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The living room is punctuated with wows: a Foscarini chandelier, dramatic upholstered wing chairs, and Dunes and Duchess candelabra on the dining table. See more photos in the gallery below.
For six years, through the windows of their contemporary townhouse on Prairie Avenue, Natalie and Yev Gray watched construction workers gradually convert the old Marshall Field Jr. mansion across the street into condos. It was like witnessing a final chapter in the up-and-down history of this Near South Side neighborhood, once home to Armours, Pullmans, and other Gilded Age captains of industry and more recently brought back to life by developers and restorers of the few remaining salvageable buildings.
Marshall Field Sr. bought the original house at 1919 South Prairie Avenue in 1890 for his newly married son; architect Daniel Burnham was brought in to expand it to 30,000 square feet, but its glory was short-lived. After Field Jr. died in 1905, the mansion fell into disrepair. Despite being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, it remained mostly vacant and sadly dilapidated until a developer bought it from the city in 2003.
The Grays—who have a young son and were in the market for a bigger home—had long been curious about the project but were not particularly interested in purchasing one of the six condominiums into which the mansion had been divided. “We thought we were done with condo living,” Natalie says. But on a whim, she asked her agent to show them the last available unit, which the developer had not yet finished. As the Grays walked through the front door, their reservations quickly vanished. “We saw this completely unique place and fell in love with it,” she recalls.
At 4,000 square feet, with 13-foot ceilings and windows nearly that tall, two enormous rooms on the main floor, and three bedrooms on the level below, the space feels like a house. “I think the reason it was the only one left was because people couldn’t picture how to live in all that space,” Natalie says. The Grays, on the other hand, could picture it almost immediately—though they did call on architect and interior designer Jeffrey Kebschull, a friend, to help them realize their ideas.
Kebschull’s contributions were key. Most important, he helped his clients articulate what would become their renovation mantra: “Everything that was part of the traditional architecture of the house, we left. Everything that we added was modern, and we treated these modern elements as installations that were intentionally very different.”
The most striking example of this concept is the Italian Modulnova kitchen, a collaboration among the homeowners, Kebschull, and interior architect Anna Laska of McDuffee Design Group. Outfitted with an island wrapped, spectacularly, in Calcutta Gold marble and a 43-foot swath of lacquered white cabinets framed with a ten-inch border of American walnut, this kitchen is at once the star of the show and a completely unobtrusive composition, perfectly scaled to offset the soaring ceilings. The clean-lined, highly functional island accommodates casual dining; the wall of cabinetry hides, among other things, a large wine cooler, two Liebherr refrigerators, and two Gaggenau ovens. “We wanted to create a sense of high style that would work for everyday living,” says McDuffee Design’s president, Jeff McDuffee. “This kitchen corresponds with the furniture and the feeling of the rest of the home.”
That the interior is both awe-inspiring and inviting is something Kebschull credits to his clients, who selected all the furnishings after he drew a floor plan for them. “They have amazing taste; they didn’t need me to choose their furniture,” he says.
The Grays have filled the home with sleek European pieces from Ligne Roset, classic silhouettes from Hermès, and a stunning collection of mostly abstract large-scale
artwork—adding some whimsical touches, such as two carved-wood deer by Roost, here and there. “Our home is our creative outlet,” says Natalie. And it shows.
Photography: Nathan Kirkman; Styling: Cynthia McCullough