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Abstract Appeal

With high-gloss paint and luxurious materials, a classic apartment in the Drake Tower is reimagined as a work of art.

The soft blue tones of the Farrow & Ball wallpaper in the entry quickly progress to a rich, high-gloss indigo in the built-in cabinetry that lines the walls of the open living and dining areas.

Hans Wegner’s easy chair sits by the Mondrian-inspired fireplace screen, designed by Michael Howells and fabricated by Randall Kramer of Kramer Design Studio, with abstract art by Suzanne Caporael. 

Missoni pillows dress the leather Roche Bobois sofa in the living room, while the massive custom rug links the space with the dining area.

The kitchen features Valcucine cabinetry with glass countertops, granite stone tile floors by Ann Sacks and a modern ceiling fixture from Jean Perzel Paris.

An etching by Brice Marden hangs above the Eames lounge chair and ottoman. All of the rugs are custom designs by Jan Kath, through Christiane Millinger.  

Marble tile from Ann Sacks covers the floors and walls of both the master and guest bathrooms. Howells designed the cabinetry to reference the millwork in the main living spaces.

The master bed and nightstands were custom-designed by Howells and paired with Pratesi linens. The watery hues of the custom rug reference the lake view.  

A passion for the Art Institute of Chicago inspired the vibrant approach of architect Michael Howells of Portland-based Howells Architecture + Design in the overhaul of a two-bedroom unit on the 10th floor of the Drake Tower. The pied-à-terre belongs to a young couple who split their time between the city and a second home they keep in the mountains. “I wanted to draw upon this idea of art in the city and make it manifest in this project,” Howells explains, noting that he made frequent visits to the Modern Wing during his time in Chicago. “These clients aren’t afraid of color or bold gestures.”

Although the patterned wallcovering in the entry foyer is a muted blue hue, the built-in cabinetry that runs along an entire wall in the adjacent open dining and living areas has been painted in a high-gloss royal tone. And, Howells points out, the giant rug that unites the two areas resembles Gerhard Richter’s paintings. “It’s abstract, like a giant woven canvas,” he explains. As you make your way through the project, there are a lot of touchstones.”

The Mondrian-inspired fireplace screen is another, its brass finish tying in with both the cabinet hardware and the legs on the bespoke live-edge walnut table. “We want to find things that are in sympathy with each other while not being the same,” he says, pointing to the contrast of the black chairs with the warm wood. “If you look at spaces that are truly compelling, you have the feeling that it’s a collection of beloved objects that the owners acquired over many years.”

Classic French art deco light fixtures carry the brass into the master suite, a far more minimalist space furnished with a simple abstract rug, a bed and complementary built-in cabinetry. “There’s a lake analogy here too,” Howells says of the room’s blue hues. “The experience of the lake is fascinating and ever-changing—a different blue at any given time.”

Or, on overcast days, the water takes on a gray hue—another unifying color that runs throughout the space. In the galley kitchen, for example, glass-clad Valcucine cabinetry and gray countertops complement the granite tile floor and glass backsplash. “When I look at the kitchen, I see Donald Judd, Gerhard Richter’s paintings on glass and ’70s minimalism,” Howells explains. “They said yes to almost all of my recommendations, so I was able to really make a statement,” says Howells. “This is the closest I’ve ever come to self-expression in a client’s home, and it was fun doing it with such wonderful clients.”