Tom and Cindy Shelby had no intention of leaving their Chicago pied-à-terre at the Ritz-Carlton Residences. Just a few years before, architect and designer Joan Craig had carved out their ideal urbane abode, swathed in dark floral fabrics and Art Deco-inspired accents. It was perfect.
Then an entire floor a few stories above became available. Boasting 360-degree views of both Lake Michigan and Chicago’s iconic skyline, the unit’s opportunity to experience the city so cinematically felt irresistible. And because it was unfinished, “we had carte blanche to do whatever we wanted,” Cindy says.
“Our hearts were beating pretty quickly,” laughs Craig about that exciting first tour with her design team, which was co-led by architect Dave Pickert and designer Christina Stillwaugh and rounded out with architects Tracie Cote and Nicole Zielinski. “We could program different elements according to the light, the views and the orientation,” says Craig, who worked with builder Brandon Rogalski, project manager Chris Bulak, superintendents Todd Rieger and Frank Mendicino, and project engineer Dan Hefley to execute these concepts.
The Shelbys envisioned a home primed for entertaining, so the layout pivots around spaces that shift according to the type of gathering, from sunlit brunches to cocktail hours. “We knew the living room had to be this long space that took advantage of the full view,” says Pickert. Accordingly, the team situated the room alongside the south terrace facing Michigan Avenue. Guests can easily circulate between indoor seating near the marble fireplace and outdoor lounging around the fire pit—surrounded by a lush sanctuary of topiary lilacs and boxwoods composed by landscape designer Jayson DeGeeter.
As the sun sets and the city’s lights flicker on, the festivities transition to “our core of sexy nighttime rooms with darker finishes,” notes Stillwaugh. Take the dining room for instance, aglow in amber-hued light that filters through a custom blown-glass installation. The space is further cocooned with tinted glass panels featuring an inner layer of shimmering metallic mesh. Not just a pretty façade, these built-ins double as illuminated wine displays, which, as Rogalski explains, were carefully engineered to control temperature and humidity.
The team also reconsidered typically pragmatic rooms as potential areas for spontaneous socializing. One such space is Tom’s office, which transforms after hours into an intimate cocktail spot, the midnight palette mirroring the room’s view of the iconic black steel John Hancock Center. For the kitchen, the couple “really wanted something that felt like a bar lounge,” says Craig. To meet that desire, half of the room’s footprint gives way to a vast island that doubles as a bar counter.
Though these rooms embody distinct personalities, the dwelling still feels unified by a repeated grid motif on the walls. Materials vary, from cowhide and brass in the office to walnut and textured plaster in the kitchen, yet the spaces “are all held together by that geometry,” explains Pickert. The dramatic dark terrazzo floors also became an aesthetic through line, featuring “larger chunks of aggregate to give it a deep, rich look,” says Bulak.
As Craig and her team had designed the couple’s previous apartment, they retained many of their existing Art Deco-esque furnishings. But, Stillwaugh explains, “since this home had a more contemporary architectural envelope, we looked forward to adding some modern furnishings.” Newer pieces like a curvaceous Vladimir Kagan sofa and a straw marquetry cabinet introduce more dynamic silhouettes. The couple’s existing art collection of abstract paintings and black-and-white photography also proved key to animating the abode. From Peter Beard’s languid Maureen Gallagher and a Late Night Feeder in the living room to Simen Johan’s famed buffalo photograph in the hide-clad office, “we were very deliberate in how we could punctuate the architecture and design using art,” says Craig.
Just as artwork helped cultivate the atmosphere, so too did the lighting design by Nathan Orsman. The lack of previous wiring made room “for a custom ecosystem, which means every light in the unit can be adjusted to whatever the couple wants,” notes Rogalski. At night in particular, the precisely calibrated network offers warm illumination while avoiding any harsh reflections against the glass windows that could obscure views.
Indeed, Chicago’s metropolitan charm feels woven into every element of this new home—perhaps most so when night falls and the skyline starts to glimmer. Perched up so high, says Craig, “you really get a sense of looking out over the city as it begins to shine.”