the guesthouse hotel lobby project tour

August 5th, 2014   |   DecorLife


Almost two years ago, I moved into my most recent Chicago apartment with Mr. Lively.

We had just gotten married, and I was furiously decorating our entire apartment top to bottom so that it would be ready in time for our families to celebrate our marriage over Thanksgiving weekend.

While I was decorating, the builder for our (gut rehab) apartment building was walking through with city inspectors completing final inspections.

As he walked through my apartment, he asked if I was a designer.

At the time, I had only been hired by one woman in the city to help decorate her studio apartment. So I told him yes, I had done a studio, but never had the time to do it more seriously while I was juggling my old accessory company (Jess LC), the blog, traveling workshops, and business consulting.

However, since I had recently decided to close Jess LC to do the consulting and workshops full-time, I suddenly did have more time to devote to design projects.

Long story short: he hired me to design the interior of The Guesthouse Hotel lobby, decorate it, re-brand it, and re-design the website.

As an huge fan of Sarah’s House on HGTV, this was a (surreal) dream come true.

For the past 21 months, I’ve worked with them to complete all of these projects.

I’ve already shared the hotel branding before and after and a mid-build lobby update, but today I’d like to show how the lobby design came together!

We decided to go with a collected and classy “old” Chicago feel.

As you’ll see below, we started with an empty lot… which over the course of 10 months became a completed hotel expansion.


The Guesthouse Hotel Before & After



It is pretty crazy to see all of those photos tell the story so quickly!

Now, let’s take a little tour of the lobby in its completed form.

Before we look at the pictures, it’s helpful to understand the layout.

There are three main spaces:

  1. “The lobby,” which is to the right when you walk in the front door.
  2. “The club room,” which is off to the left when you walk in the front door.
  3. “The library,” which is a smaller conference room-type space that extends off the far wall of the club room.



The Lobby


First, we’ll start with your view when you walk in the front door.


I am so thankful that the owners went for my idea to make the logo (designed by Alex Yeske) in brass above the elevator.

It makes a huge impact and really lets the branding of the hotel shine — without totally overpowering the rest of the space.

Here’s a different angle of the elevator area.


The front desk is to the right of the elevator along the back wall.


We used some amazing reclaimed wood for the front of the desk area as well as on the barn doors in the Club Room and Library.

(The guys at Square Nail did all the reclaimed wood elements in the space and did an excellent job.)

Next, here’s a shot of the lobby seating area. To the left of this image is the front desk you just saw. To the right of this image is the front door and retail area.


Though it hadn’t arrived by the time these photos were taken, there is also a black linen settee made by Restoration Hardware now sitting in the center with these two chairs flanking it on either side.

(PS – These armchairs were vintage Craigslist finds that I had reupholstered.)

(PPS – You can see the black settee behind me in photo above where I’m wearing the black and white dress.)


These old trunks were fun to collect over the months. The middle trunk on the right tower is from the 1900’s and has a “sold by Marshall Fields” label!


I’ll share more about the art soon, too.


The Club Room


Now, let’s chat about the club room.

As you can see, there are two large custom barn doors that close this space off for private events.


Which, by the way, means the club room and library are both rentable! So if you are looking for a place to have a party, shower, or meeting, you can get rental info by contacting the hotel here.

Here’s a shot of the window side of the club room. You can see off to the far left that there is a great vintage table for playing cards and my “Mr. and Mrs.” chairs in the back corner.


Both chairs were Craigslist finds that I redid in grey fabric for the Mr.’s “suit” and a black velvet for the Mrs.’s “dress.”

The art – which totals more than 50 pieces across the whole lobby – is all related to Chicago history.

Pulling from Chicago trivia based on architectural boat tours, reading The Devil in the White City, and my fascination with fun facts, I created my own personal “tour of Chicago” through art.

Guests can literally take a tour by walking from gallery to gallery while reading this art fact page I created.


The Chesterfield sofa is one of my favorite pieces in the space.


The owner also likes the sofa so much that we’ve ordered a second identical sofa for the club room so in a few months there will be two tufted beauties facing each other with the marble coffee table (a Craigslist makeover) in the middle.


The Library


Last but not least, it’s time to talk about Mr. Lively’s favorite space: the library.

It is a stunning space that  has a 10′ long custom table. I chose some 1930’s lathe legs and the guys at Square Nail created a gorgeous top with the same reclaimed wood as the barn doors and front desk.


For the ceiling, I went bold with a gold tin recessed ceiling (which I snapped a photo of on my phone below).


Meanwhile, the light fixture from Rejuvenation is one of my favorite pieces in the space. It is designed after the first billiard table lights from 1900-1910.



What I’ve Learned

After doing such an big project from start to finish, I have to say that I found the interior design portion much more rewarding – surprisingly – than doing the decor.

Getting to think through the form and function of each wall, built in, and finish was by far my favorite part.

I also learned that doing gallery walls in a 2,000 square foot space is a lot of art and framing! That part was crazy time consuming.

When it comes to the furnishings, I stuck to my usual mix of big box and vintage/Craigslist finds. Most items in the space are from Restoration Hardware, Craigslist, Etsy (vintage art and accessories), and Ballard.


The Personal Significance 

Overall, this project was a dream come true.

Getting to merge two huge parts of my career: business and design, into one project was definitely a lifelong dream.

And considering that I’ve had eight Chicago home tours done of my apartments over the years, this lobby leaves a more permanent mark on Chicago.

It will last long after I have moved, and will continue to share my love for this city with travelers who come to visit.

It’s funny, I always wanted to be a tour guide in college (I applied two years in a row but never got selected). Now, I feel like this space – and the art within it – is my way of welcoming people to the city and sharing my love of all that is wonderful about my hometown, Chicago.


 PS – Want to see more of the hotel transformation? Check out:

The hotel branding before + after

The mid-point progress update


photos by Daniel Peter


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  • I’m pretty sure we went with flat because of the sheen on the floors, if I remember right. But honestly it’s a little fuzzy now. I’d say go with your gut!

  • I am so happy for you, what a massive accomplishment and a beautiful cherry to leave on your time in Chicago. Congratulations.

  • Rita

    That is awesome…congrats

  • Thank you, Katie!!

  • Thanks, Rita. : )

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  • JoAnne Henein

    So so cool, and it’s neat that it was completed this year. As if completion of the memorial released you to move to your new place. 🙂 Love the depth of history and culture woven throughout!

  • I know, right?! I felt the same way about the timing.

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  • Yes, they are! I don’t know the people who did them, but you could contact the hotel directly if you lived in Chicago and wanted to use the same team. : )

  • Kelly B.

    Hi Jess — could you tell me the color name of the Chesterfield sofa? I looked on, but I’m not seeing the rich cognac color captured in your photos. Thanks!

  • I ordered the couch from Restoration Hardware last year. I also ordered them a second one later, since they loved the first so much and wanted a twin. I don’t remember the name of the leather color specifically, but I do faintly believe that they may have discontinued the color since then. My suggestion would be to go into a RH and show them the photos and see if they can help you match the leather color or to find something similar if this is indeed discontinued now.

    Good luck!!

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  • Laura Hager

    OMG! This is amazing! Not only is your design amazing and beautiful, but how inspiring! I don’t think I how have been brave enough to say yes to a project like this, but after reading this, I think I could. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s beautiful.


  • It’s wonderful to hear you like how it turned out, Laura. : )