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Home, James

Check into the hot new James Hotel—and check out ways to create suite hospitality on your own turf

Since the birth of the boutique hotel in the mid-1980s, hotel style has been creeping over into home design-especially bathrooms-and with the top-drawer talent involved in creating some of these theatrical environments, that’s a good thing. The James Hotel, which opened its thoroughly modern doors last spring at 55 E. Ontario St., employs scads of quirky design elements that can easily be adapted to residential settings. To reinforce the home-away-from-homeyness, room options include Studios, Lofts, Apartments, and Penthouses (in addition to regular guest rooms).

The look was masterminded by Brad Wilson (of the W Hotels) and the architectural firm of Deborah Berke & Partners (responsible for the chic look of Calvin Klein cK stores). The cool lines of the modernist furnishings, mostly designed by Berke, contrast nicely with the organic spirit of the art commissioned for the rooms and public spaces, as well as the rotating exhibitions of contemporary art in the lobby. Art, style, and whimsy infuse the building, so go ahead and steal a few ideas. But please, leave the bathrobes.

guest room at the James Hotel in Chicago

1. Headboard Oversized headboards lend a grand sense of scale to the Loft’s bedroom, and the look can easily be duplicated. Furniture designer Carson Maddox (carsonmaddox.com) was happy to hear that the James’s headboards, which are mounted on the walls, are made of ash with an ebony stain. “Ash is domestically farmed-no one is cutting down a rain forest for it,” he says. “It’s one of the cleanest, most responsible uses of resources.” He recommends using two four-by-eight-foot panels of ash-veneered plywood from Hardwood Resources (773-394-1000), about $115 each, and mounting them horizontally by simply drilling and screwing them into studs (“the quick and dirty way!") or using a wooden cleat system similar to that used to mount cabinets. “Each panel weighs about 100 pounds, so the top one will press on the bottom where they meet, and you’ll have a nice seam without adding anything.” Stephen Brockman of Berke’s firm suggests another alternative-real wood “wallpaper” from Innovations Design, available through Sherwin-Williams (773-248-2000) and other paint stores for about $40 a yard. “It’s green-friendly because less wood is used, and it’s very thin, so this would be a good choice if the bed is against a narrow wall, or it’s in a niche and you want to cover the entire area.”

2. Room Divider The beaded silver chains used for this sexy metal curtain are made by the upstate New York company ShimmerScreen. Used here to delineate the main sleeping area, they’d also stand out as a window treatment or an updated doorway hanging, à la Rhoda Morgenstern’s attic apartment. The material is locally available at Urban Source (1432 W. Chicago Ave., 312-455-0505) for $40 a square foot, which includes a mounting track to attach to the ceiling, plus installation. Several styles are available in different finishes. All projects are done to order; expect a lead time of two to six weeks.

media room seating at the James Hotel

3. Media Room Seating Here’s a great idea for that small room you don’t know what to do with. The low-slung pit seating arrangement in the Loft’s loungey media room is actually a standard king-sized mattress surrounded by an upholstered wooden frame and loaded up with plush contrasting pillows. “It’s a cross between a platform bed and an elongated daybed,” says Brockman. “We use specially treated fabric made by Crypton, which is popular because of its stain resistance.” The material is available at local upholstery shops or online at cryptonfabric.com; pricing per 54-inch-wide yard starts at $45. To get a similar look sans mattress, investigate Blackjack Sectional modular systems at CB2 (3757 N. Lincoln Ave. and 800 W. North Ave., 773-755-3900; cb2.com). A four-piece armless grouping in top-stitched black cotton will set you back $1,600.

4. Television and DVD Projector The media room functions as a home movie theatre, with a wall-mounted unit projecting DVDs or television shows onto the opposite wall. Create the same effect at home with a digital light projector (DLP), but only if there’s at least eight feet of depth to work with, says Brian Post, chief executive of LouisClark, designers and installers of high-tech entertainment centers (2000 Greenleaf St., Evanston, 847-864-0271).

“The last thing you want is to have to move your head from side to side because you’re sitting too close,” he says. Windowless rooms work best, and he suggests Goo Systems’ Screen Goo paint ($200 for kit, available at LouisClark) for the wall-it was engineered with a high concentration of pigment in a specific gray tint that helps to reflect light correctly, similar to a screen. Post likes the InFocus brand of DLPs, whose models start around $1,500 and can go up to $20,000 for triple-chip projectors.

lobby at the James Hotel in Chicago

5. Photo Wall A crisp image of tree trunks commands attention in the James’s stairwell. “Nature is an important design inspiration, so we have this photographic wallpaper carried up through the core of the hotel, representing changing seasons in a birch forest,” says Wilson. A professional photo house can blow up your own images to create affordable, jaw-dropping effects at home.

Large-scale photo printing has two steps, explains Amelia Kieras of the Pixel Mint (350 N. Ogden Ave., 312-733-8558). First you need a high-resolution file from either a scan or a digital camera, which Pixel will then enlarge with computer software. “The software is making up information to fill in between the pixels,” says Kieras. “The image can get grainy at that size, but that can be a good look, depending on viewing distance." 

A 43-by-67-inch print is $198 (Pixel can roll out prints up to 100 feet long); two or more duplicates are $99 each. The murals can be mounted with any paintable dry adhesive; small pieces can be printed on a specialty paper with an adhesive back for an additional 25 percent fee. If you’re not ready for your own close-up just yet, creativewallcovering.com offers a large selection of photo murals that are ready to apply like wallpaper. Slap up a six-by-nine-foot bamboo grove for $70, and you’ll be dreaming of mai tais in no time.

Photography: Matthew Gilson

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