When homeowners Joe and Susan Credle moved from a pre-war building on New York’s Upper West Side to Chicago’s Gold Coast, they scored a real estate trifecta: a sprawling apartment in a landmark Mies van der Rohe building with views of Lake Michigan. The unit, actually four apartments that had been combined into one, was a dated hodgepodge comprising one bedroom, two kitchens and four different-colored bathrooms, yet Joe quickly saw its potential. As an architect, he appreciated the bones of the space, but his forte leaned more toward traditional suburban houses; therefore, he needed to team up with someone who had a modernist eye that would complement van der Rohe’s “less is more” style. “We didn’t know of anybody in Chicago who could help,” Joe says. However, a colleague of Susan’s introduced them to architect and designer Patrizio Fradiani, known for his modern approach to architecture and interior design, and thus a collaboration was formed.
To begin, the layout required some adjustments.“Joe asked me to work with him to figure out what the home could spatially become,” Fradiani says. “I created conceptual and schematic plans for the apartment so he and Susan could envision a new space that was airy and modern yet respectful of Mies’ aesthetic.” And although Joe loved and appreciated modern architecture, he didn’t have a lot of exposure to it. “This apartment is 180 degrees from what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years,” the architect says. With Fradiani’s input, Joe worked on the construction drawings and major tasks, as well as handling the day-to-day communication with general contractor rick west of cornerstone building solutions, who supervised the execution of plasterwork, plumbing, electrical work and other endeavors.
After gutting the space, all that remained were two supporting columns, some travertine that covered half the floor, and 32 original aluminum-framed windows that wrapped around three sides of the apartment. Except for tying the new bathrooms and kitchen into the existing plumbing, the apartment was a clean slate from which to start. “A blank slate allowed us to enhance the floor plan’s circulation and develop focal points throughout the space,” Fradiani says. “The goal was always to give the home an abundance of natural light through the expansive windows that open up to the city and lake views.”
In addition, Susan had several ideas of her own. While she, too, wanted to preserve as much of the lake view as possible for the public spaces, she also wanted to create an open-concept kitchen and incorporate an abundance of closets. Instead of chopping up the home with plaster walls, Fradiani and Joe installed two floor-to-ceiling walnut cabinets to define the new design’s two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms and three living spaces. The millwork not only provides privacy and Susan’s must-have storage, but it also conceals ductwork, eliminating the need for dropped soffits. “The cabinets allow for organization in the space and identify the core circulation, which connects in a loop to the perimeter,” Fradiani says. “Walnut was chosen as a warm complement to the travertine floors and aluminum-framed windows.”
When Fradiani proposed creating a dining nook off the main living room with even more walnut paneling, Susan came up with the idea of a curved wall. “The result was very successful,” Fradiani says, noting how the form embraces the couple’s midcentury sputnik chandelier. That fixture, he says, “has a dialogue” with another vintage sputnik—a 1966 Swarovski piece from the metropolitan opera in New York—that sits on the living room coffee table.
The dining nook’s curved wall also subtly separates private spaces from public ones. “Giving the view of the lake to the more public areas, such as the living room, and the city views to the more private areas—the master bedroom and den—provides both a visual and functional connection,” Fradiani says. “The living spaces, where you can see the colors of the lake change constantly, have a more meditative quality. However, these spaces are so connected to one another that the separation between public and private areas is very subtle with no apparent division, except for elements such as the curved walnut-paneled wall.”
Although they wanted to be respectful of the 1951 skyscraper’s legacy as an iconic modernist apartment building, neither Fradiani nor Joe felt the space needed to be a museum of midcentury design. The sputnik chandeliers are the only nod to that era, and they sparkle against the minimalist furnishings and warm gray palette— picked up from the detailing in the travertine floor, which was carefully matched throughout. “I injected a little color to balance the gray tones,” says Fradiani, pointing to the Piet Mondrian-inspired sideboard in the living room and a vibrant Emilio Pucci fabric covering the master bedroom chair. Furthermore, Fradiani didn’t want to imitate van der Rohe’s design style, but instead carefully curated furniture and objects that reflect present-day living while still offering a modernist classic feel. “We aimed to create a work of art with a minimalist approach but never wanted to lose the sense of fun and energy that makes you feel good in a living space,” he says.
The couple’s favorite room is a cocoon-like den nestled between the kitchen and foyer—formed by a walnut-clad partition and a lapis lazuli stone wall. “The wall has a very Mies-like feel and creates an element of surprise as you enter the apartment,” Fradiani says. “I have this fantasy that if Mies could see the space now, he’d pat us on the shoulder with approval.”