Living room area
Michael is a stickler about details, insisting, for instance, that the sofa be edged with French flanging. “This has been a very regal room for 100 years,” he says. “I felt that was what the room deserved.” To the right of the windows are three framed Hermès handkerchiefs, an “art installation” he created for his first apartment. Michael is so proud of paying just $50 for the antique console table that he kept the price tag on it. The wrought-iron railing, now restored, is original. Photo Gallery »

You never know where inspiration will strike. For Jay Michael, who had been struggling to rethink the layout of his recently purchased Gold Coast apartment, it hit in a London hotel. “I had an epiphany about the floor plan in the shower,” he says. “I jumped out and drew it.”

The renovation took a year and a half, but Michael, a fund manager, finally ended up with exactly the apartment he’d long wanted. “It was always my dream to live in a prewar duplex and do my own work on it,” he says. Luckily for Michael, the previous owners had lived in the apartment for 50 years and done little to it, leaving many period details intact. He jumped at the chance to preserve those touches while modernizing the feel of the space. Working with designer Melissa Lewis and with advice from friends Guy Oliver and Douglas Levine, he had nearly every interior wall torn out, replacing small, cramped rooms with a more spacious layout.

The living room, however, remains its original size, 20-foot vaulted ceiling and all, and received primarily cosmetic changes, including stripping off layer upon layer of old paint and replacing a light fixture. Michael’s goal? To create a light, airy space where the focus is on a dramatic bank of restored south-facing windows, ornamental plasterwork on the ceiling, and the furnishings. “In other places I’d lived, I’d always had stylized spaces. They were heavy—they weren’t me,” Michael says. “The fun thing about this was having a blank canvas and making the furniture the renovation.”

While he’s an inveterate antiques hunter who shops Christie’s Interiors auctions online, Michael also loves a bargain. On his living-room sofa, for instance, a plump Hermès pillow nestles with $30 pillows from CB2. “The Hermès was probably closer to the price of the couch,” he jokes, adding, “I think the key to a great space is to mix cheap, fun things with things that are expensive. It’s what makes my spaces very me.”

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Photography: Bob Coscarelli
Styling: Cynthia McCullough


Buy Guide

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Designers: Melissa Lewis, MLH Interiors, 1500 W. Walton St., 773-398-7776, Guy Oliver, Oliver Laws, London, Douglas Levine, L. Corp., 561 W. Diversey Pkwy., 773-528-9748, Living room: Sofas, Lee Jofa, Merchandise Mart, 312-644-2965. Checked sofa pillow, Hermès, 25 E. Oak St., 312-787-8175. Other pillows, CB2, 800 W. North Ave., 312-787-8328, Coffee tables, Jonathan Adler, 676 N. Wabash Ave., 312-274-9920, Chandelier, Circa Lighting, Study: Grass-cloth wallcovering, JC Licht, 5926 Dempster St., Morton Grove, 847-583-0400, Sofa and chair, Brimfield, 5219 N. Clark St., 773-271-3501. Rug, Home Carpet One, 3071 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-935-9314, Animal-skin rug, Ikea, Ceiling fixture, Circa. Kitchen: Design and cabinetry, Christopher Peacock Cabinetry, Merchandise Mart, 312-321-9500, Light fixtures over island, Restoration Hardware, Red cloth chair, repurposed chairs and bucket with flowers, Brimfield.