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Best In Design
By Diana Bitting, Andrea Mills, Jessie Sardina and Bianca Smith | Photo: Courtesy of the Designers | February 3, 2015
First, a local interiors pro won a national TV competition. Then, a stop-and-stare architecture installation took form on the north side. And an heirloom-quality furniture line was launched. Yes, 2014 was a big year in Chicago design. Here, we give props to those that deserve it in each category—including readers' choice. Congrats to all that made the cut!
BEST IN BIZ
BEST INTERIOR DESIGN FIRM, MODERN // Lukas Machnik Design
Any local who was lucky enough to attend this December’s Art Basel fair in Miami walked away with a new hometown hero. Chicago-based Lukas Machnik was the buzzword of the weekend, and his new MMstudio space, to be permanently stationed on South Beach, celebrated its grand opening during Design Week. The winner of this past spring’s televised design competition, NBC’s American Dream Builders, has had his hands full since the show wrapped. There are whispers (from Machnik) of a book release, a documentary series, the premiere of a new Nero avant-style furniture collection and many residential projects the world over—all enriched with his signature minimal, texture-heavy style. “We’re not the ‘pops of color’ people,” says Machnik. “It’s about the material—the steel, the bronze, the wood.” And he doesn’t just talk the talk; he and his live-in fine artist partner, Lonney White, are devout minimalists in their South Side converted warehouse home. “It’s a lifestyle for us,” he says. “It’s not just a design trend.” What We Love: With his piercing good looks, air of mystery and undeniable eye for style, this bad boy of design is only heading up. 3845 S. Winchester Ave.
BEST ARCHITECTURE FIRM // JGMA
JGMA is just 5 years old and already has a legacy. The architecture firm, led by principle Juan Moreno, has just opened doors on its most recent completed institutional assignment, El Centro. The 63,000-square-foot facility was commissioned by NEIU as a satellite campus where academics, neighbors and commuters to and from the city collide to stop and stare. Visible from the Kennedy Expressway north of Belmont, massive bicolored fins protrude from the facade. “I wanted to create something that could speak to the great designs of the city before you get downtown,” says Moreno, “and could be a testament to architecture’s place in our community.” What We Love: We believe JGMA has the ability to catapult our city’s reputation from a destination for traditional building design to one of progressive, modern forms as well. 218 S Wabash Ave., Suite 200
*READERS' CHOICE* BEST PRODUCT DESIGN FIRM // The Patternbase
Local designers Kristi O’Meara and Audrey Victoria Keiffer of The Patternbase are shaking the dust off the textile industry. In under three years, their innovative studio has released dozens of hand-illustrated, hand-painted and digitally rendered pattern and print designs for the fashion and interiors industries. The girls are inspired by everything from fine art to ‘90s fashion and a few favorite film animations. With countless collaborations under their belts this year—BucketFeet, Appliq and more—and a book with Thames & Hudson to launch June 2015, O’Meara and Keiffer are planning their next moves. The recipients of the 2014 Propeller Fund grant plan to open their first gallery space in the city this spring, which will offer limited runs of high-fashion garment designs by both local and international designers, pattern-inspired visual art, vintage textiles and handmade art objects. What We Love: The duo’s schemes are the most cutting edge we’ve witnessed, from an adorable elephant-and-jeep safari theme to moody black-and-white watercolor motifs. 2543 W. Division St.
BEST INTERIOR DESIGN FIRM, CONTEMPORARY // Brianne Bishop Design
Known for her modern sophistication balanced with an edgy industrial slant, Brianne Bishop is behind some of Chicago’s coolest businesses and sleekest residences. Her process is greatly inspired by travel, but it starts with the client. “I love getting to know them as a person, then reflecting my interpretation into their space,” she says. Such was the case with a recent project in Lakeview; Bishop was initially hired to renovate a man cave based on her work at Van Buren Gentlemen’s Salon, but once she got to know the homeowners, they decided to redo the entire townhouse—including this bathroom, completely clad in Carrara marble. Bishop changed the layout of the space and installed a full-height pocket door that creates the illusion of a bigger room. The heated floor is covered in mini herringbone mosaic tile; the deep soaking tub is Kallista; and a custom floating vanity with a double sink by Lacava features waterfall faucets by Philippe Starck. What We Love: Bishop strives for complete harmony between environment, architecture and interior to achieve a stylized space that is both personal and functional. 1424 W. Chicago Ave.
