the guesthouse hotel lobby project tour


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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  1. Kimberly FitzSimons

    Jess, can you believe I am checking in to the Guest Hotel for a week this afternoon? Can’t wait to see it!

  2. vanachupp

    Wow! Nice work Jess! This is a dream come true. For someone who has degree in architecture, I wish I had an opportunity like this. I always wanted to do interior design projects but thought you needed to be licensed. How did you get around that? And, those upholstered chairs!! You DO have many talents:)

    1. It definitely was a dream come true. Since the owners of the hotel were also the builders, I got to work directly with everyone building the walls, woodwork, etc. So I didn’t have to worry about ‘messing’ up at all, if something wasn’t structurally a good idea, they worked with the idea to make it correct, or we changed it to make it so. I just got to design and they make sure it worked. : )

  3. Reema

    I’ve been looking forward to seeing photos of this project. Everything looks absolutely beautiful, especially that library! Amazing job!

  4. Laura @ Rather Square

    I really like the way all the rooms work together from a design standpoint. They are all different, but still present a cohesive collective space for the hotel. Great work!!

    1. Thank you, Laura! I’m glad you like how they all work together. Keeping such a simple color scheme but varying where and how they are used helped. : )

  5. Suzy

    Jess, it’s gorgeous! You did an amazing job. Do you think you’ll take on any more interior design projects? Because if there was a place like this in Austin, I would stay there all the time!

    1. Haha! We’ll see, Suzy. I’m not seeking any new projects with all I’m working on right now, but who knows…

  6. Amy

    Everything looks stunning, Jess! I love all the details. I also love your black and white dress! Where is it from?

  7. dayka

    Love, love this, Jess. Phenomenal job!! Such detail and texture…this is my dream job.

  8. The place looks amazing, congratulations!! It makes me want to declutter my house asa I get home tonight!

  9. Its amazing! I absolutely love your style. Would love to know where you got some of the Chicago artwork. We are looking to add some similar unique Chicago touches to our home!

    1. I did most (almost all) of the artwork shopping on I’d search “Chicago Vintage” to shop for framed elements like a vintage deck of 1939 Worlds Fair cards, the vintage coin. Other items I just searched for directly – like I knew I wanted something cool from The Blues Brothers movie, for that I just searched that term directly. : ) You can see the items I found on the Art Fact Page ( to get an idea of terms to search for on Etsy, if you like! Some were one of a kind, but others were not.

  10. 2blondie

    Absolutely stunning! You truly have a gift and I would stay here any day!

  11. Alison

    Hi Jess! May I ask where the lobby seating area rug is from? Thanks!!

    1. For sure! I believe that was from Home Goods, actually. The rug in the Club Room was from Ballard Designs. : )

  12. Christy Purington

    Unreal – beyond well-done, this is gorgeous. It’s totally unfair that you have SO many amazing talents! And how cool to have realized so many of your passions. I am slowly but surely beginning (at 30!) to realize my own. Inspiring to say the least!

    1. Yay! I’m happy to hear you are finding your talents too – remember: it’s all about serving in the present moment however you can wherever you are. : )

  13. What a gorgeous space! You can tell that it was a labor of love, and that each piece was chosen intentionally. I’ll be sure to stop in if I’m ever in Chicago!

    1. That’s the truth! I hope you get a chance to see it next time you are in town, Amye Mae!

  14. Change of Art

    Love, love, LOVE the final spaces! I didn’t know the full story about how you found each other. Pretty amazing – and so fortunate for both of you. Such a huge undertaking for a one-person shop, you must be so proud (and exhausted)!

    I remember seeing the open space before you filled it with warmth and energy… You really nailed it – now, it’s as gorgeous as it is welcoming. Congratulations on a home run – grand slam, even!

    Best of luck with your move. (Lucky, lucky Austin!)
    -Mary Ann

    1. : ) Thank you, Mary Ann! Of all people, you know what this took to come together – with your frames and hanging help, of course!

  15. Jordana @WhiteCabana

    This is STUNNING! I want to stay here (or move in?!?!). Gorgeous. Very thoughtful approach to the design and details. Congrats.

  16. Nan P

    Wow!! Jess the space looks beyond amazing!! Congratulations! You must be so happy with how it all came out. Love how you thought out all the little details from how to use the rooms all the way down to the artwork! So beautiful!
    xo Nan
    Simply Elegant Blog

    1. Thank you, Nan! I’m glad you appreciated hearing the behind the scenes as well as the pretty pics. : )

  17. Simona Krug

    You did an incredible job Jess! We could not be happier with what you produced. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Simona!! That means a lot. — It sounds like a lot of readers are excited to come pay a visit the next time they are in town. : )

  18. Annie

    Congrats on this exceptionally well done project lady!! It looks utterly intentional 🙂

  19. Wow Jess, this turned out BEAUTIFULLY! All the sneak peeks had me super excited to see the final result and you blew it out of the water! Absolutely gorgeous work. I can’t wait to spend a long weekend in Chicago and explore everything you put so much work into! What an awesome way to leave your mark on Chicago 🙂

  20. This is awesome, Jess! You do such gorgeous work. I think the Club Room is my favorite. 🙂 The barn doors were such a unique idea!

