Taking down wainscoting, painting sage-green walls a rich cream, and swapping a jumble of English antiques for streamlined furnishings created a sophisticated space. Photo Gallery »

Packing up and moving out of a 2,300-square-foot home with "probably 3,000 square feet of furniture" wasn’t easy for Rob Andrews. But an even bigger challenge loomed: finding a way to bridge the gap between his taste and his partner’s in the home they were buying together.

An ornate Chinese screen, previously tucked behind other furnishings, makes a beautiful backdrop. Photo Gallery »

Andrews’s previous residence had been a turn-of-the-century condo crammed with English antiques; his partner, Keith Largay, had left a minimalist-style home with spare, modern furnishings. For their first place together, the couple purchased a new-construction house in Lake View. They weren’t crazy about some of the builder-quality details, such as cheap wainscoting that Andrews describes as "basically furring strips nailed to the wall." But the large, open living room/dining room was ideal for the dinners and parties they love to host, and they decided they could revamp the home to suit them. They expected challenges. "Last time I did this, I was single," Andrews says. Now? "You need an arbiter."

Enter Lonnie Unger, co-president of Susan Fredman Design Group. With Unger’s help, the couple came up with a vision for the home that pleased them both: a warm, Zen-like space with contemporary lines that would accommodate many of the Asian antiques Andrews had collected over the years. "I was able to freely divorce myself from the English antiques," Andrews says. "With the Asian pieces, I really felt emotion about them."

Some pieces found a new home within the house. A Chinese screen previously half-hidden behind a Tibetan prayer chest is much more dramatic used on its own opposite the fireplace.

So far the overhaul has focused on the living room/dining room, where a non-descript wood-burning fireplace was transformed into a dramatic focal point. Down came the tiled surround and hearth and the traditional wood mantel; up went a sleek brushed-limestone surround, hearth, and mantel and a richly grained wall panel of Macassar ebony. The exotic wood’s deep chocolate and reddish-brown striations tie in with the reddish cast of the hardwood floor—which the couple didn’t want to replace—and the darker colors of Andrews’s Asian pieces.

To balance the space, Unger commissioned a limestone-topped Macassar ebony sideboard and another decorative backdrop, milled from the same ebony as the fireplace panel, for the dining room. Legs capped with polished nickel lighten the appearance of the oversized piece. "It could easily have felt heavy because it’s such a dark wood," Unger explains.

Finding the perfect nickel sconces to mount on the panel proved to be one of the bigger headaches of the project. Holes  had been drilled into the upper third of the piece for lights Unger selected; the couple changed their mind about them and assumed they would have no trouble finding other suitable sconces. They were wrong.

"We found that a lot of lights had junction boxes more toward the center or bottom of the light," which, with the holes where they were, would have made the fixtures hang too high on the wall, Andrews recalls. "We lived without sconces for 12 or 14 months, with wires just hanging out. It was frustrating." They finally found a small version of what they were looking for—something French Deco in feel, with a long, tapered bottom—and had larger ones custom made.

Many other furnishings also were custom designed, including matching rugs for the living room and dining room. "Keith had some firm beliefs about what the rug should look like," Andrews says. "He was very interested in a rug that was a stripe-ish design and kind of modern looking, but muted." The couple also knew they wanted an overall palette of warm browns, creams, and grayish taupes. Unger, who designed the rugs, suggested using silk for some of the lighter tones in the wool rug, to give it a subtle, light-reflecting quality.

Choosing furniture involved many hours of visiting showrooms at the Merchandise Mart, looking for pieces that would accommodate Largay’s six-foot-five-inch frame and yet not be uncomfortable for more diminutive guests. Both men loved the sloping lines of two A. Rudin lounge chairs upholstered in deep brown chenille, and paired them with an off-white bouclé sofa designed by Unger.

"We love the sofa because it has some traditional elements, with the nailing" along the back and arms, Andrews says. "But it’s still very modern looking and comfortable." Making it, like the rest of the sophisticated new space, the perfect marriage of their tastes.

For resource information, see Buyer’s Guide.


Photography: Nick Novelli