MK Pritzker and Michael S. Smith: A House that made History

Tonight, I hosted Illinois First Lady MK Pritzker and interior designer Michael S. Smith for a conversation on their project of passion and love, at the New York School of Interior Design. I called the event: ‘The First Lady and her Decorator.’

As the most substantial agent of any successful interior project today is storytelling, it has become the key challenge designers are facing . It is their role to capture a story and to make interiors meaningful, interesting, and inspiring—not just for the moment, but for the years to come. It is the narrative which makes people connect to spaces and injects interior boxes with soul and contemporary identity; this is true for all residential projects.

When it comes to state houses, telling the story has become even more important since the role of the designer is to express the collective identity—to tell the story of the people of the state through the décor. It is the designer’s responsibility to keep in mind that his clients are caretakers to a history that belongs to those people, thus reflecting their values.

This is what happened when interior designer Michael Smith redecorated the nation’s largest governor’s mansion in Springfield, Illinois, called the People’s House. The stories of those people needed to be told. His partner for this once-in-a-lifetime journey was Illinois’ First Lady MK Pritzker, who had been equally passionate about discovering the stories held in that house. Her extensive research into historical narratives led her to the original architectural drawings and vintage photographs, which served as the basis for this exquisite project.

When she and her husband, Governor JB Pritzker, first met Michael Smith in Washington DC the night before Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the three did not know that 15 years later they would collaborate on redecorating the Governor of Illinois’ mansion. Smith did for that elegant Greek Revival house what he did for the White House years earlier. “This house,” Pritzker says in the book the two authored, “is my gift to the people of Illinois. After all, this is their house; a present from the present to the future.” 

Interior images from the book – A House That Made History: The Illinois Governors Mansion, Legacy of an Architectural Treasure.