    1. That’s awesome. It’s a great room. : ) And the barn doors were the owner’s idea – they worked out perfectly.

  21. Jess! Seriously this is amazingly gorgeous. I go to Chicago regularly, and I can’t wait to stay there! You should be so proud of yourself. I actually want to use your photos as inspiration for decorating my own home as well. Congrats!

    1. That’s awesome to hear, Emily! I’ve been wanting to do more brown + black + white myself after this project, too. : )

  22. Thanks, Erica! The wood kinda tones down the formality of the other finishes, doesn’t it?

  23. Jess! You did AMAZING work! I am so excited/happy/proud for you. This is such a large scale project and definitely leaves a permanent mark in Chi-town for you. I look forward to seeing if you do anymore work like this in your new city.

    1. Thank you, Kimberly! I really appreciate it. I’m excited to catch up with you this month and see how things are going with you lately!

  24. Wow it looks so incredible Jess! This makes me want to go to Chicago and stay at that hotel! The owner must be so happy with the result!

    1. p.s. Would love to know how you madeover the Craigslist marble table! Is there a before and after of that?

      1. I don’t think I have a pic of the before, but it was a creamy/gold color (not in a good way) with a substantial base and a huge slab of white marble. We beefed up the height to make it suitable for the couch and then painted the base black. : )

  25. Great minds, indeed! That was pretty much the first thing I purchased for the space.

    And thank you for the profession suggestion! I definitely had a lot of fun doing this project, and though I don’t have plans to do another anytime soon (I feel much more called to help people with work), I guess I can’t say for “sure” it would never happen again.

    After this one, I think these larger business projects like this are more my jam. But mostly, I love doing it for myself.

  26. Andrea Parypa

    An amazing job! Can I ask the paint color (black) that you used. I am wanting to paint a statement wall black and needed inspiration and this project was perfect!

      1. Andrea Parypa

        Thanks! One last question, what sheen did you use? I got a sample and it is a satin finish, thinking about going with flat though. Thanks again!

        1. 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!

  27. jill

    Could you share with us the black paint colour you used? I think you really accomplished a polished but warm environment in the hotel. Perfect for somewhere you would want to stay. Great job!!

  28. Sherry Hart

    A bang up great job! Every area is perfect!

  29. Jill Seidner | Interior Design

    Gorgeous! Amazing job!

  30. Laura

    SO amazing Jess! I love every bit and I’m putting this hotel on my list of places to go!

  31. Julie Daniel

    Hi Jess!

    The hotel is stunning. I hate to be a debbie downer, but as an interior design student, I just want to point out that you can get in major trouble with the your state’s licensing board for calling yourself a designer and doing commercial work if you don’t have a degree in interior design and have passed the NCIDQ. It’s also a huge liability for you- if you use furniture/ fabric/ finishes that aren’t up to code and there is a fire/ someone slips/ etc etc, you as the person who spec’d the item would get sued in a hot second. Just be careful and call yourself a decorator or interior stylist and avoid commercial work. Here’s more info on licensing: Again, don’t mean to be obnoxious!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Julie! I appreciate it.

      I don’t plan to do more work and the builder/owner I worked with was fully aware of my qualifications, but I’ll keep that in mind if I ever change my mind. : )

  32. Morgan

    Hi Jess –
    I love how this project came together! Great work! You are so talented and I’m definitely making a note to stay here on our next trip to the Windy City.
    I wanted to mention that as I read through the guided art tour, I noticed a few small typos/grammatical errors. The concept itself is so Chicago-proud and such an innovative idea plus it contains so much information that I’d hate for those minor things to detract from all the work you put in.
    Thanks for your encouragement and resources. Love your blog! Good luck in Austin!

    1. Thanks, Morgan! Another reader emailed me some of those errors, which was much appreciated! I plan to fix them today, hopefully. Admittedly, I put the art page together in a few hours right before the grand opening and haven’t checked back on it. Having a few fresh eyes catch the things I missed is amazing. : )

  33. Jennifer Durham

    Oh my gosh Jess, you did a great job! I just love it!

  34. Nagela

    This is truly a dream project! I also think you have to be a special kind of brave to accept this opportunity and trust your ability to do it! Awesome!

    1. : ) Thanks, Nagela! I kinda felt made to do it after all my work on my own homes and the branding + biz experience I have from my old accessory company, Jess LC.

      But yes, there were a few moments during the install where I was a little worried about whether it would come together like I planned in my mind!

  35. 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!

  36. 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. : )

  37. 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!

    1. 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!!

  38. 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.


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