Trading in suburban life for city dwelling isn’t always easy, as few people like the idea of giving up both space and access to nature. But architect Catherine Osika and designer Bruce Fox know that sometimes you can have it all. The duo’s clients, a professional couple and their teenage son, were living in Chicago’s suburbs and liked their proximity to nature but also wanted to take advantage of the city’s offerings. “I enjoy walking places,” says the wife. “We wanted to see more theater and hear more live music.” So, when the husband discovered the ideal apartment for what they were looking for—with more than 2,000 square feet of outdoor space and sweeping views of Lake Michigan—the couple purchased it and called Osika. “I knew Cathy’s work and had always liked it,” says the husband. “And she highly recommended Bruce.”
The architect and designer joined forces to imagine a plan that brought a little bit of country to the city. “The husband likes to hunt and camp,” says Osika, who at the time of the design was with Burns + Beyerl Architects and worked with project architect Jeffrey Whiteman on the home. Adds Fox: “They’re drawn to texture, warmth and inviting elements, so we came up with the idea of an urban cabin. We wanted to create something that felt comfortable and casual yet still sophisticated.”
Osika, who is now with Related Midwest, was able to start the project with a blank canvas. “The clients bought the apartment as a raw space,” she says. Because the space was unfinished, the couple could turn it into what they wanted: a home that embraced views and supported their love of entertaining. “We entertain for work and also have a very large family,” says the wife. To allow for easy circulation and socializing, Osika designed an open layout with delineated spaces that are accessed via wide openings. “The rooms are contained but flow in and out of one another,” she says. “I made the thresholds deep and called them out with custom stained white-oak paneling that has a groove detail.” Both Osika and Fox outfitted the threshold that connects the living and dining rooms with a built-in bar, making it more than just a transition space. “Everybody gathers there,” says Osika. Here, she used white oak for the kitchen cabinetry and the library bookshelves, which double as a secret door to the son’s room. “The wood recalls the idea of a cabin but in a polished way,” she adds.
Cooking is as important to the family as entertaining. “They wanted people to be able to hang out in the kitchen while they prepare food,” says Fox, who collaborated with project designer Lisa Demet. To visually designate the kitchen, Fox and Osika added informality to the space by covering the floor with reclaimed terra-cotta tiles. “It’s French and has such a rich texture, character and color,” he says. “Cooking spice shades like paprika and curry inspired the warm colors of the entire design.” For example, counter stools with seats and backs made of woven leather in burnt sienna pull up to the kitchen island, and a rust-colored kilim rug covers the floor in the adjacent breakfast area. Fox tempered the warm tones with a statement-making blue lacquered cabinet. “There are magnificent views of the lake and the sky from many of the rooms, so I did a thread of blue throughout,” says Fox, who also adorned the walls of the dining room with blue-colored plaster. “That plaster went up and transformed the entire space,” says general contractor James Kastenholz. “Other walls throughout the space catch the light and look like suede.” In the entry, Fox placed a cabinet wrapped in aqua leather to cool the gold-toned wall paint, an olive-colored glass pendant and floor tile laid in a plaid pattern.
In addition to color, Fox juxtaposed styles and textures. “I like the idea that two very different things can exist in the same space,” he says. “A mix of elements creates interest and personality.” In the living room, for instance, traditional- style armchairs are upholstered with gold linen-velvet and flank a contemporary faux bois accent table, while rustic plaid textiles on sofa pillows and a lounge chair contrast with luxurious gold details in other pillows. Moreover, a wall covered in grass cloth in the master bedroom counters the fanciful ceiling fixture. In the dining room, floral cotton draperies mingle with horsehair-upholstered chairs. “The draperies feel like they might’ve hung in a cabin, but the horsehair is just so elegant,” Fox says.
Much like the apartment’s interior, the terrace provides a connection to both the city and nature. “You can see the John Hancock Center as well as ducks swimming on the North Pond,” says Osika. The team arranged outdoor sitting areas for the space—each having special elements such as a fire pit, a water feature and a living wall, which includes seasonal herbs, annuals and succulents. A diverse mixture of perennials add color with ornamental grasses rustling in the lakefront breeze. Additionally, Osika collaborated with landscape architect Brian Culliton of Culliton Quinn Landscape Architecture on the terrace’s design and many of its components. “Since the project incorporates a number of site features, it was essential to develop a plan with a cohesive aesthetic,” Culliton says. “Everything had to be designed in sections or fabricated on site since there were size limitations based on the freight elevator.”
Since the remodeling, the owners couldn’t be more pleased with the result. “We spend more time outside here than we did at our house in the suburbs,” says the husband. Adds the wife: “This place is just so comfortable. It really feels like home.”