Nothing quite compares to high-rise living in Chicago—that feeling of being fully surrounded by vistas of the city that gave birth to skyscrapers. Such views totally entranced one homeowner who found a penthouse overlooking the Chicago River as it winds through the glistening cityscape. The luminous apartment epitomized his ideal of a metropolitan abode.
When he met with interior designer Brynn Olson, he only planned to tweak the main bedroom and kitchen. But as they progressed through the project, he discovered that “home” meant more than just finding the perfect view. He still craved that sky-high experience, but one infused with domestic creature comforts. “What I liked about Brynn and her team was that they asked me how I wanted to live,” the client shares. “I realized that, yes, the space was exactly what I envisioned, but the look and feel of it wasn’t right. I wanted it to be comfortable and inviting.” Adds Olson, “When we approached the space, we moved away from the concept of a penthouse. We wanted this to feel like a real home, because sometimes you can lose that in a place like this, surrounded by steel and glass.” That’s how a two-room design project ballooned into a complete reimagining of city living.
Olson and her team first focused on bolstering the architectural millwork to “create this beautiful canvas we could layer on top of,” she explains. This included new baseboards, crown molding, doors and wall paneling, particularly in the revamped foyer, which is punctuated by a vivid cobalt William McLure painting. From the office to the main bedroom, custom floor-to-ceiling built-in shelving filled with books and ceramics cultivates a sense of being accumulated over time. An eclectic selection of art amplifies this collected feel, featuring works by Midwestern artists like Joelle Somero and Dana De Ano.
Underscoring the home’s sunlit atmosphere, Olson integrated lighter materials to “bring a breath of fresh air to the space,” she says. The team stained the dark oak floors a pale gray hue and re-fabricated the kitchen from scratch, replacing the previously ornate dark finishes with floating steel-and-glass shelving, cerused-oak cabinetry and a statuary-marble waterfall island. Natural stonework also accentuates the fireplaces, from the Indiana white limestone surround in the living area to the smoky gray marble flanking the new bedroom firebox.
Alongside these rich architectural details, Olson swathed each room in sensuous textures, softening the home’s tactile and acoustic atmosphere. The client’s bedroom feels utterly cocooned in textiles, from the cashmere area rug to the suede wall paneling. Silky wallcoverings surround the great room, where contemporary furnishings are upholstered in a bevy of linens, velvets, wools and leathers. And for every window “we added these really soft ivory treatments to frame the views,” the designer notes.
Though technically a bachelor pad, both the client and design team always defined the apartment as a place to be shared, where his family and friends would intuitively gravitate together. “We wanted to make people feel that this is a home you’re welcome to all the time,” Olson says. “So, we were very thoughtful in space planning. We made sure there was a place to sit most anywhere guests might gather.” The penthouse’s vast terrace in particular was primed for enjoying precious Chicago sunlight, offering a distinct dining section, large seating area and a more intimate alcove for outdoor get-togethers. The space has quickly become a favorite among guests, “as sitting out there with the Chicago skyline in the background is just an amazing experience,” the client shares.
Inside, parties naturally circulate around the central great room, from the formal dining area with its banquet-worthy table set for up to 10 guests, to the expansive living space where “you’re greeted immediately with huge sofas that basically beg you to come sit,” Olson laughs. With its custom brass étagère and antiqued-glass backsplash diffusing the light, the shimmering bar area anchors festivities between both spaces.
Executing these changes together became “such a fun journey,” Olson says. “The client really understood how design can transform.” For the final reveal, the team prepared a special unveiling complete with candles, flowers and cocktails. Despite consulting on every selection and witnessing all the new additions, the results still felt thrilling, says the client. Looking back, however, he most treasures the moments just before entering his new place, walking through the city he loves. “I remember getting a little emotional,” he reminisces. “I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to walk into my dream home.’ ”