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How to Combine Classical and Contemporary Interior Design: An Interview with France Lefebvre of Renaissance Interior Design of Chicago

By France Lefebvre

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Founded in 2006, in Lake Bluff, IL by owner France Lefebvre, Renaissance Interior Design of Chicago is a full service residential design firm serving the North Shore and the greater Chicago area and also specializing in the vacation home market in and out of state.

A native of Montreal, Canada, France's distinctive style can be viewed on her extensive website where you will see the different design styles that she has created for her clients, whether traditional, transitional or contemporary. One consistent theme, regardless which style you look at in her portfolio, is the subtle use of elements, which creates a relaxed layered elegance that is unique to her.

Design services are determined by the scope of a project and the client's budget. Here is a list of all services that are offered by Renaissance Interior Design of Chicago:

Paint Consultation:
Clients can hire the firm on an hourly or project basis to prepare a painting plan for their entire house or certain rooms.

Wall Covering:
Most wallpapers, fabrics and natural fibers require a special expertise to find and select and also an expert for installation. This will be achieved through consultation with the client and research by the firm with the various vendors.

Custom Cabinetry:
Whether new or existing construction, most cabinetry is custom because it has to be built to fit a specific area. Therefore, custom cabinetry requires the help of a professional, whether it be a kitchen, bathroom, master closet, media unit, office unit or shelving. Hiring a professional will ensure success in this endeavor and will provide a unique look. We can achieve this by CAD (computer assisted design) and consulting with the client to create the desired look and functionality, then contract the work.

Furniture Selection:
There is so much choice available for fantastic furniture. Unfortunately retailers offer only a fraction of it, with perhaps fewer options such wood finishes and pre-selected fabrics, which do not always work for the client. Clients may also find that at the retail level, quality and durability can be an issue. So why compromise when there is a plethora of possibilities that a designer can provide.

Fabric Selection:
If clients need to select fabric for various tasks like window treatments, pillows, bedding, upholstery, again some are offered at the retail level, but a designer through a distributor/manufacturer has access to an unlimited number of possibilities and price points to satisfy all needs without having to compromise.

Flooring Selection:
Area rugs, carpet, vinyl, ceramic or porcelain tiles, natural stones all have different properties for different environments. It is important to understand that an independent designer will help clients select what is best for their needs and will also have greater access to all materials because we deal with multiple sources and have acquired the knowledge to make those choices.

We are trained to execute space planning, furniture layout, lighting layout for maximum efficiency and look. This will ensure that all the furniture and lighting to be purchased will fit in the designated space. It will prevent costly mistakes.

There is a multitude of ideas that a trained designer can bring to satisfy the needs for customization of any rooms whether a complete makeover, new window treatment or paint color. This will add that special touch that clients are seeking and will provide a designer look.

At Renaissance, we rely on a multitude of sources to execute flawlessly, the countless tasks required to build, sew, electrify, install and much more. By hiring us, clients are ensuring that we will recommend and/or manage tested professionals in their own field of expertise, and with whom we have a solid relationship and tested results. That can make a great deal of difference in meeting deadlines and budgets, and in ensuring the success of a project.

The finishing touches are the most important aspects of a project. A designer can help a client with the selection and purchasing of home accessories, artwork, furniture, flooring, fabrics, lighting and more. We know where to go to get all the good stuff! We, of course, can purchase practically anything for your home and have a huge repertoire of suppliers to select from available to trade only professionals. That is the difference between the client and us.

Can you briefly explain what classical interior design is? Contemporary design?

Classical design is the root of all forms that create the basis of interior design. The Greeks and Romans often used motifs to decorate and ornate their furniture, pottery, textiles and in their architecture. Some are, to name a few, vine patterns, palmette and honeysuckle, greek key or fret border, lotus, spiral wave, anthemion acanthus and mosaic patterns. And of course columns, whether Greek or Roman, were widely used in architecture and furniture throughout history thus making classical design available for all to see and experience.

