For homeowner Ann Wool, the fun isn’t in the finished project. Rather, it’s in the process. Maybe a couch is being recovered, or a piece of art is being switched out. Or an entire room could be in transition, such as her kids’ playroom. But you could say that’s how Ann and designer Jennifer Littke of SETSTUDIO make design magic. “We are in constant conversation and are always willing to change everything,” Ann says. “Nothing is permanent, and we love moving pieces around to create new designs.”
The creative process isn’t new to Ann. She previously worked in the fashion and home industries—she managed designer Emily Summers’ Highland Park shop after a fashion career in New York for the likes of J. Crew, Theory, and Helmut Lang. She and husband Josh, a partner at Carlson Capital, have enjoyed collecting contemporary artwork and furniture pieces along the way.
After welcoming two children, the Wools decided it was time to either renovate or sell the spec home they purchased in 2014. “I was struggling living here for a while,” Ann explains. “I have a home that looks like everyone else’s. We want our house to feel unique and special.” She had taken note of Littke’s work in a friend’s home, and she set up a meeting with the designer. In a kismet moment, Ann discovered Littke had a hand in designing the The Laylow hotel in Hawaii, which is where Ann is from. “I thought, this is meant to be,” Ann says.
To better reflect the couple’s stylish taste, the 4,000-square-foot-home needed some tweaks. Littke suggested cosmetic changes that made a big difference—they plastered walls, designed built-ins and bookshelves, wallpapered rooms, and upgraded the kitchen. Even then, changes were made on the fly. Ann originally wanted the entire house to be white. “Ann—like the world we live in—evolved so quickly. She ended up wanting more depth and more color and more texture,” Littke remembers. For instance, they painted the kitchen cabinets Farrow & Ball “Pigeon,” a beautiful blue-gray hue.
As for the interior choices, Ann and Littke are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. In the aforementioned playroom, Ann’s daughter fell in love with the Josef Frank wallpaper and wanted the room to be her bedroom. “Jennifer sent me a pic of a vintage trash bin and these beds were in the background. I immediately knew they’d be perfect for her room,” Ann says.
In the living room, Ann had her heart set on an antique rope lamp, but had yet to find one. She and Littke hunted together, sending each other options back and forth. (“I would bother her all night with things I found,” Ann laughs.) Littke finally found one from a “Downton Abbey–size” estate in England. “I get to send things to Ann that I would buy for myself. That’s the level of our relationship,” Littke says.
In the end, the home may not be “finished,” but that may not be the point. Ann has plans drawn up for renovating the primary bathroom and would like to add on through the attic. Or, they may decide to move. But one thing’s for sure, Littke will be involved in the next project. “We’ve become design soulmates,” says Ann.
Decking it All
When it comes time to decorate for the holidays, homeowner Ann Wool pulls her favorite design elements and traditions from Christmas and Hanukkah. “Josh is Jewish, and I’m on the road to conversion, but I grew up with Christmas,” she explains. “I love Christmas. I can’t give it up.” Every year she collaborates with Lauren Lightfoot at Grange Hall to come up with a decor scheme that nods to both holidays. “Sometimes it’s a Hanukkah-colored theme so it’s more silver and gray, and sometimes we go all Christmas-y.” This year, Ann took notes from designer Jennifer Littke’s signature neutral color palette to inform the “natural, winter forest” vibe.
For instance, Lightfoot used bare branches to create a dramatic arch in the dining room. In the breakfast nook, she draped the existing light fixture in fresh cedar and string lights for a natural chandelier effect with a touch of whimsy. She followed suit on the staircase with garland made out of cedar and pine cones. Lightfoot also included pink peppercorns that she darkened to match the moody color scheme. Ann added her own holiday fruit to the dining room table. “I wanted fruits to match the winter forest, so I found fruits that were dark autumn, and I also used traditional Korean fruits like persimmons for a nod to my culture,” she explains.
And no matter the inspiration, there’s always a menorah and a Christmas tree (or two!) in the mix. “My daughter and I love collecting ornaments from our travels,” Ann says. “Decorating the tree is probably just as fun for us as opening presents.”
Matzo Ball Soup
For most, the holidays aren’t complete without traditional dishes. For the Wools, they like to nod to both Christmas and Hanukkah in the kitchen by decorating gingerbread houses and making fresh potato latkes. And a pot of homemade matzo ball soup is always simmering on the stovetop. Here is Ann’s recipe.
4 lbs of chicken wings
2 lbs of chicken breasts on the rib
2 yellow onions, unpeeled, quartered
6 celery stalks, cut into 1” pieces
4 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1” pieces
1 parsnip, peeled, cut into 1” pieces
1 shallot, halved
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
2 bay leaves
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
3 large eggs beaten
3/4 cup matzo meal
1/4 cup schmaltz (chicken fat or duck fat)
3 tablespoons club soda
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, peeled, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
S&P to taste
- Combine all the chicken stock ingredients in a very large 12qt stockpot. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Take out chicken breasts and place them aside to cool, shred meat, and refrigerate. Continue to simmer stock for 2 hours. Occasionally skim the surface. Strain the chicken stock into a fine-mesh sieve into another large pot. Discard solids. Stock can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. (I always refrigerate the soup overnight and skim the fat when the stock is cold and solid.)
- Mix all matzo ball ingredients into a bowl. It will be wet and will firm as it rests in the fridge. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.
- Bring chicken stock to a boil. Add carrots. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add shredded chicken breast.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Scoop out 2 tablespoonfuls of matzo ball mixture and with wet hands gently roll into balls. Add matzo balls to water and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 20 mins until balls sink.
- Use a slotted spoon and transfer balls into soup bowls. Ladle soup over, garnish with dill and salt and pepper to taste.