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The New Marshall Plan

An iconic Beaux Arts apartment on the Gold Coast gets a respectful (and totally cool) makeover

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In the living room of this apartment in a 1914 Benjamin Marshall building, modern art and furnishings are elegantly juxtaposed with Beaux Arts architectural details. “Because of the grandeur of the room we segmented the space into small seating groups,” says Steve Bruss, whose firm renovated and designed the interiors. Photo Gallery »

The word “renaissance” gets thrown around a lot (never more terrifyingly than when paired with the dreaded “faire"). But in its most literal meaning of rebirth, there’s no better way to describe what happened to a cultured couple with four grown children last year when a business move forced them to uproot themselves from their small, conservative Midwestern hometown, relocate to Chicago, and shed their old skins.

“We thought we’d done it all. We’d even done the chintz thing,” says the wife, reminiscing about the string of suburban homes full of traditional decorating that she’d loved over the years. “We actually thought there wasn’t anything left to do.”

In the dining room, a shiny “sputnik” chandelier is the perfect counterpoint to the owners’ antique Japanese screen beyond. The leafy wallpaper is a nod to the room’s original purpose—it was an orangery. Photo Gallery »

When she and her husband purchased a graceful but tired pre-war apartment on the Gold Coast, they hired a Chicago design/build firm, Hudson Home, to renovate it, expecting one more variation on a familiar theme. Instead, she says, “They took us to a place we never thought we’d go.”

They’re referring not just to the urban comforts of their new, doorman-enhanced life but also to the unexpected peacefulness they’ve found living with great mid-century design. No matter how chaotic the city life outside their windows, the apartment imposes a serenity all its own. “We actually go into the living room to take naps sometimes,” admits the wife, pointing out that despite the room’s heady mix of mid-century antiques, edgy art, and Belle Époque architecture, it’s an extraordinarily comfortable space. 

Fanciful touches like the ornate plasterwork moldings framing the living room ceiling are hallmarks of the original architect, Benjamin Marshall, who built a series of elegant houses and apartment residences in the city around the turn of the last century. This one is something of a local celebrity; its gleaming white terra-cotta façade at the south end of Lincoln Park has provided an orientation point to generations of picnickers.

So Hudson Home faced an intimidating task. “The building is iconic,” says company principal Steve Bruss, who coordinated the project with his associates, architect Joe Trojanowski and interior designer Kory Blosky.

“The renovation needed to respect its Benjamin Marshall genes,” Trojanowski says. “It had to respond to the place’s former grandeur.” He specifies “former” for a reason. The Hudson Home team had to impose an entirely new order on the 3,800-square-foot apartment, thanks to a callous 1980s renovation.

Next: Family room and Kitchen


Photography: Nathan Kirkman
Styling: Diane Ewing


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