Over 30 years ago, when Larry Baumann and Dana Brehm were dating, they would talk about where they would live someday. “She was in Arlington Heights and I was in St. Louis,” Larry says of his now-wife’s goal. “Whenever we were downtown, Dana would say, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to live here someday?’ ” Fast-forward several decades, and the time had come to make that dream come true.
The couple had friends downtown and family still in Illinois, so it seemed like the right time to leave their home in St. Louis and purchase a Gold Coast condo in one of Chicago’s legendary buildings. “We fell in love with the Carlyle,” Larry says. “We had to find something to make it work.” They landed upon a partially renovated one-bedroom, two-bath unit that still had the original (i.e., dated) kitchen and bathrooms. It also had, to put it politely, very little charm. But the couple knew there was potential to transform it into the home they’d always envisioned. To bring that vision to life, they turned to designer Marli Jones. “We had done something similar for friends of Larry and Dana’s who bought a unit that hadn’t been touched for 40 years,” says Jones, who brought on general contractor Mark Fraser. “It gave them confidence we could pull together a team and make it happen for them.”
The first thing that needed to be addressed was the unit’s awkward layout. “You couldn’t see the lake from the entry, so we opened it up,” Jones says. “There was one huge main bedroom with his-and-her bathrooms, and they asked us to carve it into two bedrooms and two bathrooms.” With these changes, the space began to match the grandeur of the building. “We wanted a more traditional layout with a kitchen and living and dining rooms, rather than an open concept,” Dana says. “But we still wanted to take advantage of the lake and make that the focal point.” To this end, Jones used steel-and-glass doors to divide rooms and provide sight lines to the lake. This design decision wasn’t just about opening up views though. The doors also lend a Parisian flair to the unit, which hit upon the couple’s passion for the City of Light. “We had just gone to Paris, and we were in love with the whole lifestyle,” Dana says. “We’d stayed on the Île de la Cité and looked down on the Seine, so we talked about that with Marli.”
But, Dana notes, it was also important to stay within the context of the Carlyle, to respect the building and views—and, of course, to reflect the couple’s style. “They’re both incredibly fashionable people,” Jones says. “They prefer clean lines, they’re a little modern and they like a bit of color. We started with that as the basis of our design. It feels Parisian, but we made sure it was tailored to them and unique to the space.”
Of course, the European influence meant incorporating stunning millwork throughout—including the kitchen. “The kitchen stayed where it was but we completely gutted it,” Jones says. “We came to the millworker with an idea, and he worked on a profile and did a couple of mockups. We ended up with these faceted cabinet faces that are done in white oak with a granite countertop and backsplash.”
Jones repeated the kitchen’s white oak, as well as its black and brass accents, throughout the home. “We wanted everything to flow from one room to the other, and it really does,” Dana says. “The colors play off the blues and grays of the lake.” Even the chandelier in the dining room perfectly complements the water. “Larry calls it his cloud,” Jones says. “Because when you look through the bar area to the dining room, it sits above the lake and just looks so pretty.”
Jones finished the rehab and installation while the couple were out of town, which provided the perfect opportunity to showcase the realization of the couple’s vision. “We were in awe when we finally saw it,” Dana exclaims, and notes that the condo exceeds anything they could have imagined when they were just starting their careers and thinking about someday living in Chicago. Jones echoes the couple’s enthusiasm. “The opportunity to be trusted to realize a vision for somebody is very rare,” she says. “It’s a designer’s wildest dream.”