Helen Berkun is known around town for all the different hats (not to mention other fabulous accessories…) she wears. By day, Helen is a fashion photographer, stylist, blogger, creative director and fashion editor. By night, Helen is a wife, mom of two adorable kids, and self-proclaimed shoe collector. If you live in Chicago you’ve probably seen her around town, dressed to the nines, but few people have ever had a look into Helen’s private life at her stunning home (did you expect anything less?) until now. We headed to the burbs to see how one of the city’s sweethearts keeps it chic, yet kid friendly, at home…
Was it difficult deciding between the burbs and the city? What‘s the best thing about living in the suburbs?
It was and it wasn’t. I grew up in the suburbs during high school and moved to the city when I was 20. Lived in the city for 12 years, everywhere form Gold Coast to West Loop and finally to University Village. Once I had my first child I realized how hard it was to raise a kid in the city when your entire family is in the burbs. As much as I love the city, I love to have a yard and a large home, for my shoe collection, naturally! I also love the idea of leaving my doors wide open and my children running around from home to home. I love the fresh air and the fact that I’m literally 20/30 minutes from downtown. I love our awesome school district and how close we are to the beach with loads of parking. Those little things you just don’t have in the city. Although I had a house in University Village, our yard was pretty much non-existent and I found myself getting away from the city constantly in order to be closer to nature. I’m in the city almost every day if I’m not traveling for work, so besides spending nights here, I don’t feel that much of a difference and I know how good the choice I made for my kids is. My husband and I always talk about when the kids grow up we’ll probably make the move back to the city some day, that or Miami!
What made you realize this house was the one?
It sort of just happened. We sold our other house really quick and I was out of town on a shoot during the move, poor hubby! We had no place to go because we weren’t even looking so we moved in with my parents and put our stuff into storage. My husband then found this house, once again while I was out of town. When I came back and looked at it, the energy of it just felt right. It felt like a happy home. I love our long hallways and hearing the peter patter of little feet in the mornings and nights is the best! We also have five bedrooms upstairs so now I finally have a full home office. The location was super important as well, we are right on the highway, which is so great for me with all my travel. I’m constantly between Chicago and Milwaukee and being on a major high way is a really big deal for me.
What was your favorite part of decorating your home?
I’ll tell you this much I love to decorate and once it’s done I get sad. I’m a major home flipper, I’ve moved 7 times in 10 years and I know how some people get sentimental and connected to their home, well, that’s just not me. My husband and I moved into this house July 2013 and by March 2014 we were already scouting and looking for new homes in the area. I get constant updates on my phone of new homes on the market so I’m not afraid to pick up and move again. I always get a little sad when the house is finished, because there is nothing left for me to do or change. I love tearing down walls, and redoing the house so all that’s left is an eggshell. So perhaps next home we’ll build from the ground up.
Your kid’s rooms are amazing! Were they involved in the decorating process at all? How did you incorporate their likes and interests?
Aww thank you! In all honesty, not really. When I was pregnant with Natan I knew I wanted him and his room to be different. No blues, no greys, no greens or yellows. My color scheme was red, white and black. I painted that painting over his bed with his name on it when I was 9 months pregnant and it all started there. I wanted something rock and roll and fun. I searched everywhere for black, white and red bedding, which was no easy task by the way, thank gawd for Ikea!!! Now that he’s 7 he definitely choses what he puts out in his room. He’s really into the Union Jack, which I’m sure is partly influenced by me, because I have major Anglomania and he sees that. He also loves cars, he doesn’t read kids books but rather adult car magazines which we subscribe for him. He loves to watch BBC and CNN, he’s sort of a grown up when it comes to technology, cars and anything science related.
Kalista, on the other hand is my dreamer. I was also very specific with what I imagined her room to look like when I was pregnant. I went to a spiritual healer before I even knew I was pregnant with K and she told me that Natan was in Indigo and that I was pregnant with a little girl who was a Rainbow. So I always imagined Kalista to be this free spirited, wild child while she was in my belly, and that is exactly who she is out in the real world. I knew I wanted her room to be Tiffany’s teal with pops of bright pinks, oranges and blues. So I went from there and ran with it. K is really into fashion and animals so I added a Zebra head that she picked out, and we pile on her jewelry, some that she steals from me, on hooks all over her room. I’m also working on a “street style” wall of her. She loves to get dressed and have me take her picture, surprise, surprise. So I’m working on her mini-blogger picture frame wall with photos of all her looks.
Do you have a favorite room in your house?
