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James Thomas’ Clever Approach to Details & Display

“We go from macro to micro,” says Thomas Riker, explaining the process that powers James Thomas, the Chicago-based firm he co-founded with James Dolenc, his partner in life and work. Known for the extra layer of finish they bring to their projects, James and Thomas are experts at helping clients highlight personal items to tell the story of their space, whether hanging a salon-style wall of family photos in a bedroom or accessorizing mementos from favorite trips alongside antique vases on a bookshelf.

Chicago Living Room by James Thomas.

Every detail is considered. They often layer lighting into a room in subtle ways, such as flanking a mirror over a mantel with reflective sconces. Likewise, finishes catch the light and create a mood with mixed metals, from polished nickel hardware to oil-rubbed bronze lighting.

“We create spaces tailored to our clients,” Thomas explains. “That includes everything from how they fold their sheets, to how they put away their towels, to the candle on the bedside table.”

The designers frequently collaborate with architects, building floor plans from the inside out. Their practiced eye is evident in everything from moldings and fireplace mantels to beautiful built-ins for displaying collections.

Cambridge Home by James Thomas. Photography: Richard Powers.

The nature of a collection depends on the client. “A vacation home in Michigan has different needs than a Lincoln Park mansion,” he explains. For a cottage on the beach, he might search flea markets and local estate sales. For city residents, he often relies on galleries and antique stores.

“Clean-lined Asian antiques mix in well with any décor,” Thomas says. “In a historic Lincoln Park home, we had to carefully balance contemporary furniture with the character of the house. We used a number of PAGODA RED pieces to add an element that spoke to the architecture. They mixed in beautifully.”

Moving seamlessly between modern and traditional spaces, James Thomas interiors don’t subscribe to any one specific look. Rather, each space shares a tailored approach that celebrates people as unique individuals.

Cambridge Home by James Thomas. Photography: Richard Powers.

For contemporary art collectors in Lakeview James Thomas filled an 1890 home with luxe furniture and layered textures, juxtaposing modern and traditional elements. The result is a classic yet current home in which everything reflects a keen curatorial eye. For a modern vacation home in Park City, Utah, they balanced the rustic stone walls and mountain landscapes with clean-lined furnishings.

Private Residence by James Thomas. Photography: Scott Shigley.

The through-line in every project is a true sense of hospitality. The designers use materials that make everyone feel welcome. “We’ll often do pretty fabric on the back of a chair and a high-performance fabric on the seat, so it’s durable,” Thomas says. Livable spaces are layered with plants, fresh flowers, and warm light. “Your home doesn’t have to be a showplace,” he laughs. “We want you to use it.”

James Dolenc (left) and Thomas Riker (right), co-founders of James Thomas.

To learn more, visit

Hero Image: Lakeview Home by James Thomas. Photography: Werner Straube.


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