Worth the wait

Homes: Worth the wait

Worth the wait

Janice Bahr compares the process of redecorating a home to having surgery.

Story: Christine Walsh

Photos: Rick Danzl

Janice Bahr compares the process of redecorating a home to having surgery. At first there may be some stiffness and soreness during the recovery, but the end result is worth it, the University of Illinois professor emerita said.

Lou Liay, executive director of the University of Illinois Alumni Association from 1983 to 1998, recommended Atron Regen, ASID interior designer, to Bahr as she sought someone to redesign her Champaign residence. Bahr moved to her present home 30 years ago and last decorated it then.

“It was time to refresh the home,” she said.

“My rooms are timeless, so they don’t get tired-looking,” Regen said.

The keeping room

The previous owner had a room that she called “the keeping room,” a colonial term for an area just off a home’s kitchen that usually has a fireplace and where you “keep your family together,” and Bahr liked the name so much that she continues to use it. Bahr decided to keep her memories there, too, and so it features objects that she has collected in her travels and that her former M.S. and Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows have given her in gratitude for her mentoring.

Although Bahr retired in 2010 from the UI departments of Animal Sciences and Molecular and Integrative Physiology, she is still teaching, doing research and advising and mentoring students. Regen suggested a memory wall hung with groupings of photographs of the various aspects of her life.

Originally from La Crosse, Wis., Bahr grew up with two older sisters on a family farm. One photo shows her as a sixth-grader with rabbits, already looking like a scientist. In another picture, Bahr, the 1987 recipient of Viterbo University’s Outstanding Alumna award, pays tribute to her alma mater, where she earned her undergraduate degree before obtaining her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at UI.

Also shown in pictures is her community involvement: In 1994 Green Meadows Girl Scouts awarded her its Woman of Distinction award. She was the first female president of the Champaign Rotary Club. She is president of Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana. She was one of the original foundation board members of OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center, which at that time was called Mercy Hospital. She served numerous years on the Champaign County YMCA board, now called Stephens Family YMCA. In 1997, the Champaign Exchange Club presented her its Book of Golden Deeds Award for community service.

Another grouping of photos shows the many feline companions that Bahr has had. “Cats have been very important in my life,” she said. However, the memory picture Bahr treasures most is the one that has pictures of her Ph.D. advisor, her many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists. Two large group pictures are of her graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at her retirement party at Champaign Country Club in 2010 and a reunion of this same group in 2015. The group included

Regen incorporated custom-made étagères, cho­sen at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, and later custom-colored to match the background color in the silk handmade rug imported from Nepal. The rug picks up the hues in the nearby ottomans and valence. Upholstered furniture is from Baker and was chosen on a shopping trip to Chicago. Cus­tom window treatment fabric is from Kravet, and contemporary and pillows fabric from Lee Jofa. Ottoman fabric is also a classic Lee Jofa retro hand-cut velvet. Regen chose a palette of colors to convey Bahr’s personality. “It’s a reflection of who she is,” he said.

“We provided these étagères for sentimental things from her life,” Regen said. Among the objects are statues of the Madonna and child from Korea and of St. Francis of Assisi from Italy, where she sang with the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center choir. Also displayed on the custom-made and colored étagères are pieces of art and ceramics from France, China, Iran, Egypt, Uruguay, Poland and Korea. “I have a real love for pottery,” Bahr said, adding that she used to craft some herself.

The étagères can be changed seasonally, for example with Christmas decorations.

Along with all of the mementos of years gone by is some modern technology; a smart TV allows Bahr to stream her favorite television programs students from the U.S., Brazil, Uruguay, Iran and Taiwan. and movies and has an excellent sound system. “This is a very relaxing room,” she said. The keeping room has a view of her garden, where Bahr grows daisies, butterfly bushes, clematis, brown-eyed Susans and hostas, among other flowers. “Digging in the earth is very relaxing,” she said. “You can feel all of your stress go into the ground.”

Living room/dining room

Entry into the living room/dining room is from the foyer, graced with porcelain Italian tile. The living room/dining room features a custom-made and dramatic drapery with scalamandre fabric, custom-upholstered furnishings from Kravet New York and a relaxing yet space-opening scene also from Scalamandre. Custom sconces and chandelier from Motif Design New York define a dining area in the multifunctional space. A Steinway grand is instrumental to the couple’s musical lives and is positioned as a greeting into the relaxing room. The palette is quiet and peaceful, making a haven for conversation or meditation. Dramatic movable side Diana chairs can be used for guests in the dining or living areas and are easily moved into the living room to accommodate guests. A background of silk string wallcovering is hung with peaceful Asian art that quietly adorns the walls. The chinoiserie mirror that hangs over the buffet is from Carvers’ Guild in Massachusetts. The dining room chair seats are upholstered with cut velour from Belgium. Bahr’s partner, Erwin “Ernie” Hoffman, brought back a Steve Turnbull alabaster sculpture from Hawaii beautifully displayed on the buffet.


A skylight directs eyes up in the kitchen.

“It’s one of the things when people come into the room that immediately draws their attention,” Bahr said. “You feel like it (the sun) is coming right into the room. It has a lot of light.”

The kitchen cabinets got new doors and a quartz countertop, but the upper cabinets and base were left intact. Several lower cabinet shelves were replaced with drawers to create more storage space.

“We were addressing her storage needs,” Regen said. The custom-made Italian tile used for the backsplash was imported from Italy and has pro­vided a quiet yet dimensional backdrop of interest to the partially renovated space. “I like the lines of it,” Bahr said. “Everything fits together.”

The casual dining furniture is from McGuire. York wallcoverings and an Italian backsplash provide the backdrop. The fabrics are from Kravet Con­temporary, and the fixtures are Italian. The new slate refrigerator blends with its surroundings and has a dark matte finish that hides smudges.

Regen was trying to achieve “elegant functionality” in the space.


The kitchen opens out onto a sunroom that Bahr calls “the garden room” because of its cheerful blue and green colors and plant decorations.

“Whimsy is the theme for that room,” Regen said. “It picks up the outdoors,” Bahr said. “This room is very delightful. It’s a wonderful room to sit and read or relax.”

On the deck just off of the garden room, Bahr en­joys spotting wrens, goldfinches, cardinals, chicka­dees and other birds while she has her coffee. “I love to see all the different species,” she said.

Bahr likes how her rooms seem to flow into one another now. “It fits together so well,” Bahr said. “It’s a joyous experience every day. It’s like going into an art gallery, where you relive that enjoyment daily.”

Regen said he tries to honor the architecture in any space he’s designing. “There’s a feeling with each room; a lot of people have mentioned that about my work,” he said. Redecorating has been a collaborative process for Bahr and Regen. “I suggest things to her to bring out her own creativ­ity,” Regen said. Regen is now in the process of redesigning Bahr’s bedrooms and study.

“Your home is an extension of yourself,” Bahr said.