Architects Nada Andric and James Goettsch cast their Chicago home in its best light, both natural and artificial
Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 1/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Once a showroom in Chicago's landmark former furniture mart, the 3,000-square-foot space had all the ingredients for design drama: views of Lake Michigan and tree-lined Lake Shore Drive, high ceilings, spatial flexibility. Because only a small percentage of the square footage lay along the window wall, however, it took an imaginative architect couple to bring out the inherent beauty. The challenge lay in drawing daylight deep into core regions. "This entire project is about the strategic introduction of light," says Nada Andric, associate partner with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, in describing the renovation she undertook with her husband, Lohan Caprile Goettsch Architects president of design James Goettsch. The three-step process consisted of minor architectural interventions, a cohesive introduction of artificial lighting, and a restricted use of colors and materials.
The work started with the window wall itself. Bulky framing around the windows was pared back to a minimum and angled outward at 45 degrees or more to funnel light into the space. Throughout the apartment, Andric and Goettsch released round structural columns from their drywall boxes, exposing the archaeology of the 1920s building. Thanks in part to the deliberate positioning of mechanicals and lighting, ceilings could be raised to their maximum heights of 8 to 9 1/2 feet.
Stripping down then gave way to a certain degree of building up. To soften the apartment's linearity, the architects enclosed the kitchen behind a curved wall defined by two daring plays of light. One is an innovative, urban form of hearth: It's fueled by cans of clean-burning gelatin hidden below four round openings in the granite floor of the firebox. Farther along the curve, at eye level, Andric and Goettsch cut a horizontal slot into the silver-lacquered surface and lined the aperture with backlit lead-free glass to display a collection of seasonal objects.
As an antidote to the couple's busy work and travel schedule, their apartment needed to be low-maintenance yet multitasking. "We set out to establish connectivity within the plan, so we could be together while pursuing separate activities," notes Andric. She can be writing at the black lacquered partner's desk in the work area while he reads a biography of Napoléon on a sofa in the living room. As much as possible, areas for daytime pursuits-working, socializing, and relaxing-occupy prime locations adjacent to the window wall.
Other functions, notably cooking and dining, were relegated to inner spaces, prompting Goettsch and Andric to investigate ways to bring in light architecturally. Inspired by Mies van der Rohe's treatment at the Tugendhat House in the Czech Republic, Andric and Goettsch built light walls in the dining room, the kitchen, and the two interior bathrooms. Because the fluorescent sources are concealed-behind drywall panels in the dining room and frosted-glass backsplashes in the kitchen and bathrooms-the effect is not about lighting the architecture, as is the norm. The light becomes the architecture as the walls' continuous glow lends each of these rooms a diffused, ethereal quality.
The subtlety of the lighting is enhanced by the materials and colors of the space, finished in a subdued range of grays and silvers. All upholstery fabrics are the same silver gray, matching the marble floors, polished granite counters, lacquered wall surfaces, and carpeting. Andric believes that the absence of color is relaxing and therapeutic.
The couple commissioned artwork to mediate between interior and exterior. Positioned at the window wall, Los Angeles artist Jacob Hashimoto's series of small hexagonal and hourglass-shape kites drapes the view, like a curtain at the theater, and the air-handling system below keeps the handmade paper-and-string forms in constant motion. As Andric sees it, "The space is a careful study about architecture absorbing and articulating light, mood, and the luxury of simplicity." It's hard to imagine anyone hawking a settee here.
FIREPLACE (LIVING ROOM): J. KAPCHEK. SOFAS: CASSINA. ENCLOSURE (KITCHEN), DESK (WORK AREA): IMPERIAL WOODWORKING COMPANY. CHAIRS (LIVING ROOM, WORK AREA, DINING ROOM), BEDSPREAD FABRIC (MASTER BEDROOM): KNOLL. SHELVING (WORK AREA): BERNHARD WOODWORK. FLOOR LAMPS (LIVING ROOM): CEDRIC HARTMAN. MIRRORS (POWDER ROOM): TRAINOR GLASS COMPANY. VASES (POWDER ROOM): ARZENAL. CUSTOM CARPET: CONSTANTINE. LIGHTING CONSULTANT: COSENTINI LIGHTING DESIGN. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: THORNE ASSOCIATES.