Why One Designer Needs a Home with Funky Emotional Energy
Heather Milligan infuses her Lake Forest home with big personality
Skulls, antique portraits, and a predominantly black, white, and hot-pink color palette don’t usually factor in with more traditional moldings, tailored wallcoverings, and English-style hardware. But for a designer with a background in fashion and a love for cutting-edge icons like the late Alexander McQueen, realizing the unexpected is vital. In her home and personal design lab, Heather Milligan deftly illustrates how to incorporate explosions of color, texture, pattern in a superb mix of old and new.
“The vibrancy of my house is in part a result of working on homes where the client wants a serene, sophisticated, and neutral palette—which I love. But I often need color and the emotional energy and joy it provides,” explains the designer.
The light-filled family room—a Milligan revamp—features just such a bold palette, with elegant drapery and a stately Ralph Lauren coffee table to balance out the edgy aesthetic. “It’s in- your-face loud,” she laughs, “but every time you walk in, a new discovery will unfold even though it’s been there all along.” Milligan designed the room’s chic coffee bar—a point of pride— during the pandemic, outfitting it with a dazzling, black-and-white stone, and custom cabinetry in a brilliant fuchsia-hued paint. Bulky, Classic Brass hardware adds a traditional touch. In the adjacent kitchen, a fresh, clean palette was implemented to combat its small footprint. Countertops from Artistic Tile, stools in white leather contrasted with a hot-pink hide back, and a custom hood with a hand-cast skull add interest.
The dining room—a perfect example of Milligan’s melding of periods and styles—features portraits the designer inherited from her parents after a move over a vivid, Phillip Jeffries wallpaper, busts, and a vintage dining table embellished with decorative objects. Meanwhile, a previously screened-in porch was given new life as a cozy, family-friendly sunroom with a vented fireplace and a heated marble chevron floor. A graphic Holly Hunt wallpaper on the ceiling creates a “wow” moment.
“It is incredibly important to me that every room in the house is fully functional,” explains Milligan of her penchant to repurpose rooms to maximize usability. A swanky breakfast room with various other iterations is covered in a black crocodile wallcovering from Ralph Lauren enhanced by compelling neon artwork. Equally rock n’ roll, the main bedroom features provocative artwork, black and white curtains, and a headboard the designer gold-leafed herself. In her husband’s office, Milligan went for a more subdued effect, covering the walls in an Oxford- like wool textile that offers intimacy. Framed mugshots of famous rock stars and a bust keep to the theme.
Milligan likens her home’s design evolution to changing shoes and outfits over and over. “I’ll often ask my husband what he thinks when I have a new idea and his response is usually ‘that’s the dumbest idea of I’ve heard,’” she says. “But I tend to move at the speed of sound, so he drives away having delivered that one liner, then he returns home only to find it’s all done, and begrudgingly changes his tune. It’s a: ‘it’s really cool, you were right’ type of thing. He doesn’t always understand but he always ends up loving it. How cool is that?”