On the Grid

Crisp lines and artful angles turn two condos in a Mies van der Rohe high-rise into one big, beautifully minimalist home

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A shot of the minimalist yet colorful living area
In the open-plan living area, a blown-up sketch of Pamela Lamaster-Millett’s first drawing for the space hangs next to the husband’s “Mona Lisa” rendered in squares of Benjamin Moore colors to mimic paint chips. The strand-woven bamboo wall to the left encloses the powder room. Photo Gallery »
 

SIZE 2,800 square feet
TYPE Condominium
LOCATION Lake View

Minimalism does not take kindly to people’s “stuff.” Though two empty nesters loved the clean lines of the space they’d found high in a Lake View tower designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, they loved their stuff more.

The couple had just sold their house in leafy Oak Park and were looking forward to a new life in the city. Their new place was actually a merged unit, the result of combining two adjacent 1,400-square-foot apartments, so a gut rehab was in order.

“It was intimidating at first,” admits Pamela Lamaster-Millett, a principal in the Chicago firm Searl Lamaster Howe Architects, who worried about meeting her clients’ twin directives—to be as green as possible and to reference Mies without being a slave to his dogma. “Could we be creative enough but not too creative?”

Lamaster-Millett’s first move was a shocker for any strict Miesian. Taking the visual point where the apartment’s lake vista hands off to city skyline, she slashed a stylistic diagonal right through the heart of Mies’s right-angled box. The southern half of the apartment responds to the tangled greenery below in Lincoln Park, offsetting nature’s effusiveness with hard materials such as a tile floor made from recycled stone in the living room and crisp rust-colored laminate cabinets in the kitchen.

To the northwest, where the apartment overlooks a flat gray cityscape, the architect chose warmer natural materials—cork tile, wood, and strand-woven bamboo walls—to take the chill off the metropolitan tundra.

Last came the “stuff” issue. Lamaster-Millett made walls out of the stacks of art and philosophy books dear to her clients. Many of the rooms are delineated by tall sets of shelves with clear EcoResin backs that allow light to reach the apartment’s interior. “It looks like wallpaper, but it’s not,” the husband says.

Lamaster-Millett says she was careful to honor Mies’s aesthetic, but she also wanted the place to be “livable, human, and contemporary.” Her clients are delighted. “I find modernism severe,” says the husband. “This is more playful with color and ornament. This is the first time I’ve lived in a high-rise, but very early on I felt it was home.”

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Photograph: Doug Fogelson/DRFP

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