Shared experiences often forge relationships that one can turn to, no matter how much time has passed. Such was the case for a Chicago couple looking to move back downtown after a long suburban sojourn. So, they called on some old friends: architect Thomas Shafer, whom they had met when their children were younger, and designers Thomas Riker and James Dolenc, veterans of a previous project with the couple.
The clients had secured a space in a new high-rise, but they soon realized something wasn’t quite right. Partially built out with an emphasis on individual rooms, “The unit was more traditional,” Shafer reports. “They didn’t want to feel boxed in.” Starting from scratch, they took another unit in the building—this time completely unfinished. The switch meant the team could think in terms of an open plan and, of course, the views, which, says the architect, “We used as the engine that drove everything.”
While Shafer and the homeowners embraced an open, light-filled concept, “We didn’t want a one-liner,” the architect says. So he devised a tightly controlled entry sequence to introduce the vistas capturing downtown and the lake. The elevator leads to a jewel box of a foyer and, from there, to the front doors. “Once you open them, there’s a screen wall that serves as the spine of the apartment and makes you contemplate your next move,” explains Shafer. “It’s mysterious and beautiful.” Comprised of vertical wood pickets, the structure creates a peekaboo effect, offering up slivers of the view until the dramatic window wall is fully revealed.
Making that move “was a real trick,” notes Shafer, who worked with builder Ryan Quid. “We had to make sure wherever you were you’d have long vistas through the unit.” His plan allows one to circumnavigate the apartment 270 degrees around the perimeter so that no one feels trapped in a room. It is, however, openness within reason. “With a simple close of a door, the homeowners can shut down the unit,” he notes, thanks to a layered program where public spaces give way to more transitional, semi-public spaces and then the bedrooms.
When it came to the interior design, the husband presented Riker, Dolenc and project lead Erin Humphrey with three words they wished their home to convey: warm, welcoming and timeless. “They were receptive to ideas, and that led down a path of newness,” says Riker. “They wanted modern, but not super trendy.” Adds Humphrey, “We didn’t choose anything that would date itself.”
With those watchwords in mind, the designers opted for furnishings that had classic, crisp profiles but also a subtle flair. Chairs by the wine room have a familiar club feel but stand on bases with brass-toned legs near a cabinet with eglomise door fronts, while the sofa in the family room balances on a chrome base. In the living room, a pair of chairs hints at a klismos form, but overstuffed profiles lend them a funky twist. And the homeowners did bring a few family favorites into their new digs, like a Philip and Kelvin LaVerne coffee table and a pair of Platner chairs. “The wife likes pieces with heritage,” notes Riker, “and we embraced that.”
The designers favored neutral hues with the occasional dash of blue, taking a cues from the sky outside and the Michiko Itatani painting in the living room. Along with the artwork, the team relied on finishes and lighting to serve up big textural and visual moves. They begin in the elevator lobby, which is papered with a scenic de Gournay print and features a book-matched marble floor. Nearby, Riker and company finished a plaster gallery wall for richness. And, knowing that the layout of the living and dining areas couldn’t support a chandelier over the dining table, the team instead centered a fixture over the living area’s coffee table. “It’s quiet but dramatic,” says Riker, “and doesn’t interfere with the art or the views.”
The team upped the ante with yet another touch: a NanaWall that opens up the kitchen to the terrace. “It feels less like apartment living because it affords the ease of going outside,” notes Riker. “It creates a break-out-of-the box feeling.” Which, one could say, is more necessary now than ever before. The flexible layout and nearly panoramic views make for an ideal home during times of quarantine. “Everyone has a place here,” says Riker, adding with a laugh, “so they’re not driving each other crazy.”