These 3 Chicago design professionals make their mark on Naples

A maximalist, traditionalist and art enthusiast elevate Southwest Florida design.

BY December 20, 2022
Frank Ponterio (left design), Summer Thornton (center design), Suzanne Lovell (right design)

The Maximalist: Summer Thornton

Summer Thornton’s design philosophy is simple: “Life should be full of joy and delight, so your home should be a place that takes you to your happy place.” The maximalist designer and author of Wonderland: Adventures in Decorating blends bold, contemporary patterns with historic pieces to create transportive, mood-altering spaces. In one home, blue-green hills dotted with white cherry blossoms wrap the walls of a regal family room. The painterly de Gournay wallcovering playfully juxtaposes tasteful vintage pieces, like a marble-topped, Regency-style game table. “You can’t help but smile when you walk into the room,” she says. 

Now, she brings that whimsy to the Gulf, where traditional coastal motifs have long defined design. She recently transformed a spec home in Naples, adding character to the existing layout. “We transformed it into a tropical oasis, full of color and pattern and amazing wallpapers,” she says. She converted the storage room above the garage into a guest retreat for six, adding three trundle beds and tented green-and-white striped Farrow & Ball wallpaper that stretches from the baseboards onto the ceiling. Privacy curtains in a complementary tropical floral print make each bed feel like a little cocoon. By pulling from fresh spring colors and employing patterns throughout the room, Thornton creates an immersive experience.   

For Thornton, the environment is critical in inspiring a home’s interiors. In the Naples home, she employed a pearlescent de Gournay wallcovering featuring schools of fish. “I love that in Florida, there is a blurring of the lines between indoors and outdoors,” she says. “I try to do that in all locales to some extent, but there are limitations in some climates as to how far you can take it. In Florida, I can take that idea to its fullest and help clients use their full property—the indoors, outdoors, pool—and it all flows, making the house feel even larger.”

Courtesy Summer Thornton Design/Thomas Loof 


The Traditionalist: Frank Ponterio

When pressed on his earliest design inspirations, Frank Ponterio returns to his summers as a young child in rural southern Italy—from where his parents hail—and Rome. “I grew up seeing this artisanal, handmade stonework and ironwork, and seeing very refined elements and textiles and fixtures and glass, and realizing how those things can come together,” he says. “My style has been shaped by marrying the rustic and the refined.” By 23, Ponterio launched his firm, which has transformed into a design powerhouse specializing in luxe spaces from Chicago penthouses to Naples homes to private jets. 

When starting any project, “first, you have to build the right team,” he says. The team always includes a roster of first-rate artisans, who, guided by Ponterio’s team, create bespoke pieces based upon the project’s design intention and the clients’ aesthetic. Ponterio likes to call on local talent. “We have this great artisan in Naples who is from Germany doing upholstered walls in our family room with window treatments in one of our Clarence House fabrics—it’s just going to be beautiful,” Ponterio says, referring to the circa-1950s beach cottage on Anna Maria Island, where he lives part-time with his wife.

The designer—who serves on the Leadership Board of the Design Leadership Network—recently moved his namesake design studio to  Naples’ The Collective.

Before enrolling in design school, Ponterio dreamed of being an architect—architectural details often inspire his interior work. “The architecture helps guide the design, and that’s where I tend to start,” he says. “I don’t start with a palette of color; I sketch out elevations and furniture designs and layouts and a lot of different floor plans that reflect our clients’ desired lifestyle and everyday living.”

His in-house team includes an interior architect; this allows him the freedom to work with the architects, landscape architects and builders on projects from start to finish, taking a more holistic approach to design. “It’s really exciting because you’re not just responsible for your piece of this project; you’re collaborating across all the professional disciplines,” Ponterio says.

Courtesy Frank Ponterio/Katrina Wittcamp 


The Art Enthusiast: Suzanne Lovell

Chicago-based designer and interior architect Suzanne Lovell is a chameleon—her aesthetic morphs with each project. “We always create a home that best reflects the client, which is why our work varies from bright white minimal and modern to opulent luxury,” she explains.

Constants in her projects include an elevated presence of art and artisan detailing, resulting from her collaborations with craftspeople. Walk with her through a home she’s designed, and she can tell you about every detail: the maker who created the dining table (and it may be her own design), the origin of the intricate millwork, the meaning behind a mural.

Because of this, even her laid-back projects read as sumptuous. A South Carolina vacation home may feature shiplap and pine beams coupled with color-washed paintings by Christopher Le Brun to nod to the coast. Meanwhile, in a St. Regis Residence Club Manhattan owner’s suite, high-sheen paint and leafing highlight the Beaux-Arts architecture. 

Lovell started her firm in Chicago in 1985, and her eponymous brand has since become synonymous with art-centric interior design. As her portfolio has grown, so has the reach of her work, extending to Southwest Florida, where she’s established relationships with some of the region’s top makers, like Matthew Riley at Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild. For a waterfront penthouse, the duo created a ‘wooden box’ with slatted cerused-oak to conceal mechanical functions and to frame the kitchen. She also opened the space from the front door to allow a complete ocean view.

Look closely to find thoughtful design cues woven into her projects, like a mirror that reflects Nick Night’s Black Kate painting in the St. Regis condo. Lovell’s had art advisors on staff for decades to curate and build clients’ collections. (For an Irish-American couple’s Lincoln Park home, Lovell traveled to Ireland with the couple to meet artist Joseph Walsh, whose wooden furnishings now fill several of their homes.) Last year, she launched Lovell Art Advisory, a boutique art consulting firm that allows clients to leverage her exclusive access to international art fairs, auctions and private sales.

On a recent Naples project, Lovell channeled the client’s superyacht to transform their penthouse, incorporating nods to the sea with rope-wrapped columns. “What is remarkable is that the residence—with all of the painstaking attention to detail and effort it took to put it all together—feels warm, gracious and inviting,” Lovell says.

She always aims to create spaces that are in tune with the homeowner and the surroundings: “Southwest Florida is a tremendous inspiration as weather and nature here are truly in charge, and we always create with that in mind.” 

Courtesy Suzanne Lovell/Katrina Wittcamp, Eric Piasecki

Related Images: