A low wall of oil-rubbed bronze separates the dining area from the living room. Designer Gary Lee mixed a classic style of furniture with the modern architecture to achieve a look that’s formal yet relaxed. :::Photo Gallery
A colorful buddhist scroll-painting dominates a wall in the living room of Linda and Peter Krivkovich’s new Gold Coast penthouse. Their sky-high sanctuary holds time-burnished artifacts and treasures from around the world, but it was with the thangka, as the scroll is called, that all their collecting began. Peter remembers the day in 1977 he purchased it on a business trip—“so taken in by it, so drawn to its detail and color.”
As chief executive of the ad agency Cramer-Krasselt, Peter is attracted to colorful statements. He and Linda have spent a lifetime traveling the world, collecting as they went, and in the process have amassed a pretty great bunch of stuff. Their former home, an English-style country house in Winnetka, would seem to have been the perfect backdrop for it all—lots of rooms, lots of walls. But suffering a sudden attack of empty-nester syndrome, they decided to downsize. Even more surprisingly, they hired the high priest of Chicago sleek, award-winning minimalist decorator Gary Lee, to help them do it.
It was a dream assignment for Lee, who got to design this 3,200-square-foot, two-story apartment in a new Booth Hansen tower from scratch. He thought long and hard about creating the right envelope to hold all the pieces the Krivkoviches had found in 30 years of global browsing. The result is a thrilling mix of ornate and ancient, clean and modern.
“We heard Peter and Linda loud and clear,” says Lee. “They needed color. They wanted to be surrounded by their art. It was so good for us because we had to move away from our minimalist mindset.” Adds lead designer Jennifer Greer Hartmann, “They really pushed us. This is much more opulent than we’re used to.”
Quiet touches have great impact here. “We used bronze throughout,” says Lee of the sumptuous metal detailing that runs through the apartment. In the library, bronze corners finish off natural tigerwood walls. In the living room, dark bronze moldings edge pale polished-travertine walls; the streamlined fireplace surround (no mantel, no hearth) got luxurious oil-rubbed bronze inserts.
Even the travertine floor tiles were custom cut, with precise direction from Lee. “The pattern imparts warmth, but it also makes the rooms feel like they flow out the windows,” he says.
There are very few painted surfaces here. In the bedrooms, Lee chose soothing biscuit-colored upholstery for the walls; he used floor-to-ceiling green Chinese slate for the master bath. “It’s such a luxury to live with all this texture every day,” Peter says.
Contributing mightily to the apartment’s glamour is a glass and bronze spiral staircase just inside the front door, where shafts of light bounce into the entry from the second-floor atrium. “It’s brilliant,” Linda says. “The staircase gives the place an immediate sense of spaciousness, a feeling of there being another floor.” The steps lead up to a terrace and glassed-in exercise room. Sunny mornings, Linda notes, are especially wonderful. “We come out of the bedroom, see the light, and climb right up with our coffee.”
Even the profusion of sunlight was planned. The designers shied away from using materials that might snare light and create shadows. Instead, light spills down the stair and also floods in through floor-to-ceiling windows. “We wanted to create a sense of space, no matter what time of day it is. We were very modern about that,” says Lee. “But then, being so modern meant there are very few walls—so you quickly run out of places to put everything!”
photography: Alan Shortall, styling: Diane Ewing
Celadon vases from Thailand make a lovely still life on the countertop. Linda and Peter Krivkovich relax over coffee while their poodle, Zoe, rests nearby. :::Photo Gallery
That was probably the biggest change and challenge for the Krivkoviches, who were used to having all of their beloved objects on view all the time. With the help of the designers, they pared their collection and came up with a new approach—a rotating display, changeable any time the whim suits them. At the moment, a Moroccan door, a Russian balalaika, and an Indian sitar lean against the elegant library walls. In the master bedroom, antique Taoist portraits of a man and a woman hang over the head of the bed.
The dining room features the celebratory and the ceremonial—a 19th-century British campaign-era cocktail cabinet from Burma takes up one corner and a Chinese funeral urn atop a Moroccan console fills another. A Thai spirit house sits on the floor, silhouetted against the dining room’s magnificient views. “When people finish building their houses in Thailand they create a spirit house to thank the gods,” says Linda. “I love that concept.” The prize for most exotic piece probably goes to the enormous Japanese tansu, or cabinet, set in front of an oil-rubbed bronze wall that Lee designed to show it off.
“The things we collect are from different places and time periods,” says Linda. “But if you notice, the colors don’t change.” She says she and Peter love to live surrounded by deep jewel tones, specifically greens, reds, and golds. “Peter loves red,” says Lee. “He would have done the whole apartment red, but we didn’t take his color preferences literally.”
Lee points to the vermilion-flecked tigerwood library as an example—“It’s a modern version of the traditional English red lacquer library. To Peter it’s a red room, for us it’s ‘reddish,’ and everybody’s happy!” Lee says his team also had a spirited debate on the color of the Chicago sky. “We decided it’s not blue; it’s gray. So we treated the window wall like a blue-gray wall, bringing that color into the rooms and mixing it subtly with the deep reds and greens our client so loves.”
The resulting mash-up of modernist geometry with ancient forms carried over to the furniture as well. “Put this furniture in a different envelope and it might seem stuffy,” Lee says. He singles out the pair of elegant Deco chairs in the living room. “We wanted those chairs to be a statement. Their shapes are beautiful all the way around, and they’re so sexy in front of the windows.”
In fact, the setting makes all the furnishings look like works of art. By keeping the background as serene as a Shinto shrine, the designers gave individual pieces from the Krivkoviches’ collections real punch. And there’s always a fresh batch waiting in the wings.
photography: Alan Shortall, styling: Diane Ewing