“I like to push people a little out of their comfort zones,” admits Anthony Michael, a decorator based on the Near West Side — the kind who might insist on an orange ottoman or a graffiti-adorned breakfast room to brighten an otherwise traditional home. “When I tell owners I want to do a black foyer when they’re used to beige, they’re usually like, ‘What?’ But I ask them to live with it for a while and tell them I’ll change it for free if they don’t love it.” (After 35 years, he’s had to make only one such redress.)
This was the story with a teardown on Drake Avenue in north suburban Lincolnwood, purchased in 2012 by an Orthodox Jewish couple in the hospitality business. The pair intended to build a permanent home there large enough to house their five children (now six, ages 3 to 22, plus a daughter-in-law and baby granddaughter). In no rush, they spent nearly six years hunting for architects, builders, and decorators and having them translate the family’s loose vision into something dazzling but laid-back.
For the structural design, they enlisted Riverside-based husband-wife team Randall Architects to lay out a nearly 11,000-square-foot, nine-bedroom American deco with an en suite for each of their children, a kosher kitchen as well as a Passover kitchen, and a room for religious study. Another husband-and-wife duo, Jennifer and Ben Amrami of Skokie’s Amrami Design + Build Group, constructed the house to look both formal and familial, with mosaic marble floors, high ceilings, and countless windows for natural light.
But the owners couldn’t land on a cohesive interior design plan and, in search of ideas, toured a Lincoln Park condominium designed by Michael, who’s known for his use of rich colors, tactile fabrics, and unexpected flashes of flair in condos from the Gold Coast to Palm Beach, Florida, and hired him. “They wanted something with a bit of an edge,” Michael says. “Imagining a look that fell in that sweet spot between too much and not enough was exciting, like having an adult dollhouse to play with.”
Past the black-accented foyer (only semicontested, in this case) and a pristine white semiformal living room is a family space anchored by a reflective back-painted glass fireplace with bronze trim. A giant L-shaped sofa, able to seat all current and potential offspring, wraps around a tufted leather ottoman that stores board games and blankets. Michael carried the bronze detail into the breakfast room, where dainty 1970s Mastercraft chairs play off the abstract Kelly Wearstler wallcovering. “I wanted to highlight the curved, vaulted ceiling, which was so unusual. When I saw that wallpaper, I knew it would make a great statement.” The family took a little convincing, but after moving in in spring 2016, they still enjoy every meal beneath those pirouetting squiggles.
Other sparks of joy emerge throughout the main floor. The powder room explodes with emerald-green lacquer. The butler’s pantry and hand-washing station, both done in moody black and blue, provide a beautifully somber moment before entering the airy kitchen. A Jonathan Adler chandelier dangles like a gold earring from a ceiling animated by York Wallcoverings marbled bookbinder paper.
The mix of Old World hutches, velvet chairs, and retro details helps steer clear of the matchy-matchy trap the owners detest. “It’s a friendly and fresh home that’s very livable,” says Michael. “And it’s not trendy. I like my installations to look new even 10 years later.” Which means that, as the years go by and more grandchildren come along, there’s little preventing this family from living the rest of their days in their expansive sanctuary just outside of Chicago. “Nothing is truly forever,” adds Michael. “If they do want to tone down that green bathroom or change the breakfast room wallpaper in a few years, that’s easy.” The point, he says, is to ensure that they continue to love their home.