When you’re building the tallest all-residential building in the world, icon status is pretty much guaranteed. But the excitement surrounding the Chicago Spire (which we’re really almost 99 percent sure will actually get built) is so feverish, there’s speculation that even its doorknobs will become collectibles.
The building’s celebrity architect, Spanish-born Santiago Calatrava, says he drew his inspiration for the skyscraper’s design from a wisp of smoke spiraling upward and disappearing into the sky. While we wait to see if the fancifully sculptural building ever materializes on its Lake Shore Drive site, we have enjoyed looking at the model apartments (a kitchen and three bathrooms are pictured here) on display in the nearby NBC building. They provide generous jolts of Calatrava-style inspiration suitable for co-opting in our own, non-iconic, homes.
The Spire’s twisting, tapering nature means each of its 1,194 apartments requires its own unique floor plan; the detail-obsessed Calatrava intends to have a hand in designing every one. Or, as the developer’s representative Kim Metcalfe prefers to put it, "Each apartment will be an individual piece of Santiago’s art." If you don’t think you can swing the $40 million or so it will take to lock up the duplex penthouse (where the curvature of the earth will be plainly visible from your bedroom windows), here are some ideas for giving your current digs a shot of futuristic Calatrava flair.
One word—wood. Forget the notion that "modern" means swaths of steel and walls of glass. This crisply contemporary foyer 1. is all about the warm color and natural grain of maple.
You can get a similar look with Poliform’s Madison wood-veneer custom wardrobes—the company doesn’t offer maple, but its oak is a close equivalent. For an easier-on-the-pocketbook alternative, check out Ikea’s PAX wardrobes. They’re not as luxe, but they do adhere to Calatrava’s mantra that sleek lines are the best lines.
Hidden kitchen. At the touch of a finger, the foyer morphs into a kitchen 2.. Letitia Windham, director of sales at the Spire, says, "When I roll open these doors there’s just silence. I have to say, ‘You can close your mouth now.’" Four solid maple doors, each 30 inches wide and ten feet high, glide gracefully across the space to reveal a fully equipped galley kitchen. The doors slide flush into a wall at one end and visually disappear.
Felicia Ferrone at the Boffi showroom in River North says her company’s Zone system incorporates a sliding-door cabinet in the kitchen design, and that Boffi architects could easily (but not cheaply!) work with a homeowner to duplicate this Spire kitchen. Again, maple is not an option, but Ferrone suggests a European Ecowood bleached pine veneer as an excellent alternative. (Boffi Studio Chicago, Boffi Luminaire, 301 W. Superior St., 312-664-9582)
Barely-there faucet. According to Calatrava, faucets should never steal attention from the kitchen design. Dornbracht’s Lot faucet 3. is simple, functional, and supremely unfussy.
Eco-smart appliances. Every Spire appliance will be Energy Star rated. Miele’s glass-topped induction cooktop 4. fits perfectly into Calatrava’s streamlined theme.
Open-minded shelving. Straightforward open shelves 5. take the place of cabinets. Wallscapes Beechwood Veneer Straight Shelf Kit, available at The Home Depot, is an easy, do-it-yourself way to create a similar look.
Patterns underfoot. Five-inch-wide bleached maple floorboards are laid in a herringbone pattern 6. along a series of radial lines that echo the twisting design of the building, a bit like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The matte-finished boards are laid on top of an acoustic liner that increases walking comfort and softens the sound of footfalls.
Flooring specialists and installation experts at Birger Juell (131 Merchandise Mart, 312-464-9663) say they could closely duplicate the look of this floor. The company offers AutoCAD (computer-aided design) services, so homeowners can suggest ideas ("We’d like a herringboned spiral, please") and Birger Juell will create plans to give your floor just the right twist.
Wall-mounted sinks and sleek surfaces keep the look spare in a powder room and (opposite) in a master bath.
Transparency. Nearly invisible plexiglass tables hold towels and other essentials 7.. CB2’s peekaboo clear coffee table will help you create a similar "floating hand towel" effect in your powder room.
Pare down. Calatrava dispenses with sink pedestals 8. as cavalierly as he forgoes medicine cabinets 9. . (Where do you keep your toothbrush, Mr. Calatrava?) At Hastings Tile & Bath (120 Merchandise Mart, 312-527-0565), you will see wall-mounted Catalano Zero + 70 and Zero 50 Square sinks that look very similar to what you see in these model baths. And if you have a yen for a minimalist mirror, trek over to Waterworks (136 Merchandise Mart), where the Opus Metal Mirror (with or without a glass shelf for your toothbrush) should do nicely.
1920s benchmarks. Calatrava genuflects to one of the original modernist icons, Le Corbusier, when choosing the bathroom furniture. Le Corbusier’s LC9 polished chrome stools with reversible beige towel seats 10., from Cassina (www.cassina.com), are modernist washroom superstars.
What flows beneath. In this master bath, totally clad in Calcutta Gold marble, a steel shower drain is hidden from view 11. ("Mr. Calatrava didn’t want an invasive piece of metal ruining his beautiful marble slabs," says Metcalfe). The shower floor is canted ever so slightly so that water runs off into a narrow stone trough in the back of the enclosure; water is routed under the floor into a drain.
Want to try that at home? A skilled stonemason should be able to collaborate with your plumber to create a similarly elaborate but
simple-looking shower floor. It’s not the exact effect, but the Kohler Groove shower receptor is a recessed drain that can be minimized even more with an aluminum or teak cover.
Bathroom as grotto. The view from the 100th floor might be stratospheric, but that doesn’t mean the bathrooms can’t mimic a watery undersea cave. Verde Bamboo granite slabs 12. cover the walls in this master bathroom, rising from floor to ten-foot ceiling in one lustrous, unbroken sheet. The undulating horizontal grain of the granite is bookmatched so the veins line up from slab to slab, enhancing the near-seamlessness. Floors in Black Absolute granite 13. go with the flow. Stone City (3053 W. Grand Ave., 773-533-9806) and other local firms can help you find exotic marble and granite to make your own personal comfort cave.
In this rendering, two varieties of dark granite cover walls and floor of a master bath.
Fresh air. Every 45 minutes, the air circulating inside the Spire will be cleaned and conditioned. Fresh air needs to flow through the apartments because, frankly, you don’t even want to think about what happens when you open a window on the 110th floor. You want to breathe easier, too? Get a Trane CleanEffects air-filtration system, available through The Home Depot, installed in your home.
Photography: Nathan Kirkman