BEST NEW INTERIOR DESIGN FIRM // Studio Gild
Yes, these girls can dress (their fashion-forward ensembles turn heads all over town), but more so, Studio Gild’s co-founders, Melissa Benham, Jennie Bishop and Kristen Ekeland, can design. This newly formed interiors firm has become buzzworthy in under a year’s time, with an approachable attitude and the ability to coax customers out of their comfort zones. “Our clients are collaborators—trusting and risk-taking,” Bishop says. “It’s a leap of faith.” With countless projects in the works, including homes in Denver, New York and, currently, a River North condo (with custom pieces from Lagomorph Designs, Anees Upholstery and Porter Teleo), the Gild girls listen to their clients throughout the entire process. “That’s the ‘gild’ing,” says Benham. “The final layers of thoughtful detail that we add to each project while allowing the homeowner’s personal story to be evident as you walk through the home.” What We Love: The firm’s signature edgy, sophisticated style pervades without overpowering. 1732 W. Hubbard St., Suite 1B
BEST INTERIOR DESIGN FIRM, TRANSITIONAL // Sarah Whit Interior Design
Principal designer Sarah Vaile describes her firm’s aesthetic of adventurous elegance as “not your mom’s traditional.” Started by two sisters, this firm has grown into a group of six, with offices in Chicago and Cincinnati. Vaile’s marching orders for her constituents match her personal mantra, that “life should be an elegant mess.” Or, good taste doesn’t have to be stuffy or precious. For a recent Gold Coast project (pictured) that started with a simple living room makeover, Vaile saw the perfect opportunity for a study in black-and-white: The walls are Farrow & Ball’s Pointing white, which allows the custom-designed, geometric wool rug and brass accents throughout to steal the show. What We Love: Sarah Whit’s designers don’t take themselves too seriously, and find inspiration anywhere. As Vaile says, “The least inspiring parts of the day are probably when I do my best work. Daydreaming up design schemes is the ultimate anecdote to boredom.” 1242 N. Wells St.
BEST INTERIOR DESIGN FIRM, TRADITIONAL // Kim Scodro Interiors
“We strive to give our clients warm, personal and tasteful homes,” says Kim Scodro, whose firm has been outfitting residences across the country with her classic design aesthetic since 2007. Heavily inspired by her travels, her interiors fuse the traditional with “tastefully current undertones.” What We Love: The firm recently starred in an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters: Renovation, scheduled to air in the new year. 303 E. Wacker Drive, Suite 1130
BEST LIVING SPACE // Sweet Peas Design
The theme of the 2014 Gracious House Interior Designer Showhouse (supporting the nonprofit organization Prevent Child Abuse America) was Boutique Hotel. Taking their cue from hip, international hotel lobbies, Susan Brunstrum and her team at Sweet Peas Design created an intimate yet airy family room with two distinct areas in which to lounge. One of these seating arrangements is delineated by an ivory patchwork hide rug with a linen sofa flanked by two Andrew Martin chairs. A modern, statement-making chandelier by Baker features Murano glass and brushed gold, a theme which is carried throughout the space by mixing metals with natural, textural elements. The Harlequin wallpaper was hung in a deconstructed, semirolled effect to add an urban edge. The colorful glass-bust sculptures by Chicago artist Pearl Dick of Ignite Glass Studios on the Bradley cocktail table were chosen to represent a global clientele who would stay in this stylish spot during their travels. What We Love: The room feels both comfortable yet refined: Expertly edited modern pieces are balanced with eclectic finds for both luxury and livability. 100 E. Bellevue Place
*READERS' CHOICE* BEST KITCHEN // Cannon Frank
A few years after a shoddy remodel, the owner of this North Michigan Avenue high-rise residence was unhappy with her kitchen’s discolored and shrunken cabinetry, fragile countertops and cramped layout. The project: Gut the existing space and create a functional and glamorous kitchen from scratch in the seven months the homeowner is away on business. Designer John Cannon hit the ground running, reaching out to Neff of Chicago for premium-quality custom cabinetry. After perusing the company’s 87 different door styles, Cannon worked with Neff to create a never-before-seen door design, which sets the sleek and sophisticated tone for the space. Despite some setbacks due to the previous contractor’s oversights, Cannon managed to pull together the stylish kitchen just two days before the client arrived home. What We Love: Cannon has an architectural eye, so he sees spaces with a holistic angle (and he’s an expert when it comes to displaying art of any kind!). Cannon Frank, The Merchandise Mart, Suite 1530B
