The seven-story Holabird & Root-designed McConnell Apartments at Astor and Division Streets was an early “fireproof” multi-unit building, completed 25 years after the Great Fire while the Gold Coast remained low-rise and partially flattened. It began as an upscale rental building and a secure place for the neighborhood’s magnates to stash their grown children—nothing says love like thick slab floors with gravel layers. The handsome masonry building has 14 units—two to a floor—and the largest top-floor space listed for sale last Tuesday and went under contract Friday.
Owners Michael Tirrell and Carlos Martinez bought the three-bed in 2001 and performed a hybrid restoration and redesign. “We renovated this at the level of two people who are going to stay here forever, even though we’re moving [to New York City],” says Tirrell, who has a communications practice. Martinez, a principal and Design Director at Gensler, did the heavy lifting, and the couple brought their Midcentury Modern art and furniture collection to the party, creating a beautiful juxtaposition of delicate wood, plaster, and terra cotta craftsmanship with chairs and daybeds from Mies, Le Corbusier, and Eames and Chicago Imagist art (Ed Paschke, Roger Brown).
Four attention-grabbing chandeliers from famed designers Achille Castiglioni, David Weeks, Gino Sarfatti, and firm Atelier Oi add dynamism to the space, as do rugs and fabrics by Edward Fields Studio and Maharam. The unit is listed exclusive of designer fixtures and furnishings, but the sellers are open to negotiation.
The previous owners didn’t maul the space by any stretch, having sense enough to leave most of the old moldings and trim intact under cover of built-ins and “pickled” wood paneling (a favorite 70s process, whereby lighter woods are treated with primer to enhance their grain and lend an antique look). It took some doing, but Martinez and Tirrell unearthed the classic finishes and worked to recover their vibrancy. They found the 19th Century South Side manufacturer of the reception room’s plaster crown moldings, in need of reconstruction, still in business.
Fabulous woodwork is a theme throughout the 3,000-square-foot home, with finely detailed coffered ceilings in the living room and dining room (the former a walnut replica of a ceiling in a nearby vintage house), built-in shelves housing thousands of art and design books, pocket doors (one set double-sided walnut and mahogany), a floor-to-ceiling wood-paneled library, and modern kitchen and bathroom cabinetry. Where there isn’t wood, terra cotta is likely. The reception room ceiling is adorned with repeating panels designed by Martinez and crafted by a local tradesman. This central space at the end of a long gallery entranceway was formerly the library squeezed by shelving, a very public room that begged to be treated as such.
Another vital transformation took place in the kitchen and adjacent breakfast room. Along with top appliances, Martinez hauled in a sleek wooden island and stools, installed a backlit panel, took out a wall and hid gas lines in red glass tile, and figured out how to achieve extra clearance by building cabinetry into the void created by the building’s disused chimney flue.
The way the couple has the unit laid out, convertible spaces are essential: they cut the bedrooms from three to one, favoring spaces in permanent rotation whether relaxing with a book or socializing. It makes the unit feel larger with so many curious rooms to navigate.
Martinez also worked his magic on McConnell Apartments’ common spaces, taking a seat on the condo board and guiding restoration of the lobby, hallways, and the gated front gardens. Marble mosaic, identical on each hallway floor, was waiting beneath carpet, and the building paired them with repeating sconces and mirrors. The view from the original cage elevator barreling through the floors is like watching choppy film on an old projector—the scene keeps skipping.
Martinez and Tirrell lived at Mies’s 900 Lake Shore Drive before making the move to vintage. “We are big fans of pre-war, historical buildings now,” says Martinez. “So at the moment, I think we want to stay with vintage buildings. There’s something nice about the layers that you can trace from the old architecture and the contemporary nature of how we live today.”
Price Points: You might say, with comparable vintage units recently sold at the Patterson-McCormick and Playboy mansions blocks away for $2.55 million and $2.78 million respectively, that this gorgeous unit is priced to move. The $498 price per square foot confirms it, versus the $682 and $856 per square foot the other sales commanded. Assessments are a little steep for a non-doorman building and parking is leased next door, demerits that aren’t stemming interest. The property cannot be shown while under contract, but should the deal unravel Coldwell Banker’s Jennifer Ames has the listing.