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Jeannie Balsam: Classic Style for Modern Life

One can imagine themselves reading, relaxing and enjoying a warm cup of tea or coffee in a room designed by Jeannie Balsam. Her eye is present not only in the details that make up the design, but also in the unseen ways a room works — the seating arrangement that inspires conversation in groups and contemplation when alone, the orientation to expansive views and cozy fireplaces, or the shelves stocked with an edited balance of pretty and practical items.

“I believe that all spaces need a strong classic foundation before the design and decorative phase can begin,” she explains. “Our floor plans and room arrangements are classically based, but we understand how modern families live today with electronics, working from home, and multiple generations together in the same space.”

A mother of three, Balsam is attuned to the way a space works and feels as well as how it looks. After the birth of her first daughter, Mira, she transitioned from consulting work for clients like Hyatt Hotels and Accenture into founding her own design firm.

Rustic retreat by Jeannie Balsam. Photography by Nick Johnson.

With an MBA from Loyola University, Balsam’s experience has proved an asset in the world of interiors. She organized her firm to grow organically, with year after year of gradual expansion. Coupled with a diligent work ethic and a love of collaboration, her business mindset has sustained the studio long-term.

“Our industry is a craft built on the dedication, talent and passion of people,” she says. “Our homes feel warm, inviting and draw people in — and this is only achievable with the collection of tradespeople, artists and design partners we’re fortunate to work with every day.”

Design is also an industry of innovation. Balsam, who says she “learns through osmosis,” constantly seeks out new ideas, processes and fabrication techniques. Her spaces incorporate the way we use technology today, as well as the things that remain timeless.

Urban oasis by Jeannie Balsam. Photography by Werner Straube.

She is not afraid to repurpose antiques for modern uses, making them relevant across eras. New builds, in particular, benefit from the history and patina of storied objects.

“We often retrofit older dressers as powder room vanities, and we frame and display vintage artifacts with metal or lucite stands. The craftsmanship of these items is remarkable and worthy of appreciation as art.”

For other projects, Balsam has used Asian altar tables and small chests to warm up a foyer and collect mail or keys. In her own home, she uses vintage baskets to hold blankets.

Urban oasis by Jeannie Balsam. Photography by Werner Straube.

An avid lover of global design, Balsam discovered PAGODA RED through the former Winnetka gallery, which shared the same block as her design studio.

“My favorite piece is in my own home,” she says. “It acts as a console table behind my family room sofa and the patina takes my breathe away.”

She also travels to collect, recently returning from visits to Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Her summer plans include a trip to Puglia, where the family will stay in a trullo — an Italian provincial dry stone hut with a conical roof.

Interior Jeannie Balsam. Photography by Nick Johnson.

Travel is not only an opportunity to learn but to see the world in new ways. Balsam encourages her clients to find big and small moments to incorporate mementos that mean something to them.

“Years ago, one client saved coins from various countries and we framed them all like intaglios,” she recalls. “If you love cooking, look for vintage cooking items. A collection can easily be grouped together, framed or incorporated into bookshelves.”

This personal, people-centered approach runs through all the firm’s projects. As much as technology continues to reshape the design industry, Balsam says, “I still believe strongly that it is a craft. There is no substitute for that in the interiors we create.”

Portrait of Jeannie Balsam. Photography by Dustin Halleck.

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