Interiorssneak peeks

A 1908 Classic Chicago Four Square Gets A Modern Update

by Erin Austen Abbott

When Mollie Green, owner of stationery line La Familia Green, and Pete Zimmerman, radio producer for the show The Download on WGN Radio, decided to buy their first home together, they didn’t go into it lightly. After looking for houses for a year, Mollie looked up every “for sale” sign she came across. The couple knew that they wanted a home in the Edgewater neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, near Lake Michigan. They were drawn to the tree-filled block that was so inviting, and landed in a 1908 classic Chicago Four Square. “All the houses on our little block have the same basic design; 1908 is significant in Chicago — it’s the last time (before last year) that the Cubs won the World Series,” Mollie shares. One item of their wish list was a house with lots of natural light, which they were able to find, with big windows and high ceilings. “Because it’s on a small lot, with no alley or garage, the price was in our budget,” Mollie says. “We didn’t think we would be able to afford a single-family house in this neighborhood. The previous owners had done a lot of work to this old house — new stucco, decks, furnace, windows, etc. — the un-fun things. But they hadn’t done much to the interior. So we weren’t paying for someone else’s high-end design decisions that we might not like. It was a move-in-ready blank canvas. And this house just felt good. Even though it’s a very Chicago house, it reminded me of New Mexico, where I spent a lot of time as a child.”

When Mollie and Pete started to seriously begin fixing up their new home, the first thing they did was build a Pinterest board called “Dream House” — a collection of ideas and inspirations. With help from Mollie’s dad, they were able to paint the living and dining rooms before moving in and since April, Fridays have been Mollie’s house day. “I also work on the house on the evenings when Pete is at work — I’m a Weeknight Warrior. I can paint, patch, nail, screw, drill and staple anything. I have finished painting every ceiling, wall and bit of trim in the house. I carpeted the stairs and wallpapered a bathroom. I have had help with electrical and carpentry work. It’s great to have a patient, chill, yet thorough, electrician when you live in a 109-year-old house.” When it comes to her design aesthetics, Mollie pulls inspiration from her grandmother, who passed away in 2011. “Her house was a beautiful collection of French dishes, art, vintage textiles and rotating furniture from our family’s store,” Mollie shares. “Her home reflected her warmth, generosity, style, enthusiasm and mischievous sense of humor. I want to keep that spirit alive in our house, too. I wanted our house to feel comfortable and uncluttered.”

Old homes certainly provide challenges; nothing is easy. Modern light fixtures don’t like old electrical wiring. No door is even or standard. But old homes are also so easy to love. I find Mollie to be my kindred spirit, as I too was inspired by my grandmother’s design style and am still surrounded by items I inherited from her. I also live in an old home, built in 1890, that has had its own set of challenges, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s home. I hope you enjoy this classic home tour with a modern twist. —Erin 

Photography by Frank Ishman / @frank.ishman

Image above: “I really wanted a dark teal room. So I chose the dark, little guest bedroom! This room features some of my favorite textiles, art and collections. And it houses Pete’s massive CD library. I want guests to be comfortable and have lots of fun things to look at.”

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

Mollie shares, “Here’s comes Stickers! I found the Otomi at a flea market in Mexico City. Our house is full of our combined favorite things — records, books, posters, textiles, color, pets…”

MMollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

“Lemur feels at home. He loves this house too — which is good, because he spends the most time here of anyone! Right now he is really into watching leaves fall from the big living room windows. The egg chair belonged to my grandmother, too. We always sat in it for important photos — holidays, school dances, graduations…”

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

“Pete, the pets and I truly enjoy our old, little house. It feels good and feels like us. I’m thankful to build this life with such an enthusiastic and kind man. It’s fun to walk by and see the dogs sitting on their bench, looking out the window,” Mollie shares.

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

“Right when we moved in, I decided to carpet the stairs to make climbing them easier and safer for the dogs. I looked up a tutorial online and used runners instead of carpet. I’m really pleased with how it turned out,” Mollie says.

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

“When we travel to places like Nashville, I get into all the Americana. I wanted a vintage American flag. But I loved this old bunting when I came across it at an antique store in Michigan (where there are so many good antique stores!). This is the second-floor deck. The dogs like to sit up there and keep an eye on the neighbors.”

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge
"This is the view from out first-floor deck, featuring a cameo by Stickers in her favorite chair. Our house is very light and open. And I’m fond of the arched doorways. I try to be a minimalist, but it’s not totally in my nature! And I’m a sucker for books in a dining room. But I do only keep and display things that I truly love. My mom upgraded my old wooden blanket ladder to this beautiful one from Pendleton," Mollie shares.
Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge
Mollie says, "My aunt, Kay, is an A+ estate sale hunter. She found this stained glass window. And my aunt, Patsy, made the heart box on the middle shelf - she had a cool box-making company when I was a kid. My aunt, Cindi, is an artist and also shares my love of folk art. My mom has great taste, and gives good design advice and loves to shop with me. My grandmother and her daughters are all well-represented in my home."
Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

A close-up of the dining room bookshelf, full of collectibles and books.

