Alex Meneses in the kitchen of her Gold Coast condo, her beloved Jean-Michel Basquiat painting hanging behind her.
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People say they want to retire in Florida; I want to retire in Chicago,” says Bridgeport-area native and current Angeleno Alex Meneses. That’s why, when four years ago this actress (best known for her appearances on Everybody Loves Raymond) decided to invest in a Chicago residence, it really had to feel like home.

Elegance was key. “People in L.A. are so messy—they’re always in sweatpants,” says Meneses, who spent five years after high school living and modeling in Milan. She wanted a place that felt more posh and formal than the “earthier, hacienda-style” home she has in Southern California. So she, along with her husband, John Simpson, a hedge-fund manager, chose a three-bedroom condo in a new, mid-sized building with neoclassical architectural details on the Gold Coast. To help her further realize her vision, she called upon a master of evoking European style, decorator Alessandra Branca, an old friend of her husband’s.

Meneses loves chairs—she has seven in her living room alone. Go to photo gallery »

Meneses knew from the get-go that the huge, light-filled living room would be her hub: a place where she could work on her laptop and hang out with her family (mostly based in Chicago), where her husband could bring his clients, and where anyone who absolutely had to could watch The Game. But she didn’t want the decor to revolve around a TV. Nor did she want a sectional (“too casual”) or “multiple seating areas with club chairs everywhere.” So, between client and designer, two important decisions took shape. The most unusual idea came from Meneses, who asked Branca to help her make a two-sided sofa “so that people could be close” even while some are watching TV (housed in a 19th-century Chinese armoire at one end of the room). Another key piece is a small but commanding 18th-century French mahogany table with three carved legs; picked out by Branca, it gives the room a focal point and allows the rest of the furniture to fall calmly into place around it. The result: a formal yet highly functional living room.

The same can be said of the dining room, where a long mahogany table and enough comfy Chippendale-style chairs are on hand to seat ten without having to call in any reserves—a good thing, since Meneses loves to cook, “especially stews and roasts that get the whole place smelling like food.” She also loves serving and eating meals surrounded by hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper (“I could stare at it all day”) below a chandelier enveloped in mesh that creates a soft glow in the room.

The kitchen is coordinated around Meneses’s most prized possession, a bold painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that hangs by the table: She bought it in New York years ago because it “felt youthful and had the word ‘Rome’ in it.” Picking up the dominant colors of the piece, Branca went with black-and-white striped wallpaper and added golden-yellow accents in the form of Roman shades on the windows and a custom-made photo board. Meneses loves to update the latter. Like her home, it tells her story.


Buyer’s Guide

Interior design: Branca Interiors, 1325 N. State Pkwy., 312 787-6123. Kitchen: Wallpaper, Clarence House, Lee Jofa, Merchandise Mart, 312-644-2965. Breakfast table, Oly, Jayson Home & Garden, 1885 N. Clybourn Ave., 773-248-8180. Light fixtures: (above table and island), Circa Lighting;


Photography: Matthew Gilson