Take for example the Klismos chair invented by the Greeks. It is a classical Greek chair with curved legs, splayed at the front and back with a concave curved back.

The back was curved for comfort and extended to the side to provide extra comfort, mainly for women. Unfortunately, no chairs were recovered from that period and the only available images are found in frescoes. However, it has not stopped countless furniture makers all over the world from creating their version of it more than 2000 years later. So the Klismos chair keeps getting multitudes of designs with every century that passes to adapt to our evolving lifestyles and expertise. New materials become available and better manufacturing techniques are developed providing the possibility to achieve even more designs than ever before. There is probably an "App" coming soon that will give you access to your own version of the Klismos chair.

There would be no contemporary design of any kind in any medium if it weren't for classical design. Therefore, contemporary design is the product of classical design and its influence is an adaptation in the simplicity of the lines and colors. Contemporary design is more streamlined and the use of space is also different. Classical design is more textural and contemporary design is smoother to the eye. Contemporary design can also be more monochromatic because of the use of neutral colors like white, black and beige and grey is more prevalent.

With that said, I think that the Klismos chair is my favorite classical piece of furniture because it ties us to the past with a great sense beauty and style and with each century it's modern interpretation becomes more and more interesting. Those curved legs and back are as unique as the human who created it. By choosing this example, I wanted to show that design is always evolving but the base remains the same, beauty and functionality whether it is classical interpretation of it or contemporary.

What are some of the first things you ask your clients who want to fuse classical and contemporary styles in their homes?

The first thing I would ask my client is how they want to live in their space, how will that space be used and what budget we will have to work with? I would then want to know which style they prefer between the two, classical or contemporary, and which elements in both would matter to them, by showing them examples to narrow the focus. I would want the client to cut out interior design magazines and save the pictures that resonate for them, and also to go online to a site like HOUZZ and share an idea portfolio with me, so I can assess their taste.

I would want to consider their existing furniture and accessories and find out what they want to keep or not and how we would incorporate them into our new design, depending on their existing styles. Once that is accomplished, I would then be able to develop a design strategy to merge my clients' taste, their needs and my creative ideas. So, the process is the same whatever style the client has in mind. Once styles are fused you have to make sure that they will flow together and be true and not look overdone.

How can people add contemporary look and feel to a home that is classically decorated?

I would begin by painting the walls all white to start the process. This first step would accomplish several things. First, it would showcase the classical furniture and put the emphasis on it, but also create a more neutral environment on which to build on. Second, I would change the area rugs and use a more contemporary pattern that is solid or geometric and which would create a contrast with the furniture. I would then accessorize differently. For example I would either change the lamps or just the shades to add a contemporary look, and or the fabrics on the window and pillows. I would simplify the home by keeping it less cluttered and visually more peaceful. I would try to keep the furniture if it is good quality and change the fabrics if necessary. I would then buy some accent furniture pieces to complement to achieve the desired look.

What are some of the most popular design features that will help give a room/house a fused classical/modern style?

I think that buying new lighting and accessories are design features that are popular because they work in any budget and can make a tremendous difference when trying to update a style. They are also easily accessible and have a multitude of price points.

What tips do you have to help people successfully achieve this look in their home?

The first tip I would give people is to keep it simple. Simple is beautiful. Your home should reflect your personality. Surround yourself with items that matter to you to create a vibe, an emotional connection to your surroundings. Select colors that make you happy. Choose accessories that are useful and also beautiful. Make sure that all your rooms are flowing from to another to create unity. That can be achieved by selecting the right paint colors and by having uniform flooring throughout. Make sure that there a lot of lighting at the right place and that it can be dimmed when you desire. And lastly make sure that it feels warm and inviting by incorporating textured elements throughout.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

The best way to contact my company is either to email me at or call me at (847) 219-8725. They can also access my website at, go to the contact section and complete their information.

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