I love our bedroom because we have 14 foot ceilings and ceiling to floor windows. It’s such a gorgeous space and is always full of light. I also love our dining room because I’m a big cook and we love to have people over and entertain. In the summer it’s all about BBQ’s and our yard but in the cooler months we always hang out in the formal dining room, which by the way is not fully finished yet!
What did you look to for design inspiration?
Honestly, I usually start with colors that I love at that moment and then it all just starts to flow. This entire house I knew I wanted black and white. My old house was all blues and golds. So it starts with a color palette and light fixtures. I love good lighting.
What items do you think it’s important to splurge on? Where did you save?
Good furniture is very important because it’s meant to last and is used daily. Saving is easy when it comes to trinkets, side tables and accessories. I love Target and Home Goods for those!
With your background in photography, was art an important element in your décor?
Yes of course. Overall I’m a very visual person so dressing up walls is like dressing for the day. It must reflect who you are! I must say that there definitely isn’t enough wall space for all the collages and photographs I’d love to put up. So I tend to switch it up a few times a year.
How is your decor style influenced by your love of fashion? Does your home style differ at all from your personal style?
I think my homes really reflect who I am and most of all who Dennis and I are as a couple. My style is a little more masculine so you’ll find lots of studding, croc and leather finishes and plenty of skulls throughout. Very similar to what I actually wear day to day. I love to pattern play in my clothing and I also like to do that with rugs and pillows as well. There is always an element of darkness through my homes, I’m fascinated with mysticism, death and fables. Dennis also loves fantasy books and Greek Mythology. So we have lots of Greek Keys, butterflies and snake skeletons. Although it may sounds a little scary, I think our home is very inviting and beautiful, it just has that darker edge that we love so much. Of course you’ll also find plenty of fashion elements as well, there are Hermés boxes and ribbons throughout the house and my Fashion and Photography Book collection is impossible to miss.
What decisions did you make differently [in main rooms] with the intention of your house being “kid friendly”?
Actually it’s funny you ask that because when people come over, besides my kids bedrooms and photos around the house you can’t really tell we have kids. We are very fortunate to have a large playroom for them in the basement. So when they want to play and make a mess it’s done there. There are really no toys in the main areas of the house, my kids really are neat and clean freaks like I am. So if they bring something down they will always put it back to their rooms or the play area. We did put a runner on the stairs that we didn’t plan on doing until after we realized how slippery the gloss staircase was and we kept on falling, especially the kids. I’m so glad we did, because I feel like it’s another pop of pattern that I just love in the house. Overall besides the obvious of covering up electrical plugs and putting a few temporary gates around stairs, I really am not a bit fan of “kid friendly” homes. I believe children adapt to how you raise them and I chose to raise my children to always know where to place their things and to clean up after themselves. I also never hide my vases, trinkets or anything around the bookshelves. I simply teach them that if they pick it up and play with it, they have to place it back. There is no, “Don’t touch this!” in my home. You can certainly touch everything and play with everything, just put it back. That’s it!
How did you choose your color palates?
I knew right away that my next house was going to be black and white. Even before we moved. Like I said, when I decorate and design a home I already know what my next home will look like. Yep, I actually already know what the next house after this one will look like too! I know I’m nuts!!! I also found this gorgeous paint color called Dior and naturally I was obsessed with it. It’s the grey that’s in my dining room. I actually do quite a few photo shoots in here. It’s the same color that Dior used to shoot one of their campaigns. I also wanted a monochromatic room with pops of gold, so that’s how the dining room was designed. Finally my office I designed after my website so the red matches exactly to my company logo and my company’s name is MISSRED, INC so it was so fitting.
Was it difficult to merge your style with your husband’s taste?
No, not at all. He completely trusts me with all our homes. Basically I don’t even have to consult or ask him anything, I just do my thing and work with our carpenters as a general contractor. I do everything myself from picking out marble and granite slabs, to painting ceilings. I’m very hands on and he loves it!
What’s your opinion on DIY projects? Have you undertaken any?
I’m all for them. Of course, I did a ton of moldings in my house. I painted ceilings and ceiling medallions, I sanded and re-finished furniture. I love DIY projects they’re so fun and much more personal then buying something. It’s your own labor of love.
Any future plans for your house? A room you’re still working on, or a project you have yet to tackle?
Yes!!! The dining room. I can’t wait to finish it. I want to buy two end chairs for the dining table and a buffet. I also really want to finish our upstairs hallway and do photo frame collages, which by the way Amelia you’re an expert in. Perhaps I need you to come over and help me! [Anytime, Helen!]