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Zen Beach Retreat Home Tour: The Power of Interior Design

Updated: Apr 17

We were approached by our repeat client to design a new home for himself and his new girlfriend (now wife). Although we had designed a previous lake home for him which was intended to be his forever home (see Forever by the Lake), the couple decided that they need a home that reflects both of their personalities...and also has a private boat launch and private beach! ...Why not?!

Enter Zen Beach House Retreat! This one of a kind beach home in Wauconda, Illinois had good bones and some WOW features, however in order to give it the glory that it deserved we had some challenges to face.

The Interior Design Process

1. The Layout

Our first step of the interior design renovation process is to analyze the layout and determine if we need to make any adjustments. Functionally the program of the home needed some tweaks: there was no laundry room, gym area and full bathroom on the main floor, so we used the footprint of a former Family Room to add these 3 new spaces.

Interior Before
Gym and Bathroom Area Interior Before

Bathroom After Renovation
Bathroom After Renovation

Gym After
Gym After

2. The Fireplace

The fireplace was in the wrong location, and the back of the fireplace was flanked by a wall with a bar area, blocking the stunning views to the lake from the kitchen and making this area feel closed off. It had to be demoed and rebuilt along with its chimney.

Kitchen Before
Kitchen Before

Kitchen After Renovation
Kitchen After Renovation

We wanted the fireplace structure to act as a divider between the Dining Room and the Living Room, and we wanted the feature to be present in both areas so we chose a two-way fireplace unit. We designed a hearth out of natural limestone that acts as a bench for additional seating and complements the split-face marble on the fireplace.

Dining Room After Renovation
Dining Room After Renovation

Home Bar After Renovation
Home Bar After Renovation

3. The Flooring

The existing tile floors were drab, hard and dated, there was nothing inviting about them. We knew this was going to be a big ticket item and one of the first things that we needed to address as the floors are one of the most proeminent features of any interior design scheme. Our clients were on board with this being the top priority, so we selected wide plank solid oak wood floors in a custom finish, and radiant heating was installed below.

Living Room Before
Living Room Before

hanging chair
Living Room with Boho Hanging Chairs After

4. The Windows and Window Treatments

The windows were in good shape so we kept them and painted the natural wood trim white. This move alone created a much lighter and brighter interior as the curved wall dissolves into the light and all you see is the view. We removed the ugly window treatments. Who needs privacy with a view like that?!

two way fireplace in dining room
Dining Room with Two-Way Fireplace

5. The Millwork

There was no doubt that the existing millwork needed to to go in the kitchen, bar area and all the bathrooms. We used an innovative finish by Treefrog, a real wood laminate in Ash Lati Grove that combines the best of both worlds: the beauty of wood with the durability of laminate.

waterfall island with Calcutta calcatta calacatta quartz countertop wood doors
Kitchen Renovation After

kitchen mosaic backsplash wood fronts white quartz countertop
Kitchen Mosaic Backsplash

6. The Bathrooms

The Master Bathroom needed more than a millwork update, it needed an entire overhaul and layout update. We wanted to add in a large shower so we moved the location of the vanity on the opposite wall (where the tub used to be), built out a toilet room where the shower used to be and reduced the overall size of the bathroom to create a generous walk-in closet on the opposite side, serving the Master Bedroom. To learn more about how to approach a Bathroom renovation, head on over to our Bathroom Renovations: 12 Things to Know and 5 Costly Mistakes to Avoid.

Master Bathroom Before
Master Bathroom Before

Master Bathroom After Renovation, Blue walls, backlit mirror, wood-look tile
Master Bathroom After

Master Bathroom Natural Stone Backsplash Mosaic and wood flat cabinet fronts
Master Bathroom Natural Stone Backsplash Mosaic


Master Bathroom Shower and Toilet Enclosure with natural stone mosaic, rain shower, built in bench
Master Bathroom Shower and Toilet Enclosure

Stone Mosaic, built-in bench
Built-in Shower Bench

To give the shower that extra pampering touch, we went with a natural limestone mosaic floor, that massages the soles of your feet every time you take a shower. We also incorporated a bench, a rainshower and the shower niches in a shimmering play of matte and glossy glass. Yes, the niches will add a small cost to your reno, however not having them means that your shower essentials will be spread around, causing soap scum on the floor or hanging on an unsightly rack from the shower head. We highly recommend these.

A few extra luxe features for this Master Bath reno are the natural Olympian Danby countertop and the glistening the natural stone mosaic backsplash accentuated by the backlit mirror.

The Guest Powder Room was lost in time and it was completely gutted. It was so bad that we apparently did not even take a before photo :).

Powder Room After with marble mosaic accent wall, backlit mirror, niche, marble vanity
Powder Room After

The upstairs Guest Bath was also gutted and we took a more light-hearted approach to the design, as this was planned to be used by the younger generation in the family during their extended visits. We still gave it a high-end touch with the natural marble mosaic and the Olympian Danby Marble countertop.

Bathroom Before Renovation
Bathroom Before


Blue mosaic glass subway tile wall, wood flat front cabinets, marble mosaic hex floor
Guest Bathroom After Renovation

5. The Lighting

There was no ambient lighting and no way to hide new wiring in the all exposed ceiling structure. Since we could not bring light from above, we decided to uplight the walls, however due to the lack of available space below the floor we could not use typical recessed uplights. We had the creative idea to use surface mounted ceiling spot lights on the floor to highlight the structure and create an intimate glow in the evening.

Hanging Chairs Boho Serena and Lily
Hanging Chairs

6. The Paint

We changed the paint color: never underestimate the power of paint! I fret over the paint selection on every project, it is always the last item we select once the rest of the big items have been approved. This is where we have the widest array of options so we always leave this to last. We want to make sure that it coordinates with the floor, the rug, the millwork, the furnishings, and looks good in the particular lighting conditions within the space.

We went with a soft off white from Sherwin Williams, Toque White SW 7003 for the general areas, and added a muted Sage green to the dining area, which gives it a fresh and intimate mood.

Green Wall Dining Room Decor
Dining Room After

Once we got all these major architectural pieces figured out, the furnishings and decor were just the icings on the cake.

For the couple's Master Bedroom we used earth tones including a green textural wallcovering to create a calming sense of connection with nature. Our client has a talent for photography and a fascination with staircases, so we created the artwork from photos we selected from her travel memories that she posted on Facebook. We printed them on canvas and absolutely adore the outcome.

Master Bedroom Before
Master Bedroom Before


Master Bedroom After renovation, green wallcovering, window treatments, mid century modern furniture, art
Master Bedroom After

green wallcovering in master bedroom, live edge table
Master Bedroom After

When facing a renovation, focus on the big things first and the rest will fall into place. The saying "if it ain't broke then don't fix it" really does not work in interior design. You might be tempted to conserve your budget and put beautiful furniture in an existing space, however if you do not address the gorilla in the room then your design will feel like putting lipstick on a pig. (Had enough of my animal metaphors? What can I say, I am Romanian and we use animals to describe all sorts of things :)) So big things first, and when I say big I literally mean big: look around and focus on the areas that you notice the most in your space. Typically these are the major architectural elements: the floor, the walls, the millwork, the windows and the lighting. Next, you will want to think about creating a story for your space so that it feels meaningful and relevant to you and your lifestyle. Head on over to How to Create a Room That Tells a Story to learn all the tricks on how to pull this step together.

Are you contemplating a home renovation? Tell us about your biggest challenges that you are running into! And if you would like our help in making this a smooth and painless process, please reach out. We love a complex project, our most creative designs were born from complicated problems.

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