps my interest and allows me to feel challenged.
One way that I tend to describe my style is "cultured irreverence". To me that’s a matter of understanding the prestige of certain pieces, knowing the ‘rules’ of period and style and color, but intentionally breaking those rules so as to create tension and modernity. It’s about being comfortable enough with who you are to place a $10 flea market find on top of a fine antique, or to mix traditionally ‘clashing’ colors or competing patterns in the same room. Together they give a home more personality, intrigue, and unpretentiousness while still feeling chic and luxurious. All in all, my style is about beauty and a little bit of glamour without taking oneself or their home too seriously.
With that said, my style does have a few general tendencies. Oftentimes I use traditional shapes or architecture, particularly those with influences from France, and I contrast it with more modern patterns. My designs are typically a bit towards the glamorous side – I love deco. And I’m absolutely a maximalist…that whole ‘less is more’ thing has never resonated with me.
LDV: Who are your style icons?
ST: In terms of interiors, I always appreciate the work of Miles Redd, Todd Romano, and Kelly Wearstler. But oftentimes I find my style inspiration outside of the interiors world. Tom Ford, Grace Coddington, Karl Lagerfeld, and Tracy Reese come to mind.
LDV: Where do you turn for inspiration?
ST: Oftentimes my inspiration comes from editorial and fashion photography. I’m an avid magazine reader and pull inspiration from Vogue, the World of Interiors, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest and House Beautiful pretty regularly. Of course I love blogs too – there are too many good ones to mention them individually but I’ve got a list on my site of a few of my favorites.
With that said, I’d say the majority of my inspiration comes from travel. This year I traveled to Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) and Prague. The year prior was France and Italy. Before that was India. Those deep immersions into other cultures, customs, and aesthetics really stretches my imagination. And as much as I hate to say it, I think there’s a greater appreciation for creativity, aesthetic, and impracticalities oftentimes in Europe than there is here in the states.
LDV: Which celebrity would you most love to design a home for?
ST: I’m not sure if she’s a ‘celebrity’ in the traditional sense, but Grace Coddington, the Photo Director of Vogue magazine has been an inspiration to me for many years. She’s a visionary, she loves romanticism and etherealism but also understands pop and modernity. I envision her home as an enchanted forest with lace and patina and unkempt wildness but contrasted with hyper-saturated colors and quirky shapes. Call it granny-chic meets pop.
I’ve also thought it would be great to design for Rachel Zoe. She throws caution to the wind, is a ‘more is more’ kind of gal with her fashions, and we both say ‘Major’…though I can honestly say I was saying it before her, ha. But I’d particularly love to design a home for her because I feel like her homes don’t reflect her true lifestyle or design sensibilities. They’re sleek, modern, simplistic…but her life and her fashion tendencies don’t seem to match that in my opinion.
For more of Summer Thornton’s stunning design work, be sure to visit her freshly revamped website!