Curtain Call

When the architect Rodrigo del Canto built a new house in Old Town, he linked two transparent towers and let sun-yellow curtains fly—magical realism in motion

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The curtains reined in on a windy day.

The concept for the design was simple: two separate towers-one principally for del Canto, the other for his daughters. On the first floor, a grated metal bridge is suspended between the two towers, linking the living room on the east with the kitchen and dining area on the west. “The connection is delicate,” del Canto explains, “which to some degree is what happens with your children. They grow and fly away.” An open metal stairway winds at right angles from the first floor to the third, floating free from a glass-block wall on the north that offers both illumination and privacy. Beneath the stairs is a lily pond-a more fluid, elemental connection spanning the length of the bridge on the ground floor.

In addition to the kitchen and the dining area, one tower comprises a study, the garage, the master bedroom and bath, a guest room, and two decks. Above the living room in the other tower are the bedrooms and baths of Isabel and Catalina, a family room with a small kitchen, a laundry room, and another deck.

The layout is logical and well ordered; but animated by the architecture and the transparency of the space, the simple becomes visually sensational. In the central U-shape of the entrance, all three floors are planes of glass framed in steel, providing a voyeuristic view from one tower into the other. “As I circulate through the house, I’m always looking at other parts of it because it’s all glass,” del Canto says. “I am inside, and I am outside. I have the ability to experience the house objectively, but as soon as I connect to another portion of the space, that part becomes subjective.” The level of engagement and detachment is much more complicated and provocative than it is in a domestic world with standard boundaries and solid walls.

A view looking into the living room shows the connecting links between the towers: bridge, lily pond, stairs, and glass-block wall.

Del Canto is also drawn to intense color-especially yellow. “It’s a way to bring the sunlight in,” he says. “I think of it as paradise.” But here, after consulting with his brother Gonzalo del Canto, a furniture designer in Concord, Ontario, and two Chicago-area interior designers, Maria Schmidt and Marcia Weese, he decided that a more neutral palette should prevail. “The idea was to let the forms speak for themselves,” says Schmidt, who has worked with del Canto on two previous projects. For the main floor and the common areas upstairs, they selected an off-white with a tint of blue and orange. “Very light-it gives it a little bit of warmth,” del Canto explains. “It could have been a cool color with the gray of the steel.” He chose a richly textured Jerusalem limestone for the floors on the ground level and Brazilian cherry for those above.

Weese, the daughter of the late Chicago architect Harry Weese, designed a rug for the living room sitting area made of olive green Tibetan wool with ivory silk accents-shades that complement the contemporary sofa and armchair by Cassina from Man- ifesto and the woven straw club chairs from Ligne Roset. The white marble and steel coffee table is a del Canto design, and the faint marks on it, he says, are fond memories of past revelries.

Unable to suppress his conviction that every spirit rises when yellow emerges, he introduced it in his design for the fireplace surround-a freestanding three-eighths-inch-thick section of sheet metal that curves like a Richard Serra sculpture. “I wanted to use the fireplace as a way to break up the rigidness of the living room,” del Canto says, “and add some color and sensuality to it.”

Recessed shelves on either side hold his collections of pre-Columbian sculptures and late 19th- and early 20th-century silver serving urns. Above the fireplace, 12 Malaysian masks are arranged in a grid. The photographs and paintings in the room are among those by Latin American artists that del Canto has collected over the years-Nereyda García-Ferraz, Sebastiano Salgado, and Ana Mendieta.

 

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