The aim of good interior design, many would say, is to capture the personality of one’s client within the tried-and-true principles of good proportion, color sensitivity and scale. This Chicago high-rise residence consummates that ideal. “The spaces are as lean and elegant as my client,” says interior architect and designer Scott Himmel. “This home actually looks like her.”
However, this was not always the case. Himmel had originally designed the Gold Coast residence for the owner and her former husband in 2006 in what was then a new building with an exterior façade designed by architect Lucien Lagrange. Purchased as a raw space, the home’s interior was conjured by the designer with modernity in mind, but “The International style would not have been appropriate because the windows were traditional punched openings set into the exterior stone-clad wall,” he says.
Instead of walking into the sort of expansive, show-it-all space dictated by more modern styles, Himmel remembers, “The wife was insistent on coming into a very discreet entrance hall and having the apartment and views revealed to you.” The resulting layout produced a grand formal enfilade of public rooms, yet it featured only three doors, thus balancing classicism with the more contemporary concept of open-plan interiors. The design was also replete with exquisitely crafted details executed by Power Construction, among them: floors of petite granite limestone in the entry hall and hand-scraped spalted maple elsewhere; leather-panel closet doors trimmed with nailheads; extensive mahogany paneling, shelving, window, and door frames; and, in the living room, a spectacular coffered mahogany ceiling polished to a dazzling glossy sheen.
Then, six years ago, Himmel’s clients divorced, with the wife remaining in the home. Says the designer, “Now there was an opportunity to go back and redo what wasn’t exactly in line with her taste from the beginning.” The first things to go were two very masculine, overstuffed living room sofas as well as the room’s rug, which was based on a Jean Arp design. “It had too much color and pattern for what I was trying to achieve,” says the homeowner. “Plus, the layout was not conducive for entertaining.”
Designer and client soon began editing things down, making rooms feel airier, while, at the same time, livening up the palette. “Beige and brown were forbidden,” Himmel exclaims. In their place, the designer picked up the colorful tones of his client’s artwork. “I’ve been collecting all my life,” she says of the works scattered throughout by such heavy hitters as Jim Dine, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Julian Opie, Larry Rivers, and Wayne Thiebaud, to name a few.
These hints of color can be seen throughout. The living room now boasts a leaner custom sofa in a charcoal gray, while an Art Deco-style chair adjacent to it was upholstered in a hot pink velvet, chosen for its particular addition to the room’s color palette. A bespoke steel-and-granite coffee table—inspired by the designs of midcentury French great Maxime Old—offers an angular component to the soft femininity of the chair. Finally, the Arp-inspired rug was replaced with a simpler, monochromatic silk blend, that, in its particular gray shade, provides a punch of saturated tone. In the library, Biedermeier chairs now showcase a more feminine purple velvet, and the Maison Carlhian-inspired custom sofa opposite is dressed in “almost an animal print, but not quite,” observes Himmel. “It was about taking a furniture piece and making it more glamorous.”
Both designer and client are enamored of distinctive furnishings from various periods. “My range of design inspiration runs from the 18th century to now,” says Himmel, who, in fact, was an original founder of Mattaliano, which specializes in European designs from the 1930s and ’40s. His new company, Truex American Furniture, is based on inspirations for furniture designed by great decorators of post-World War II New York, among others.
Himmel’s passion for great design becomes manifestly apparent in the dining room, with chairs—scaled-up interpretations of an Egyptian-inspired chair by Deco-era classicist Jean-Charles Moreux—that he had conceived for the apartment’s original scheme, an iconic 1930s mirror and sideboard by Giò Ponti, and a circa 1950 Jean Royère chandelier. “Her taste is extremely simple,” says Himmel of the homeowner. “But she’s fascinated by unusual things with a great provenance.” For the room’s new incarnation, Himmel designed a contemporary table with a black walnut chamfered-edge top on steel legs. Additionally, two works by leading American Pop artist Tom Wesselmann flank the doorway.
“Over the last four years, the apartment has evolved to reflect more of my personality,” explains the homeowner. “I realized that this building was like a fine piece of art. It just needed time for people to understand it.”
—Jorge S. Arango