They say the hallmark of a great designer is the ability to mix styles in seamlessly unexpected ways: modern art among antiques; clean-lined furniture with whimsical touches. If this is the case, then designer and homeowner Britt Taner delivers juxtaposition at its finest in her two-story penthouse in Chicago’s Ambassador West building. Situated in the Gold Coast neighborhood, akin to New York’s Upper East Side, the landmark building features a 1920s brick and limestone façade that belies Taner’s contemporary interior. Filled with eye-catching art, vintage antiques and ultramodern details, the home reflects Taner and her family’s “fun, full-of-energy and happy personalities,” she says.
Prior to purchasing the condominium, Taner, husband Kerim and their combined family of three girls were living in the suburb of Winnetka when the cultural verve of the city came calling. “Kerim desired more of a metropolitan life,” the designer says. Born and raised in Chicago, Taner was open to moving back to the city, “but needed to find a place worth moving to,” she says. “So we spent a year looking at real estate.” But after only a second look at this unit, with its 700-square-foot outdoor terrace and 12-to-13-foot-high ceilings, the couple was sold.
Beginning with a raw shell, Taner called on the team at Wheeler Kearns Architects, which included architect Larry Kearns, principal Tom Bader and project architect Chris-Annmarie Spencer, to reconfigure specific areas like the master suite, powder room and, most significantly, the stairway. Cumbersome and unattractive, the original stairway obstructed the apartment’s entry and exposures. “We wanted to create one that was compact and tucked away,” Spencer says. “Yet it had to read as part of the container of the apartment to keep the focus on Britt’s collections of art and furnishings.” General contractor Mark Fraser, who Spencer had brought onboard, says “the stairway was the biggest challenge and very tricky to construct.”
Covered in Venetian plaster with rift-oak treads and risers, the stunning piece spirals from the 12th-floor common areas and bedrooms to the 13th-floor family and guest room and connecting terrace outside. In addition to the sculptural stairway, the home also displays several other masterpieces by such renowned names as Joan Miró and Andy Warhol, to name a few. “Kerim and I both love contemporary art,” Taner says, as proven through the immense gallery collected nationally and abroad—of which includes the entry’s fanciful display of shoes by Mauro Perucchetti made of crystal clear urethane, Swarovski crystals and stainless steel on acrylic. “It wasn’t just art to fill the space. We saw so much that we loved, and it was nice to pick it out together.”
From the artwork to the fabrics, color plays a part in every room. In fact, an ikat fabric purchased on a family trip to Istanbul fueled the design of the home. Seen on the French armchairs and pillows in the living room, the graphic silk comes alive with jewel tones. Taner also drew inspiration from other sites worldwide, like the sophisticated spunk of Miami Beach’s Delano hotel (where Taner met Kerim), the “floating” wood floors at the Art Institute of Chicago and the creamy lacquered walls at the Hotel Adlon Kempinksi in Berlin. Thus, rift oak, white Thassos marble and lacquered millwork make an appearance time and again. Throughout, antiques blend with new and custom pieces, such as the 1940s black secretaire from Paris that pairs with low-profile seating in the living room or the red Windsor chairs and laminate table in the kitchen. “I love creating a space with an unexpected mix of elements,” Taner says.
Between the art, furniture and architectural feats, it’s difficult to determine what makes the greatest impact. And stepping outside doesn’t make it any easier. Outfitted for comfort, the panoramic terrace affords entertaining at its best. “The rooftop terrace is our manicured English garden in the city,” Taner says. Variegated boxwood, chosen by landscape designer Bill Heffernan for its durability, frames the space. “It’s clean and handsome,” he says. Topping off the terrace, literally, a 40-foot-wide awning gives the outdoor oasis protection from the elements and greater usability.
With an apartment in Istanbul, a vacation home in Vero Beach, Florida, and their primary residence here in Chicago now complete, what’s next on the radar for Taner? “We want to rehab a barn,” she says. Talk about juxtapositions.