Two years ago, Doug Roach, design director of New York-based David Scott Interiors, received an e-mail from clients for whom he had previously designed a large Georgian home on Long Island. “The subject line read ‘Windy City,’ ” he recalls. The husband and investment banker, George Bilicic, was being transferred to Chicago, and he and his wife, Laura, had just purchased an apartment on the 16th floor of a circa 1920s building in the Gold Coast. Some weeks later, sitting in the bar of The Peninsula Hotel in the city, “George told me, ‘I know you’re going to design us a really cool Chicago apartment,’ ” Roach says.
It wasn’t the couple’s first experience of apartment living, because the firm had also previously outfitted a Park Avenue apartment that preceded their Long Island home, so the company was well acquainted with the clients’ tastes. “We lived in New York for almost 30 years,” says Laura, “and we saw a lot of apartments with Persian rugs and heavy window treatments. That’s just not us.” With four boys—now aged 8 to 17—the clients and Roach were determined to achieve a balance between urban cool and practical livability.
For the gut renovation, the couple hired architect Joan Craig, who created a design to convert the four bedroom layout into five in order to accommodate each family member. “Everything but the front rooms were completely scrambled,” says Craig, who worked with project architect Tom Wynn, now with Wade Weissmann Architecture in Milwaukee. To lessen the impact of being uprooted, Craig borrowed certain elements from the Long Island home. “We liked the entry hall paneling, so we repeated that around the apartment,” Craig says. “We wanted it to feel like they were coming home and to create a sense of belonging for them.” One of the main characteristics of these particular clients is their height: George is 6 feet 9 inches, Laura is 5-feet-10 and the elder twins are 6 feet 6 inches. “I’m also a tall person,” adds Wynn, “and I can sympathize with the plight of people who bump their head coming into a room. So we started the door heights at 7 1/2 feet.” Additionally, Craig and Wynn attenuated molding profiles to exaggerate the verticality of the rooms.
To connect the space more appropriately with the metropolitan locale, Roach encouraged the owners to take risks with more saturated colors and glossier finishes. Whereas their Long Island abode skewed more toward beige and brown tones, “we took the colors in this home further in terms of mood,” he says. Now the office’s navy blue-lacquered paneling and the dining room’s chocolate-brown hand-painted wallcovering offer moody enticements. “They lure you into the spaces,” Roach says. The pewter gray of the expansive living room “is like a chameleon with the lake’s effects,” adds Roach, referring to views of Lake Michigan beyond the generous windows. Pops of contrasting color—blues in the living room, tomato red in the office—vivify and freshen up the spaces. The kitchen’s burnt umber tone, the same color from their previous East Coast home, was another effort to help the children acclimate to their new city.
“The finishes are very high-end, especially the wallpaper and ceiling coverings,” says general contractor Mark Fraser, who notes that approximately 100 tradesmen worked on this apartment during the renovation. “The lacquer had to be done in the field,” he adds about the office and the black-lacquer shelves lining the corridor from the foyer to the master suite, which the family filled with their extensive collection of books. “They love books,” Craig says. “So, we tried to create the same amount of space for them that they had in their Long Island house.”
When it came to the furnishings, Roach also urged the Bilicics to mix things up to create a more sophisticated aesthetic. “Their previous house was more American and English,” says Roach, who worked on this home with project manager Alan Gilmer. “In the living room, we combined a Biedermeier center table, a French folding stool, a Louis XVI-style library chair, agate-topped tables in the style of 1950s designer Jacques Quinet and a T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings chest.” The latter’s yellow finish offers a happy note against the gray tones; these playful finishes make the home feel more youthful. Other special characteristics in the apartment include a custom decorative-paint finish on the butler pantry’s vaulted ceiling, which features layers of metallic bronze and gold paint. “It was my interpretation of a classic gilded ceiling tailored to the clients’ personalities: earthy yet glamorous,” Roach says. And, the custom lava stone kitchen island: “It makes an elegant connection to the adjacent formal rooms but still offers durability,” he says.
Yet, Roach says, “I wanted to keep the design more casual, because they’re not a showy couple.” Pairing a potentially formal Louis XVI-style étagère with the T.H. Robsjohn- Gibbings chest and a custom leather-bound sisal carpet in the living room, for instance, helps to give the space a more informal feel. Similarly with the office’s custom ottoman—which has a luxurious look but is also dog friendly—and a cowhide area rug atop the sisal carpet. “The kids don’t look out of place in the rooms at all,” Roach says. For Laura, that is precisely what works. With four tall boys and a dog that jumps on the furniture, she was definitely not into precious environments. “It’s a beautiful apartment,” she says. “But you walk in and feel like you’re in a family home.”
—Jorge S. Arango