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

“Awww — Pete + good dogs + treats! Our next big project is remodeling the master bath. And I want to re-do the kitchen, but it will have to wait. So I made it the best that I could. Paint can do a lot! I’m always drawn to black walls, so here was my chance. A store here in Chicago — Asrai Garden — has amazing black walls that I covet. My grandmother collected Quimper dishes — the yellow plates are just a hint of her collection,” Mollie notes.

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

“My first wallpaper project. I hung this Hygge & West Julia Rothman wallpaper — which I have always wanted to use. Zuzu is impressed.”

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge
"I need a bit of humor and whimsy - like this neon sign," Mollie laughs.
Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge
"I adopted Stickers in 2008 - we have grown up together, and she is the best dog ever (don’t tell Zuzu). This chaise was in my childhood bedroom (which was also pink), and I brought it up from my parents’ basement when we moved. I love textiles, and I love to reupholster furniture."
Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

Mollie with a few cards from her own line, La Famillia Green, sharing what she loves most about her home: “We love that it’s old, and slopey, and a little rough around the edges.”

Mollie Green and Pete Zimmerman for Design*Sponge

The floor plan of a classic Chicago Four Square.


Paint colors
Sherwin Williams “Snowbound” – all white interior walls
Sherwin Williams “Koral Kicks” – master bedroom walls
Sherwin Williams “Oceanside” – guest bedroom walls
The kitchen accent wall is just a true basic black

All of my plants are from Gethsemane and Adams and Sons in Chicago.

Dishes – from my grandmother’s Quimper collection
Dish Towel – Native Bear via Alapash New Home 
Tea Kettle – MacKenzie-Childs
Rug – flea market find
Dishes – Quimper, Emma Bridgewater, Gien, Paola Navone
Wood Rabbit Bowl – River House, Wimberley, TX

Half Bath
Dog Park Wallpaper – Hygge & West (design by Julia Rothman)
Embroidered Tip Towel – from my grandmother’s collection
Hand Towel – Target
Rug – flea market find

Dining Room
Orange Vase  – my grandmother’s
Ladder – Pendleton
Kantha Blanket – Hand & Cloth 
Otomi – Mexico
Aelfie Rug – CB2

Billy Bookcases and Tejn Faux Sheepskins – IKEA
Yellow Metal Chairs – CB2
Gig poster – Drug Factory Press 
Pom pom basket – Eliza Gran via Penelope’s, Chicago
Boy/girl vase – Jonathan Adler
Wood Owl Sculpture – Tadeusz Kasalak via Folk Arts of Poland
Family Portrait – Jana Kinsman
Pet Photos – Sebastian Sparenga
Ceramic Cat – Quimper
Pendant Light – West ElmLiving Room
Terrarium – Alapash
Wicker Egg Chair – my grandmother’s, recovered in Peruvian Frazada from Tesoros Trading Company in Austin, Turkish pillow from Alapash
Brass Gooseneck Light – West Elm 
Basket – Betsey Gallagher via Past Basket, Milwaukee
Nesting Tables – CB2
Portrait – flea market find
Sconces and Basket Pendant – CB2 
Sofa – IKEA Kivik in slipcover from Comfort Works
Pillows – Passementrie, Santa Fe
Mid-century Lane Coffee Table – Edgewater Antique Mall
Large black and white photograph – Frank Ishman
Otomi – Mexico
Faux Cowhide Rug – Overstock 
Kilim Rug – World Market 
Kent Coffey Credenza – DistrictMaster Bedroom
Chaise – from my childhood bedroom Spikes Bros Furniture circa 1985 (my family’s store), fabric is Rifle Folk Horse in coral by Cotton + Steel
Baskets – Jackalope, Santa Fe
Neon “Hello” Sign – Urban Outfitters 
Fig Leaf Planter – Christi Ahee (a Chicago ceramist) via Alapash New Home, Chicago
P.F. Candle
Mid-Century-style Nightstand – West Elm
Eyeball Sconce – Urban Outfitters 
Polish Paper Cut Out – Folk Arts of Poland, Santa Fe
Imperfect Plus Sheets – Schoolhouse Electric
Buffalo Plaid Duvet & Shams – CB2
Turkish Pillow – AlapashGuest Bedroom
Lips Print – Gift Horse, Nashville by artist Zak Parsons
Drawing – “Dancer” by Karl Wirsum
Weaving – Hayley Hogan via Minearology 
Turkish Pillow – Alapash
1940’s Orlasskan Blanket – Edgewater Antique Mall 
Flokati rug – Overstock
Nightstand – Spikes Bros Furniture circa 1985
Stairs runner CB2 

Vintage Bunting – Trilogy Antiques, Three Oaks, MI
Acapulco Chairs – Pier 1 
Stool – Edgewater Antique Mall
Serape – Tesoros
Handwritten note photo
La Familia Green cards

Suggested For You