Gold Standard

Nate Berkus creates a gleaming interior for a new home in the Palmolive Building

Embroidered fabric on chair backs, an oversized herringbone pattern in the wood floor, and a custom-made table sheathed in parchment lend quirky elegance to the dining room. The Met chandelier is by Lobmeyr, the painting is by Karen Gunderson, a nod to the home’s view of Lake Michigan.
Embroidered fabric on chair backs, an oversized herringbone pattern in the wood floor, and a custom-made table sheathed in parchment lend quirky elegance to the dining room. The Met chandelier is by Lobmeyr, the painting is by Karen Gunderson, a nod to the home’s view of Lake Michigan. Photo Gallery »
 

This is the story of the happy meeting of two megawatt household names—one alight in the Art Deco glow of the Lindbergh Beacon, the other in the halo of Oprah’s celebrity—and the delightfully livable apartment that resulted from it.

Planning for this elegant residence began in 2005, when the homeowners, parents of grown children, bought 5,700 square feet of raw space high in the iconic, beacon-topped Palmolive Building on North Michigan Avenue and asked Nate Berkus, Oprah’s on-air interiors guy, HSN impresario, and soon-to-be host of his own syndicated TV show, if he’d take on the project. Berkus was delighted with the idea of classic moldings and rooms with spectacular views in what was once office space. “But if the architecture was going to be new and perfect,” he recalls thinking, “I was going to fill it with things that aren’t.”

Full-on vintage élan ensued—from a pair of sprightly gilded René Prou chairs in the master bedroom to the enormous gold-leaf Napoleon III mirror sparkling above a deep-cushioned Gustavian day bed in the living room. Even the intense blue/gray of the living room wallpaper panels was inspired by a European classic.

Leather tiles on the family-room walls create a warm look that counter- balances the crisp natural light.
Leather tiles on the family-room walls create a warm look that counter- balances the crisp natural light. Photo Gallery »

“I imagined the color of Ladurée, the fantastically beautiful old patisserie,” says Berkus, referring to a Parisian shop famed for its macaroons. “I thought, Let’s do a color that plays up this space, something people wouldn’t ordinarily do. Let’s not do tan!”

That spirit flows right on into the dining room, where Louis-style chairs with lively embroidered backs surround a spectacular parchment-sheathed dining table, playful antidotes to the room’s formal framework. The dining room’s bare wood floor—its planks laid in an oversized herringbone pattern—comes as another surprise. “To me what you don’t do is just as important as what you do,” Berkus explains. “We could have added a lot more to these rooms, but I wanted your eye to be drawn to the best features—the way a woman with great legs goes for a higher hemline.”

Consequently, furnishings throughout the apartment are relatively few in number but lush in character. Color plays a subtle but important role. Berkus uses glimmers of golden yellow here and there to offset the stark light that bounces in off Lake Michigan. It enlivens the son’s bedroom carpet, covers the family-room ottoman, pumps up powder-room walls, and boldly brightens the dyed alligator leather that covers a bench in the master bedroom. “That yellowy gold is one of the most beautiful things about this place,” the designer says.

Overall, Berkus explains, his aim was to keep things light and fresh, unencumbered by gewgaws and trim. “We started with a bright, open aerie in the sky,” he says, “and we kept it that way.”
 

Details

Details: Powder room, kitchen, son's room, master bedroom, and living room
Photo Gallery »
 

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT In the powder room, brilliant Clarence House wallpaper “is a wonderful surprise,” the homeowner says. The kitchen enjoys a spectacular view of the lake, so Berkus placed the table against the windows to create front-row seats. The college-age son’s room has dark green felt on its walls. In the master bedroom, deep sienna wallpaper lends the room mysterious depth; the color is echoed, more brightly, in yellow-dyed alligator-skin upholstery on an X-leg bench. RIGHT In the living room, a chair with a white parchment-sheathed frame looks as crisp as a line drawing against deep blue/gray de Gournay wallpaper panels.

Resources: See Buy Guide.

 

Photography: Bob Coscarelli
Styling: Barri Leiner

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