BEST BEDROOM // Michael Del Piero Good Design
This multifunctional guest room packs a whole lot of amenities in one small space. Designer Michael Del Piero worked with the “client” on this show house in Lake Forest—a single man who desired a serene respite for overnight guests. The once dark and dreary space was transformed after the Bucktown interiors diva splashed the dark-wood-paneled walls with fresh, high-gloss white. A pair of custom-designed daybeds were made the focal point, floating in the center of the space to do double duty as a sleep station or cozy sitting area by the fireplace. These highly flexible pieces will be included in Del Piero’s furniture collection, debuting this spring. What We Love: Del Piero’s mix of the natural and unnatural always makes us feel transported to an exotic locale—even in the dead of winter! 1914 N. Damen Ave.
BEST BATHROOM // Elizabeth Stamos Design
When Elizabeth Stamos took on the redesign of this Victorian-era bathroom, the challenge was simple: Create a space for the clients’ 7- and 11-year-old daughters that was timeless without sacrificing style. “I think the choices speak to the age of the girls now, but also to them growing into chic, young women,” says Stamos. The bold floral Brunschwig wallpaper brings that idea to life, while a pair of ornate vanity mirrors speak to the Evanston home’s Victorian design. A crystal chandelier adds a touch of sparkle, and the framed fashion sketches inject some girly whimsy. To balance all the bold details, Stamos chose soft, white imperial Danby marble countertops, an Aurora Marble & Granite tub surround and mosaic-sized hexagon floor tiles to prevent slipping. And while the girls are happy with their new bathroom, the parents are thrilled. “[They] liked the new tub so much, they used it for a while instead of their own,” says Stamos. “Now we are redoing their master bath!” What We Love: The Suzanne Lovell alum has a sophisticated style with a down-to-earth attitude. 211 E. Ohio St.
BEST DINING ROOM // Buckingham Interiors + Design
Oklahomans Maureen and Jim were thrilled to begin a new chapter of their life after relocating for Jim’s new job as CFO of a local medical school. But their French Country furniture didn’t fit with their fresh downtown high-rise condo address. Enter Julia Buckingham, who transformed the entire space to reflect the couple’s new urban lifestyle—including this dining room clad in a fun, graphic wallpaper and sophisticated accents like the bold mirror, modern chandelier and plush new furnishings. “On installation day, I think they both thought they had walked into the wrong apartment!” laughs Buckingham. What We Love: Buckingham’s modernique mantra cleverly meshes modern lines with antiques. 1820 W. Grand Ave.
OUT & ABOUT
BEST HOTEL DESIGN // Soho House Chicago
Vicky Charles is an international woman of mystery. Google Soho House Chicago’s in-house interior designer, and not much comes up—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. The lovely, low-key mother of two, who lives and works in New York City, flies under the radar all around the world—Istanbul, London, Barcelona and beyond—to oversee the installation of her interior design schemes in each House. Some would call her attention to detail maniacal—we call it magnificent: Custom backlit floating brass soffits in the elevators and expertly curated accessories in the lobby are just two examples. This somewhat-secret sauce is due in part to her team’s involvement, starting with the first scouting trip: “We’re already walking the site before we know what we’re going to do with it,” Charles says. “It’s a passion project from the second we find a great building.” What We Love: Charles’ passion is just as much for the job as it is for each individual city. Founder Nick Jones encouraged her to source as much from the surrounding neighborhoods as possible, so decor from Architectural Artifacts, upholstery from Horween Leather and drapes from Primo Interiors are all part of the vision—a hyperlocal design that certainly lives up to the hype. 113 N. Green St.
