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By Elaine Markoutsas | Photo: Werner Straube | January 20, 2017
The duo behind SK Design Group drastically transforms a large condo with a gray palette and Scandinavian influences.
The strength and integrity of a well-designed building demands equal treatment in its interiors. Soon after Mark Gertzof purchased a 2,500-square-foot, two-bedroom unit on the 23rd floor of a distinctive 24-story River North condominium designed by architect Lucien Lagrange, he began to appreciate this. So, he enlisted the guidance of Scott Heuvelhorst and Katerina Kouzoukas of SK Design Group.
“He knows we are modern designers,” says Kouzoukas, who has a degree in interior architecture. Husband Heuvelhorst is self-taught, having started his journey in interiors as a house painter back in the 1990s. “I had never considered myself a modern-type person,” admits Gertzof, 49, who describes himself as a downtown professional who works in finance. “But the building steered me that way in design.”
The interiors of the building are contemporary, with some strong signature touches such as an inverted V-bracing that reflects exterior details, perhaps with a nod to the John Hancock Center. Floor-to-ceiling windows afford not only stellar views of the Chicago River and city in nearly every direction, but an amazing quality of light. And then there’s the bonus: a 300-square-foot terrace that extends the living space and a 100-square-foot balcony just outside the kitchen—a spot for a grill and intimate dining.
Still, the place needed a little tweaking. Even Gertzof came around to the idea that some finishes and materials were outdated—starting with the floor, which he wanted to refinish. “It was bamboo and too thin to refinish,” says Heuvelhorst, “so we started there, with a 6-inch white oak plank prefinished with a distressed ebony stain."
That literally grounded the space, but also seemed to call attention to the areas that screamed for updates: dark cherry millwork, yellow zebrawood cabinetry in the kitchen, granite counters with half round edges and a step-down table island, dark cabinetry and granite in the baths.
The place needed comfortable furnishings and an ambience that suited the single father’s entertaining as well as quiet times with his 8-year-old son, but with a fresh, modern take. “Mark was looking for cohesiveness throughout,” notes Heuvelhorst.
“We wanted everything to be functional as well as beautiful,” says Kouzoukas, “to create a very warm space that’s interesting, not something you might see every day.” A cool, modern paint palette set the tone with Benjamin Moore Dolphin gray for the cabinets, while the cherry paneled wall and built-ins between the living and dining area were transformed with Benjamin Moore Gray Owl in a matte finish. “Our main goal,” says Heuvelhorst, “was to transform the energy of the room. We wanted the whole environment to feel serene. Now it’s like an oasis.”
Kouzoukas and Heuvelhorst describe Gertzof as a pretty chill guy, and that’s the vibe in the living space where they teamed a sturdy, squarish sectional with Eero Saarinen’s curvy iconic Womb chair in a pop of Aegean blue. Pillows layer in color and a bold geometric pattern in sunny shades of yellow. “Our process is very organic,” says Heuvelhorst. “It takes a bit for everything to marinate. But eventually you focus attention on a certain element, and the design of the whole reveals itself.”
An element of nature was introduced with the choice of three graduated wood cylinders instead of a conventional coffee table. The trio of log-like tables also act as extra seating. As an organic complement, there’s a tall free-form twisted wood sculpture to anchor one side of the room.
The dining area does double duty, with a custom Corian desk that also serves as a buffet with built-in storage. The dining table itself is like a sculpture, with splayed polished stainless steel legs topped with smoky bronze glass, and the chandelier lends an artistic aura as it echoes the striking architecture. The fireplace is dual-sided, with a similar boxy Carrara marble mantel on the living room side, just below a flat-screen television.
While the footprint of the kitchen is unchanged, new seamless Italian cabinetry without hardware and Caesarstone countertops with slightly-rounded square edges modernize the space, along with a Miele microwave and ovens, and a stainless sink and coil faucet. Thin shelving with LED lighting was added to a wall clad in matching Caesarstone.
Lighting plays a major role throughout, with architectural pendants and dramatic accents. “Lighting is about creating an ambience,” says Heuvelhorst, “like the right background music. It’s an X factor.” Perhaps the most dramatic example is in the master bath, where the designers created a lighted niche that runs almost the full length of the tub and above a bench in the shower, as well as a custom mirror with lit channels that add a glow.
One upshot of the remodel: Gertzof has become an art aficionado. “He loves art,” says Heuvelhorst. “He learned a lot and has become passionate about it. Now he’s the one emailing us about hip gallery openings!”
Gertzof couldn’t be happier with the outcome. As he explains, “It’s very open, and the outdoor space flows into the living room. The place really fits. I get a lot of compliments.”
Lucien Lagrange Studio
Scott Heuvelhorst and Katerina Kouzoukas, SK Design Group
A + R Store
Normann Copenhagen side table, dining table base by Oskar Zieta
Misty Carrera quartz in kitchen
Photographic manipulations: “Exit Eden No. 2” above desk in dining room and “Dovetail” above bed
Graham & Brown
Marcel Wanders wallpaper in bedroom
Wooden stools in living room, Bosa and Moooi vases, and Carl Hansen heritage chair in bedroom
White oak floors throughout
Eero Saarinen lounge chair and ottoman in living room
Bola pendant in dining room, Twiggy lamp in living room
Sahta sculpture and yellow throw in living room
“Greater Than/Less Than Nr. 1” in dining room
Maxwell Colette Gallery
“Outsider Blues” by Brett Flanigan on column in dining room