My husband, Steve, was raised in a big city and I was raised on a farm,” says homeowner Cherie Levy. “We wanted to pull both into this project–our farmhouse in the sky.” Architect Bill Massey took their request to mean they wanted the layout of their Chicago penthouse on the 35th story of the Palmolive Building to be “a little more casual.” Working with interior designer Richard Menna for the interiors, as well as builders Howard Dardick and Adam Masters, Massey created a warm and inviting retreat for the Wisconsin-based couple–she’s a philanthropist, he’s a business executive–where elegant trim, refined furniture and resplendent lighting dress up rustic wood and honed marble.
The renovation was a complete overhaul, but for Massey, a familiar site. In the early 2000s, he worked on the conversion of the historic Art Deco landmark from an office building to a residential address. This floor, previously part of a triplex owned by actor Vince Vaughn, had been sold separately and housed only bedrooms when the Levys bought it. “The challenge was: How do we create generous family spaces and bedrooms that are suited to the owners’ needs? How do we get a kitchen in there?” says Massey.
“The way Bill put together a floor plan to make the layout work was tremendous,” observes Masters. It helped that the hallway off the elevator dictated a natural flow. Massey was able to plan rooms off of it, creating a greater visual connection between the spaces by making the entries as wide as possible. In the dining room, for example, Massey wanted to be sure the fireplace played a starring role. “It was cool and seemed to fit the vibe,” he says. “We wanted to be able to appreciate it as you walk through, so we widened the opening.” The new passageways also allow Cherie to see from her office on one end through to the kitchen and take in views of Lake Shore Drive to the north, while the master suite affords a clear shot straight down Michigan Avenue.
Such urban panoramas, however, do not connote a bucolic vibe. That’s where Menna came in with a vision for the interiors. “I took the bull by the horns,” he says. “I’d say it’s not so much farmhouse as a transitional background with a country French-English look. It’s more sophisticated.” Beginning with the trims and finishes, he had the original quartersawn white-oak floors redone and installed herringbone in the entry to reference the look of the flooring in the dining room. Wood throughout is rustic or weathered, like the kitchen island with its cerused base–fashioned to look like a picnic table–and the wire-brushed farm table in the dining room. While the family room features embossed vinyl wallcovering that resembles barn siding, Menna and Massey planned paneling for most of the other walls. “We looked at simple profiles to put onto the surfaces,” says Massey. “So you didn’t have to do wallcoverings or go crazy with art–just break down wall surfaces.”
One of Cherie’s requests was to keep the decor and the palette simple. “I found a color from Kravet that I love,” Menna says of the pale caramel checks and stripes on white linen, cotton and silk. “They had a stripe, a mini stripe, a check–we used it everywhere.” Those warm tones also referenced the creamy beige-and-gray marble that appears from the kitchen countertops and backsplash to the floors of the baths (and a frieze in the master bath) to the French reproduction mantel in the dining room. Even the walls are painted a soft white with gray undertones.
While the materials and textiles are grounded in natural neutrals, the lighting adds a touch of glamour. Consistently styled in rusted metals and clear crystal, fixtures range from a tiered chandelier in the kitchen to a series of sconces in the hall, which brings a decorative sequence to that paneled stretch. “The dark metal lends a nice contrast to the white walls,” says Menna. “It really makes everything pop.” The designer notes that Cherie did much of the accessorizing, adding objects such as art, pottery and occasional furnishings that she had both purchased and inherited, lending a personal touch to the project. “She did an outstanding job,” he says.
Considering how their new vacation home offers the dual experience of the lake and the city, Cherie says, “We love the tranquility of being high above the city. It’s almost like being on the farm. We gravitate to either side of the house depending on our mood.” But thanks to the design, they don’t necessarily have to choose–the best of both worlds is theirs.