*READERS' CHOICE* BEST OUTDOOR SPACE // The Garden at Celeste
Take the elevator to the fourth floor of River North hot spot Celeste, and you might think you’ve stumbled upon a whimsical English garden. We spent the summer sipping Pimm’s punch atop this ivy-covered rooftop patio and can’t wait for spring to beckon us back. The multilevel building, which was built on the remains of an old Louis Sullivan glass factory, employs fixtures, designs and patterns from early Chicago architecture and the art deco movement. What We Love: The plush Victorian-style sofas and manicured topiaries allow this outdoor destination to feel like a superluxe living room. 111 W. Hubbard
BEST RESTAURANT INTERIOR // Fulton Market Kitchen
For us, dining out isn’t just about what you eat, but where. Fulton Market Kitchen is a restaurant that clearly understands that sentiment. Conceptualized and co-designed by Daniel Alonso, the space is equal parts contemporary restaurant and uberhip gallery. Incorporating a wide variety of mediums and styles, the decor is amusing and provocative. In collaboration with neighboring FM*Gallery and local artists (think large-scale graffiti by Erni Vales and colorful sculptures suspended from the ceiling by Dominic Sansone), the restaurant’s collections will rotate up to six times per year to showcase new artists and continually transform the dining experience. What We Love: With the vibrant colors and provocative art, here’s one dinner spot that’s guaranteed to warrant conversation. 311 N. Sangamon St.
BEST AUCTION HOUSE // Wright
Specializing in 20th century art and design, Wright is lauded as a destination for museum-quality works, holding more than 12 auctions a year with a focus on pedigree, rarity and beauty. This past spring, the auction house gained recognition for earning the highest-grossing sale ever ($4.1 million) in the Italian-glass category. To come: in early February, the house will host it’s first-ever American design auction. What We Love: With its reputation as experts in inventory, the one-off offerings are almost always iconic. 1440 W. Hubbard St.
BEST SHOP // Coyle & Herr
This Avondale consignment shop is the destination for eclectic furnishings and decor. Apart from a bevy of stylish private residences, the warehouse has plans to continue outfitting the city’s chicest spots—from a Metropolis cafe to high-rise lobbies and apartments on Airbnb. What We Love: The shop also offers connections to the city’s expert artisanal craftsmen, whether you need a piece refinished, upholstered or rewired. 3031 N. Rockwell St.
PRODUCTS & PIECES
BEST FURNITURE COLLECTION // Truex
Ask Scott Himmel anything about the history of interior design, and he will know. The designer’s encyclopedic knowledge of the architecture and interiors industries is astounding, as is his excitement for his latest endeavor: a revival of a few of his favorite furniture designs by famous designers throughout history, never before in production, in partnership with the Kindel Furniture Company. The process from sketchpad to showroom was one-and-a-half years in the making, but Himmel kept his No. 1 priority straight: quality. “I’m a firm believer that a piece of furniture has to be perfect,” says Himmel. And he couldn’t have gotten closer in his pursuit: The Frances Elkins-inspired Loop chair’s cross sections are set off exactly 1/8 inch from each other, so the lacquer doesn’t chip. And only the highest quality materials and finishes were chosen for the collection. See, touch and feel for yourself: Atelier Gary Lee is now the hometown flagship showroom. “There’s not a single Truex design here that looks out of place in Chicago’s most contemporary, curated, high-end, multi-line showroom,” says Himmel of the Atelier. “That’s how it’s dressed.” What We Love: These well-dressed designs can play well with modern pieces as well. “I think we are on the cusp of a major sea change in what is considered contemporary,” says Himmel. “I hope so, with all my professional heart.” Atelier Gary Lee, The Merchandise Mart, Suite 1419
BEST WALLPAPER // Koessel Studios
If these walls could talk? Scratch that—what if they could see? Allen and Judy Koessel had the inclination to affix a 3-D glass “eye” onto their exquisite Les Plumes wallpaper design, bringing to life an already impressive surface covering. The local husband-and-wife team handcraft wallpapers using methods developed over 20 years, a process mostly focused on texture. Created on an eco-friendly cellulose fiber, each wallpaper collection uses hand-carved stamps and other unconventional tools to create designs and patterns that jump right off the wall. What We Love: Above all, Koessel Studios embraces imperfect beauty; “the regular irregularity of the repeat pattern, which transforms a room and gives it soul,” says Judy. 4115 W. Ogden Ave.
