Creating a living space where the art takes center stage without overpowering everything else can be tricky when the collection consists of hundreds of bold pieces. But Chicago designer Todd Haley turned a circa-1912 Old Town carriage house into both a showcase for his clients’ massive array of outsider art and an inviting, easy space to work and live in during pandemic times.
Letting the art speak volumes is the raison d’être of this five-bedroom, three-bath brick house, built on a 37.5-foot-wide lot. Among the displayed pieces are a mixed-media painting of a bull moose by William Hawkins, a Clarence Woolsey mushroom made of bottle caps, and a gloriously detailed cathedral-shaped bird feeder from the 1970s by Aldobrando Piacenza.
“The art provided a starting point to the design,” says Haley, who is known to mix high-end bespoke furnishings with mass-market pieces from CB2 and Restoration Hardware. In the oversize living room, the art makes a splash against the subtle gray and black tones of the furnishings, resulting in a decidedly grown-up, if slightly whimsical, aesthetic.
The intention was for the art, not the furniture, to have the spotlight, says Haley, who had worked with the owners on two previous projects. “The palette provides a quiet backdrop for their collection and does not compete with any of the pieces.”
An illuminated scale model of the John Hancock Center in a smoked-mirror niche anchors the elevated dining room, where a series of bird prints by English photographer Luke Wilson peer down at a circular table. “It’s very theatrical,” says Haley.
The dark, neutral hues carry into the family room. A massive, U-shaped sectional sofa from Room & Board is paired with two custom wing chairs and flanked by sculptures. The mixed-media pieces were hung with gallery-inspired wiring by the Art of Installation.
The owners say the flow from the front of the home to the back garden will make the space perfect for hosting big gatherings once it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, the bright interiors have made the couple’s pandemic work-from-home routines enjoyable. Upbeat details are everywhere, from two oversize floor lamps fashioned from boom lights in the living room to a series of pop-art-style plates by filmmaker John Waters affixed to its wet bar. It’s like living, comfortably, in an art gallery.