I grew up in Waukegan, Illinois, and on the prettiest street a block from my grade school, there is a quaint brick driveway leading up to the traditional colonial owned by Jane and John Freeland. I've known them nearly all my life, but hadn't seen them since my father's retirement party. Recently, they agreed to let me photograph their beautiful, art-filled home.
The house was built in 1929, but don’t be fooled by the demure exterior. Inside, a bold color scheme of black, white, and green provides a graphic backdrop for exotic curiosities and modern furniture collected over half a century by two people who just can’t stay put.
The Freelands got infected with the travel bug years ago. Together, they've traveled to more than eighty countries during their fifty-five year marriage. To this day, they’re intrepid explorers who hit the ground running in search of arts and crafts made by hand. They lean towards textiles, sculpture, and woodcarvings. Also oils, which they remove from frames and roll into a tube for easier transport. Both have strong points of view, but it is Jane who locks eyes with objects and falls head over heels in love.
Their home, which they cherish despite the fact that they are not in it very much, represents so much for Jane and John. It is where John grew up as a child, where they raised their three children, and where they began experimenting with collections and color. Jane says that the color green goes with virtually everything. “Have you ever seen a flower that didn’t look good sitting on its green stem?” she asks me with one eyebrow cocked. I don’t need convincing. Her green scheme, installed in the mid-90s, feels fresh as a summer breeze.
Without further ado, here's the tour:
I asked Jane what she loved most, aside from her art, and it is this geometric rug. She designed it herself and I love how if you squint your eyes, it becomes a pop-art interpretation of the staircase. The hallway holds large-scale Egyptian hieroglyphics on papyrus. A second stairwell off the kitchen features a gallery of family photos.
Jane breaks from traditional décor in surprising ways, like leaving her windows unadorned. In the living room, natural light pours in, reflecting off the burled wood coffee table onto the refined millwork. The carved boar bench is from Vietnam, as is the bike chain serpent on the table.
Jane dresses most of her upholstery the way that her mother dressed her as a child -- in black and white, which was unusual in Texas during the Depression. Even the kitschy miniature nuns in this alcove follow the dress code. The fabric on the sofa reminds me of Keith Haring. Very expressive and timeless.
The baby grand piano is quiet now that the children are grown, but it provides a fine surface for a collection of elephants marching across its polished wood surface. With nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren visiting, those elephants need to be ready to sound the alarm.
In the dining room, a cantilevered console with a temperature-resistant finish and solid brass brackets holds a few Dia de los Muertos skulls. Jane enjoys rotating different ceramics displays on the floor underneath the shelf.
The sun porch has been converted into a comfortable family room. Doors lead to a garden full of more sculptures. The zebra print sofa sports two pillows appliqued with village scenes.
A table for the little ones underneath a block printed textile of an elephant. “I enjoy collecting textiles, especially from countries known for their fabrics," says Jane. Up the steps from the family room is a dinette.
Jane and John were early practitioners of mixing high and low, as evidenced by a Gaetano Sciolari chrome chandelier illuminating a collage of crosses and textiles in the main stairway landing. I asked Jane if she realized that her style of decorating is trending all over the internet and in style magazines. She laughed delightedly. By the way, if you look closely, you'll see Jane's reading glasses perched on the thermostat where she can easily grab them on her way to her bedroom. More proof of Jane's cleverness!
“Whenever I’m in a country that allows the sale of crosses, I buy one,” says Jane. “Not just because of my faith, but because I have always admired the sculptural shape of the symbol." These crosses are from Egypt, Russia, Georgia, Vietnam, Ukraine, and Mexico.
Today, the house represents Jane and John's independence. They pamper the place and it pampers them back. “Every night we put our house to bed and the kids tease us about it. We walk through the rooms turning off lamps, touching our mementos, pausing to remember the oceans we’ve crossed and the history we’ve learned. We will never leave this place.” So, as most of their friends move into retirement villages, Jane and John stay put. Except when they don’t. Italy is next on the calendar.
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