Sometimes you just know what you want. For an empty-nester couple, that was a penthouse with floor-to-ceiling windows in a new 13-story boutique building just blocks from the Magnificent Mile. Engaged at the time, they were looking to trade their quiet Lincoln Park lifestyle for the bustling energy of downtown Chicago. This four-bedroom condominium provided plenty of room for their visiting children from their previous relationships and had all the luxury essentials, right down to a modern kitchen designed by Italian purveyor Ernestomeda.
But something was missing. They wanted custom touches that reflected their personal tastes (his, rock and roll; hers, feminine). Their vision: a powder room with a major wow factor, a serene bedroom suite with a reeded wood panel that includes a ledge for artwork, and designated entertaining zones—including an in-home bar for both gatherings and intimate date nights.
The wife, new to the Chicago area, realized she needed help bringing her design vision to life. After some intensive reconnaissance work, she selected designer Donna Mondi. “I did a deep dive and knew she was the one for us,” recounts the wife of discovering Mondi, who is known for her signature blend of classicism and edgy modernity—think a little bit of glam, a little bit of grit. “It was a gut thing. I was able to discuss my ideas with her and she was able to capture them.”
For Mondi, the feeling was mutual. “They had great energy, and this is a home that really was built for entertaining,” she says. The expansive views and building architecture naturally steered key design decisions like lighting, furniture scale and the contrasting palette of neutrals with pops of rich color. “With this being a new high-rise, it just felt like it needed to be modern,” she says, “but we wanted it to be really comfortable. A view like this is a huge design element.” To that end, low-profile yet sumptuously textured furniture, such as clean-lined sofas with a bit of shimmer and curvy velvet-upholstered dining chairs, add that elegance while not distracting from the view.
Mondi also considered what viewers would see from the outside. That meant a methodical balance of artwork and accessories that included a vintage Italian plaster bust, a curvaceous column-like sculpture and a brushed-brass chandelier with strands of black draped leather. “There needed to be a cool fixture there so that from the outside people are like, ‘Look at that unit,’ ” says Mondi.
The spirited couple, both avid art enthusiasts, sold their Lincoln Park residence fully furnished and arrived at the penthouse with nothing but personal belongings and two paintings by artist John La Huis (one was the first significant piece of artwork they acquired together; it now resides in the dining room). Aside from incorporating the paintings into the design, they had two non-negotiable items: that aforementioned glamorous powder room and a stand-alone bar.
“One of my favorite things is when you go to a hotel or restaurant bathroom and the design blows you away,” says the wife of the inspiration for the powder room. Using that as a jumping off point, Mondi layered it with a custom glass-and-blackened steel partition, dramatic ebony-hued wallpaper and a Brutalist-style mirror, which, the wife remarks, “reminds me of the magic mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
The bespoke bar with a fluted surround and marble bar top was inspired by one of Mondi’s previous design trips to Paris and the Girafe Restaurant there, which was designed by lauded architect Joseph Dirand. The cocktail area has quickly become another favorite spot in the home for quiet dinners for two and socially distanced cocktails with friends (the husband often acts as bartender serving up old-fashioneds, Vespers, Mezcal and—since it’s Chicago—shots of Malört). “We didn’t want it to be your basic basement bar,” says the wife. “We wanted it to be elegant and have a lot of character.”
Now settled into their carefully tailored home that checks off each and every item on their wish list, the couple has affectionately named the penthouse The Skybox. “It’s full of surprises and delights,” says Mondi. “I wanted people to walk in and just be enchanted. You’re surprised at every turn. That’s the magic of what we did here.”