This is a visually calm space that draws the outside in,” says designer Elizabeth Krueger about the Chicago apartment she fashioned for a professional couple seeking a tranquil aesthetic. Rather than competing with the ever-changing colors of the lake and sky, Krueger adorned the apartment with a multitextural palette of earthy hues. “The owners are incredibly warm yet very hip,” she says. “So, we wanted to create a cozy, layered space with an edgy note.”
To begin the project, architect Jean Dufresne and associate Maria Contreras made several modifications to the original floor plan, which had a traditional layout featuring smaller closed-off rooms. “The entry had an oval hall that didn’t fit the look or feel of the space we envisioned, which was an open owing layout,” Dufresne says. Adds the wife: “I wanted a calm, spa-like environment with a simple, uncluttered floor plan. It was important that every room be used and have a purpose.” Originally, the entry didn’t have a relationship to the dining room, and the kitchen was completely shut off from the living room. With the changes made, “the space now has a much better flow while affording views of the city,” Dufresne says. “It feels so serene and inviting.”
One of the most glaring problems with the original unit was its galley-style kitchen. Eliminating the wall between the kitchen and the living room “allowed us to let more natural light into the entire area,” says the husband. “It also provided unobstructed views of the lake, which has a different personality and look every day, as well as compelling views of the city.” Furthermore, a custom waterfall-style table that attaches to the kitchen’s island bridges the gap between the island’s iceberg quartzite countertop and the sumptuous finishes in the living room. “We wanted the kitchen to feel like it was part of the living room,” Krueger says. “It’s as beautiful, open and airy as it is utilitarian.” In that same spirit, upper cabinets have been tucked out of sight from the living room in favor of floating steel shelves.
To emphasize the seemingly endless blue water horizon, Krueger had the formerly white window casings painted a dark shade of bronze. “It’s almost like an eyeliner that accentuates the colors of the outside,” Krueger says. “It makes the lake seem that much bluer against the dark window frames.” Grass-cloth wallpaper with a warm wood-toned color in the kitchen reinforces that effect and plays off the studded wallpaper that defines the open dining room. The dance of textures continues in the master bedroom, where a Moroccan-inspired rug and a woven wallcovering foster an enveloping ambience. “I love working with natural materials,” Krueger says. “It was all in service of that layered visual story we were telling.”
At the wife’s request, concrete columns in the living room were uncovered, adding another layer to the ensemble. “They were never meant to be exposed, so we didn’t know what we’d uncover,” says builder Anthony DiVittorio. “We used grinders and chemicals to clean them up, and they turned out to be a really dynamic element.” One column, which is positioned between the living room and kitchen, anchors a comfortable seating space with a built-in bench and a pair of contemporary chairs. “We really tried to create a variety of seating areas within one cohesive space,” Krueger says. To that extent, another built-in bench in the living room’s bay window resides with petrified-wood side tables and a rocking chair, while a pair of tête-à-tête sofas takes center stage, as does a grouping of custom armchairs surrounding an ottoman with nailhead trim. “We kept a majority of the seating off the windows because we wanted people to walk up and take in the view,” Krueger says. Adds Dufresne: “Elizabeth managed to make the large living room feel intimate and welcoming. Every element is so well-connected and plays off each other.”
In contrast to the cavernous living room, the master suite was deliberately scaled down to create an intimate retreat—its extra square footage allocated to a larger closet and master bathroom, which was reoriented toward the windows. “We reorganized the master bathroom to maximize the views,” Krueger says. The tub, for instance, was placed on a raised platform that cleverly conceals plumbing while taking advantage of the panoramas. Displayed like a piece of art beneath a glass pendant, it cuts a modern profile against an oak-paneled accent wall. Furthermore, an oversize mirror helps to reflect the outdoor colors that change throughout the day.
Although renovating the apartment was not without its challenges, the owners are pleased with the outcome. “The things that were so frustrating turned out to be the greatest joys,” says the wife. “It was nice working with people who stayed creative throughout the process.” During the final stretch of the project, while the owners were away, Krueger coordinated the installation, staged the home and placed all the details. Once every piece of furniture was arranged to perfection, the couple came home for the big reveal. “It was a very special treat,” says the wife. “The lights were dimmed, the music was playing, and every item was in place. We’ve moved a lot over the years, and it feels very comforting to be in a home that we could stay in forever.”
— Tate Gunnerson