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Woodwork: Before & After Tales

In projects large and small—even quite modest—a bit of woodwork wizardry can transform a room. Here are three inspiring projects from a Chicago designer.

“There’s no reason why the Arts & Crafts sensibility should require a big budget,” says decorative-arts historian Michael FitzSimmons. He offers his clients pragmatic advice, whether the client is a museum curator or a new owner who doesn’t “quite know what the house is trying the tell them.”

The fireplace pictured above is in a Chicagoland house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but never finished. FitzSimmons, who has been consulting for this client for a decade, designed a glass mosaic pictorial panel for installation above the fireplace of narrow Roman bricks, so popular in Prairie architecture. (The mosaic has flowering dogwoods as a motif, a nod to Wright’s interest in Japanese woodblock prints.) The panel is framed by natural wood trim that wraps around the frieze and heads the wide doorway. It’s a subtle but effective use of wood trim in a period house.

In another project that came with a limited budget, FitzSimmons rescued two mundane and somewhat out-of-character built-ins by using new trim, along with new swapped-in hardware and a coat of paint. (A cabinet occupies each side of the doorway.)

Look at the transformation here! A high (and not terribly expensive) wainscot has utterly transformed this bland and confusing entryway, giving it warmth, character, and period style. It nearly matches the original wainscot in the house’s living room. An Arts & Crafts-pattern rug defines the space, and a window bench neatly stores boots.

Michael FitzSimmons

Michael FitzSimmons

Michael FitzSimmons is a preservationist, artisans’ agent, design consultant, and merchant of antiques and fine reproductions. Find his showroom in Oak Park, Illinois, or on the web: (708) 763-8220,

Art + Craft - this week's picks