BEST DETAIL // Floating Staircase by Iron & Wire
This floating staircase, made of perforated, blackened steel with tempered glass railings, is an evolution of the folded-stair line of steel staircases Iron & Wire began fabricating in 2010. This version has a slim profile with a blackened stainless-steel framework and Z-cut stringers that add a graphic edge. Because the client was located in East Hampton, N.Y., the custom staircase had to be shipped in sections and assembled on-site. This forced David Greene of Iron & Wire to develop a design that reduced the amount of typical connections and improved the overall product. The company now has a standardized version that can be shipped and installed worldwide. What We Love: The stair makes a statement while still allowing the views to take center stage. 8030 Lawndale Ave., Skokie
BEST FURNITURE PIECE // MJ Writing Desk
Industrial details and natural materials combine in this classically refined writing desk that is designed by Frank Ponterio and manufactured by Avrett. Completely customizable, the bronze frame with slightly flared legs supports a vellum-wrapped top and can be sized to any specification. The design was inspired by Ponterio’s interest in Chicago’s architectural and industrial roots. He worked closely with the craftsmen at Avrett, who are experts in hand-forged iron and steelwork, to fine-tune the design so that it could be customized with brass, wrought iron or bronze. Each piece comes stamped with a hallmark logo bearing both the Frank Ponterio and Avrett logos. What We Love: The pairing of natural and exotic materials with hand-forged bronze metalwork makes for a design that is both masculine and elegant. To the trade, John Rosselli & Associates, The Merchandise Mart, Suite 6-158
BEST RUGS // Marais rug by Aimee Nemeckay at Sapere Atelier
Because the Fredman Design Group saw the need for sophisticated rugs that made a statement, Sapere Atelier was born. Lead designer Aimee Nemeckay’s paintings and watercolors are translated into the collection’s flat-weave rugs. The latest addition to the collection is the Marais rug, which is in saturated tones of blue and a pattern that is a fresh twist on a classic chevron. The inspiration for the collection came after FDG traveled to the Far East and experienced the rug-making process, meeting the weavers and seeing the fibers being dyed. After several experiments conducted while working closely with Oscar Tatosian of Oscar Isberian Rugs, FDG debuted this beautiful, soft silk rug: a high-quality product with a high-impact in any room. What We Love: The Marais rug is truly an artwork for the floor and is loyal to the ancient, intricate process of handweaving and hand-dyeing rugs in India and Turkey. $3,600 for 5 feet by 8 feet rug, Fredman Design Group, 350 W. Erie St.
BEST LIGHTING // Molekul chandelier
Trevor O’Neil launched his new lighting collection, Molekul, this past spring, which was inspired by a wooden star installation he created more than a decade ago. The Molekul series takes a similar shape but is lit up from the inside with LED bulbs. Light is channeled in randomized space and distance from its source via chrome steel “atoms” which are connected to the core by acrylic rods covered in rubber. The result? A starry cluster of ambient light. O’Neil’s latest concept involves a larger scale and customization options, as there is no limit to how many “atoms” can be added or in what configuration. The pieces are built one at a time in his studio and are only limited by a client’s space restrictions and lighting needs. What We Love: Modern style is smartly paired with new technology that looks ethereal and elegant. $3,800 (as shown with eight atoms), Trevor O’Neil Art and Design, 2548 W. Lake St.