Cue the animals. How one Chicago designer transformed a penthouse aerie.

Elephants in the living room? Eight-inch fringed chairs, deco soffits and orange couches?

They may not be your first thoughts when you conjure up a 5,700 square foot penthouse overlooking Chicago’s Millenium Park, but interior designer Lisa Wolfe of Lisa Wolfe Design Ltd. is all about surprises. The result is a vivacious, distinctive interior designed to entertain — literally.

Her clients bought the adjoining penthouse to their penthouse just for that ubiquitous word — fun. The mission of this spacious 3-bedroom, 3–1/2 bath luxurious layout is to be a place solely to entertain.

While the look is ravishing, it’s not all serendipity. The clients are a financial matchmaker and a film enthusiast professor who regularly host meetings, events and political figures, as well as friends. A convivial place to convene was essential.

As an award-winning designer, voted Best of Houzz for 5 years running, Wolfe knows how to move people through a room — and fascinate them along the way. Though she does admit to challenges before creating these swoon-worthy results.

“The seven-foot bronze elephants where brought in by the former owner by helicopter. They were simply too expensive to remove. So we made them a focal point for a giant unique living space,” says Wolfe of the dynamic statues.

“And the continuous waterfall wall in black on black in the dining room was inspired by wallpaper we couldn’t get in the right color. It’s all about adapting to the space and finding inventive solutions,” said Wolfe.

Want to view more inventive solutions? Wolfe’s work can be viewed at

These touches are so creative, you may not recognize Wolfe’s ingenuity. For instance, the bar is Ikea cabinetry with period appliqués and beautiful hardware. The massive gold frame above it used to hold an undesired painting, so the frame itself was used to frame the liquor bottles.

At times, entire vignettes have been conjured from scratch, like the elegant dining room table with Crate and Barrel side chairs fitted with long fringes, and two Arterior sputnik fixtures in brass — matching the recessed can lighting liners.

Conversely, like the elephants, Wolfe has adapted old items and revived, like solid brass and marble goose sconces that were taken out of the front room and used in the “Versace” and “Birdcage” baths.

By any standard, this penthouse has extraordinary features — like a 2,500 square foot terrace and a living room curtain wall of 110 feet of glass looking out over Millenium Park. But some of the extravagant interiors certainly weren’t the clients’ style.

“The master suite had a custom canopy bed built out of a wall in the ceiling with cherubs and roses and jungle leaves! That wasn’t going to work for my clients,” said Wolfe. “Now it’s deep charcoal, a restful private retreat, and extremely elegant.”

Eight deco style chandeliers were kept, cabinets were painted, tubs re-enameled and windows uncovered — all in the name of beauty, and budget. For, as Wolfe explains, working with any client means honoring their project dollars.

“We had colossal spaces to decorate, so every dollar was key,” said Wolfe, describing this ambitious project. We repurposed, relocated and custom enhanced many features to get the most visual dazzle, while fitting the budget.”

Wolfe continues, “Dorothy Draper was my inspiration, that kind of “joie de vivre. My clients embody living vibrantly. I wanted the penthouse to meet them on their level.”

Lisa Wolfe is the principal of Lisa Wolfe Design in Lake Forest, Illinois. Winner of Houzz Best Design and Best Service for 5 years, Best Interior Designer in Chicago by FreshHome, and featured in Luxe Interiors and Design magazine. She designs with artful client-directed intent for residences in Chicago and nationally. View her work at