Tour the Entire House
It’s not easy to leave a beloved home after 45 years, but when a couple who lived on Chicago’s north shore realized their social calendar was taking them to the city five nights a week, they knew it was time for a move downtown. Not surprisingly, after all that time, “their home suited them so well, and had such character and soul, that their challenge was to find a place where they could have the same kind of ease, and recreate a corresponding sense of authenticity,” says the couple’s designer, Arthur Dunnam.
It was trickier than they anticipated. The wife wanted a place with direct access to the outside; the husband wanted the amenities and services of an apartment. Fortunately, they solved the schism when a maisonette came on the market in a relatively new building on the Gold Coast. Such multi-story residences in apartment buildings are rare in Chicago, and this one was even on the lake—just like their North Shore home. The original buyers never moved in, and put the place back on the market still a raw shell, “so we were lucky,” says Dunnam. “We could do whatever we wanted with it.”
And the very first thing they did was joyfully scoop up a dazzling, dramatically scaled 18th-century coromandel screen. Both the couple and Dunnam had seen it, independently of each another, at the Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York a few months earlier, and gushed about its beauty after the fact. But at nine feet tall and 19 feet wide, “we never thought we’d have the kind of space that could accommodate it,” marvels the wife. Now, with 10-foot high ceilings and walls still to come, “we knew we could lay out the living room around it,” notes Dunnam. But other challenges surfaced even before that space could get onto the drafting board.
The first were structural, and the biggest “was dealing with the extensive mechanical systems, which had to fit into a very constrained space because this isn’t a free-standing house,” explains architect Randy Correll. He deftly hid them in the ceiling and service vestibules only in secondary areas, so the gracious proportions of the main rooms wouldn’t be compromised. The couple also wanted to create a grand interior gallery with a sweeping staircase, and again, Correll worked around awkwardly sited structural columns to create these glorious spaces.
The rest of the challenges were decorative. The homeowners, Anglophiles at heart, “were after the same warmth and feel they had in their Cotswold Revival residence, and the new building was belle epoque— at least on the exterior,” notes Correll. “We solved the dilemma by referencing the couple’s old home figuratively rather than literally, so I consider the apartment ‘Franglish.’”
Indeed, architect and designer crafted spacious, elegantly detailed rooms that play to the façade with architectural elements such as lavishly carved custom-made crown moldings, meticulously paneled walls and Parquet de Versailles floors. But they managed to mix in major nods to the couple’s English aesthetic with clever details such as lamp niches in the stairwell inspired by those the couple admired at Claridge’s Hotel in London; Cotswold stone in the foyer; iron stairway railings that pay homage to the designs of the legendary 19th-century neoclassical English architect Sir John Soane; and handsome pine paneling in the library that matches what they had in their North Shore home.
To further underscore a neoclassical British demeanor, Dunnam filled the home with significant English antiques and chinoiserie pieces popular during the period, and luxurious, cushy upholstery of his own design, inspired by everyone from Chippendale to the Adam brothers but sized for 21st-century scale and comfort.
The results were spot-on, literally and figuratively. “It’s ‘London’ rather than ‘country village,’ but it’s filled with all the things we love,” says the wife. “And, most importantly, it feels like home.”