Daily access to pool decks, game rooms, and private dog parks can go a long way, but when it comes to character—the thing that makes a house feel like home—well, that’s harder to find in a glassy high-rise. “We looked at a lot of white boxes,” says Tim Canning. He and his wife, Jess, toured downtown condos for a year and a half before finally sending a letter to all the owners at 156 West Superior Street to ask if any would be willing to sell. The award-winning nine-story building in River North was designed by the Seattle architectural firm Miller Hull in 2006, and it caught the Cannings’ attention with its unobtrusive size, expansive terraces, and full-floor, 3,000-square-foot units that allow you to step off the elevator and right into your own place—no anonymous hallways to navigate. “It was clean and modern, but somehow had a kind of warm, lived-in feel,” says Tim. Adds Jess: “We think of ourselves as sort of forward thinking, and we loved that the builders did something like this in the middle of the city.”

The eighth-floor unit was the Cannings’ first home purchase, and the couple hired Chicago interior architect Patrizio Fradiani of Studio F to turn it into something that felt elegant yet fun. “It had good bones, but not good finishes,” says Fradiani. “I wanted to strike the right balance between color, energy, and openness, but not take away function.”

To make the space feel more like a luxury loft than an apartment divided by a long hallway, Fradiani replaced several of the unit’s swinging doors with sliding pocket doors, improving the flow. He created a linear continuity from room to room by using low furniture, such as the yellow sideboard by Arflex—one of his perennial favorites—that floats on a wall in the foyer. The main chef in the family, Tim had the idea to nix the kitchen’s two islands in favor of a continuous stainless steel one. A crane had to be brought in to hoist its 16-foot countertop into the unit.

The condo contains serious (and mostly Italian, thanks to Fradiani’s roots in the country) furnishings that, with their whimsical patterns and palettes, manage to not take themselves too seriously. In the powder room, the textured gray wall tiles look like industrial lace. There are kitchen stools upholstered in citrusy orange, dining chairs done in acid green, and huge poufs in cobalt blue. (“I’m always buying unauthorized poufs,” says Tim. Affirms Jess: “I think there’s one in every room.”) A friend of the couple, a well-known graffiti artist in New York, did paintings on the outside of the elevator door.

Still, a major goal was to make sure the space was for living, not just for looks. “We sit in everything—it all gets used, which I’m really proud of,” says Jess. The terrace is the site of frequent summertime barbecues with friends, and a smaller bedroom-turned-den hosts PlayStation sessions—with their dog snuggled up beside them on the big leather couch. “That’s when we’re really in heaven,” Tim says.

Their condo proves that intelligent modern design doesn’t have to be austere and sterile. “We work hard, and when we come home, we want to feel good,” says Jess. “We created a space that makes us feel happy and relaxed. It feels like us.”

BUY GUIDE: Designer Patrizio Fradiani, Studio F, studiof-design.com. Architect Miller Hull, millerhull.com. Living room Sofa by Erba, Haute Living, 222 W. Kinzie St., haute-living.com. Coffee table by Living Divani, Luminaire, 301 W. Superior St., luminaire.com. Cowhide lounge chair by B&B Italia, MaxAlto Chicago, 309 W. Superior St., boffichicago.com. Dining Table by Porro, Luminaire. Light fixture by Flos, Lightology, 215 W. Chicago Ave., lightology.com. Chairs by B&B Italia, MaxAlto Chicago. Kitchen Light fixture by Bocci, Luminaire. Hallway Sliding doors, Bosca Arredi, boscaarredi.com. Terrace Sofa by Gloster, Greenforest Fireplace and Patio, 3105 N. Ashland Ave., greenforestfireplaceandpatio.com. Coffee table, Knoll, Merchandise Mart, knoll.com. Chairs by Arper, Luminaire. Foyer Sideboard by Arflex, Haute Living. Ottoman by Moroso, Luminaire. Stools by Cappellini, WPA Chicago, 314 W. Superior St., wpachicago.com. Master bedroom Platform bed by Désirée, Prestige Designs, 1809 W. Chicago Ave., prestigedesigns.com. Glass nightstands and dresser by Porro, Luminaire. Terminal chaise by B&B Italia, MaxAlto Chicago. Powder room Tiles by Mutina, Stone Source, 414 N. Orleans St., stonesource.com.