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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In the living room, Malaysian masks are arranged in a grid over the curved-steel fireplace surround, a design by the architect. The other artwork (clockwise from left) is by Ismael Frigerio (two portraits in a series of 12), Nereyda García-Ferraz, and (opposite) Sebastiano Salgado, Sergio Larraín (top), Luis Poirot (bottom), and Ana Mendieta.

Family photographs are displayed between stacks of art books on low, asymmetrically placed shelves of wenge wood. “In the same way that the fireplace is counter to what is typical, meaning it isn’t heavy, the bookends are the books themselves,” del Canto says. “These are little twists on the typical symbols of the status quo living room.”

A culinary wizard who used to indulge in 24- to 36-hour cooking marathons with friends, del Canto is even more philosophical about his kitchen and dining area. “The sensuality of preparing food is lost unless it is directly connected to the sensuality of eating,” he says. “There should be a continuum. And I have the room open because of that.” A fan of his brother’s cooking, Gonzalo, who designed all of the cabinetry in the house, gave Rodrigo ample space for collaborations-the granite-topped island and counter are both 14 feet long. Gonzalo varied the look of the quartersawn cherry cabinets with doors in wood, glass, and matte lacquer, and the interiors are custom designed for total access.

For a more primal cooking experience, Rodrigo had a hook installed in the kitchen fireplace-a perfect place to prepare a stew, he says. He can watch his pot simmer while sitting on a pew that he bought decades ago from a French Huguenot church in Charleston, South Carolina. (In the racks on the back, however, hymnals have been replaced by copies of Wine Connoisseur and Cigar Aficionado.)

Del Canto’s granite-topped dining table is equipped with a steel base mounted on wheels; 30 years ago, he explains, this design was more likely to be found in a morgue.

“That’s appetizing,” I say.

“It’s part of the process of living,” del Canto insists. “Life and death and everything in between is nothing but food.”

In the dining area are works by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and Roser Bru.

The stamped-wood chairs that surround the table are by Thonet; those nearby of a similar design are from a Czechoslovakian manufacturer. Dispensing with formality, it seems, does not mean abandoning the accouterments of civility. Even at casual dinners, del Canto’s French and English silver candlesticks appear in multiples, and his silver napkin rings encircle the linens.

Blessing this scene from on high are sculptures from Mexican churches-a pair of angels beaming from a vivid yellow niche, four tall wise men presiding from the top of the cabinets. On the wall behind the table is a self-portrait by the Cuban photographer Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. Inscribed to del Canto, the work next to it, by the Chilean painter Roser Bru, explores the relationship between the Inquisition, the rise of the Nazis, and the fall of Kosovo.

Culinary debates aside, politics is a major subject of discussion at most of del Canto’s gatherings. When the weather complies, one of his three decks might be the destination of the assembled crowd-to the east, there is a bright-lights, urban-drama perspective of the North Michigan Avenue skyline. Facing west, the other decks offer a grittier, more intimate back-porch look at city life. “Rear Window,” del Canto says, invoking Alfred Hitchcock. “It shows you the private lives of people. You see their kitchens, their eating areas-it’s a connection to reality.”

 

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