A Traditional Chicago Pied-à-Terre with Intricate Craftsmanship


The raw space, half of the 25th floor of architect Lucien Lagrange’s new North Lake Shore Drive building on Chicago’s Gold Coast, was to be a pied-à-terre. “The clients are empty nesters and planned to use it as a secondary residence in which to entertain,” says their longtime interior designer, Jessica Lagrange. “That’s what drove the floor plan.” So, under her direction, architect David Huggins, of Lagrange’s eponymous Chicago-based interiors firm, crafted a two-bedroom home out of the nearly 5,000-square-foot space for the prominent attorney/philanthropist and his wife, leaving plenty of room to roam at parties and fundraisers. 

The couple’s affection for formal and traditional spaces—with separate areas for the kitchen, library and dining room—helped form that equation of so much space and so few bedrooms. “It wasn’t a big open plan,” says Huggins, who was responsible for the millwork and interior architecture. “Because of that, we were able to use the definition between rooms to hide columns and pipes.”
Lagrange’s responsibility was, she says, “to make the place look lived in. The idea was to make it feel as if it had been there for a hundred years, like a turn-of-the-century Parisian apartment but with modern touches.” She took inspiration from the building, what she calls a “contemporary interpretation of French Beaux Arts,” commissioning custom finishes, paneling and built-ins, even glazing the paint so it showed a patina that usually comes with age. 

Given that level of detail and luxury, the owners were delighted with their new residence. There was just one tiny little problem: It could use a bit more closet space. So, when the second half of the floor became available, the attorney and his wife immediately saw the possibilities and snatched it up, doubling their square footage and allowing them to transform their pied-à-terre into a permanent home.

For the design team, the new plan posed unique challenges. “The two spaces had to be knit together,” says Michael Saltenberger, senior project manager at Chicago-based Bulley & Andrews, who handled the build-out on the first and second phases. “We were transitioning from an existing space to a new area and trying to make it look seamless.” Not only that, but the original residence had to continue to be habitable while the second portion was being carved out.

Ultimately, the connection between the two spaces was a coat closet, where the team cut through the walls. A second rotunda mirroring the first was created, and the intricate herringbone floor was painstakingly continued into the new wing. “Every single piece had to align,” says Saltenberger. A bevy of new spaces was formed, including a billiards room, media room, wine storage hall, third bedroom suite, exercise room and even a gift-wrapping room. It may sound over the top, but, because the décor and finishes match the original space so subtly, Huggins calls it “more elegant than ostentatious.”

The craftsmanship and artistry that went into the project was far beyond anything the team had worked on before: marble mosaics, domed ceilings, sterling-plated fixtures and Holland & Sherry wool draperies. “Gretchen Bellinger herself came to present the fabric for the dining room,” says Lagrange. The kitchen, designed in collaboration with de Giulio Kitchen Design, sports oversized, cream-colored subway tile, sepia-toned coverings and fabrics, and La Cornue ranges and cabinets. “I wanted the kitchen to look like it was from an old estate,” says Lagrange.

Throughout, Lagrange created a visual hierarchy: The more public a space, the more paneling and detail and the lighter the paint; the more private a space, the less paneling and the darker the shade. “It’s a very subdued palette, inspired by the lake,” she says. “There’s some bit of blue in every room.” And, by the time the two units had became a cohesive entity of one, the designer had meshed classic with modern—and accomplished what may be the biggest feat of her career. “It was the job of a lifetime,”says Lagrange,“for the client of a lifetime.”

—Lisa Selin Davis