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Feels Like Home

With the help of designer Jeannie Balsam, less became more for empty-nesters in the city.

ROLLING WITH THE STONE Designer Jeannie Balsam used the condo’s existing concrete pillars and ceiling, and dark wood floors, as a jumping-off point for the organic, urban and warm theme. “Those terms can seem counterintuitive, but we selected all finishes through that lens, and that’s why it works,” she says. 

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The master bedroom continues the neutral palette of grays and muted golds with the Pipa Bowl chandelier by Oly Studio providing a focal point

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The office (and second bedroom) features a dog print the owners had in their Lincoln Park home—cut down to fit the new space—while the sunflower-themed rug from Oscar Isberian was inspired by the wife’s bright energy.

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The dining room features a custom antler chandelier and Phillip Jeffries’ Rivets collection nailhead wallcovering—chosen for its textural element and to add interest to the only wall that defines the formal dining area.

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A new granite topped island was swapped in to “solidify the palette and add in some warmer taupe and silvery blue tones,” Balsam explains. Artist Jim Rose customized a cabinet for a coffee station in between the kitchen and living room, as well as the media cabinet in the main living room.

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The glazed porcelain tiles by Patricia Urquiola in the bathroom are a “modern take on ancient handcrafted majolica tiles,” says Balsam. Her clients agreed to tiling the entire water closet, a nod to Old World design in Portugal and Italy.

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Home base will always be Chicago for this semiretired commodities trader and his wife. But with two adult children no longer living with them and two other homes under their ownership, they decided home base needed to be smaller and better edited; more like a chic hotel suite than an overloaded abode. “We wanted something where we could shut the door and leave for two months,” explains the husband.

After selling their large single-family home in Lincoln Park and purging 30 years’ worth of belongings, the couple downsized to two bedrooms and 2½ baths in a concrete-and-glass midrise called The Contemporaine in River North.

“Most condos we looked at were larger,” says the husband, “so we wondered, could we fit in this place?” The answer is a resounding yes.

Taking only a few things that they loved—including a custom antler chandelier from Montana and a beloved dog painting—they relied on Jeannie Balsam of Jeannie Balsam Interiors to help them create a warm and highly organized home.

“We wanted to do very few things but do them really well,” Balsam says. She went to work covering some walls in Phillip Jeffries wallpaper, custom-designing a TV cabinet fabricated by Lagomorph Design, installing a new stone kitchen island and adding quality light fixtures, including handblown glass pendants by John Pomp. Balsam also refinished concrete ceilings and worked with metal artist Jim Rose on designing a custom coffee cabinet. For furnishings, she brought in A. Rudin swivel chairs for enjoying east-facing views of the city, cerused-oak bar stools for casual snacking at the kitchen island and a pullout sofa with a Tempur-Pedic foam mattress for guests spending the night.

However, she made the biggest difference in the master bedroom suite. “There was a funky setup in the master bedroom,” the husband admits. “You had to walk through the walk-in closet to get to the bathroom. It was very odd and cramped.” Balsam called on Perimeter Architects to reconfigure the space so it functioned like an efficient hotel suite. Working with the contractor and architect, Balsam mapped out every inch of it.

They opened up the space and created a bathroom that doubles as a dressing room and closet. Hardware-free custom walnut cabinets designed with, and installed by, Lagomorph provide out-of-sight storage. Porcelain tiles from Stone Source with a graphic floral-inspired pattern run amok along one wall of the bathroom and all walls, and even the ceiling of the water closet. It’s a bold move Balsam didn’t expect her clients to go for, but she asked, and their response was “Sure!” A long vanity with a honed limestone countertop remains clear of cosmetics or toiletries thanks to hardworking Robern mirrors that are fitted with hidden electrical outlets and built-in shelves. “It looks like a bathroom at The Peninsula Hotel,” says Balsam’s client.

For the nine months of the year the couple spends in Chicago, everything has its place. “When they leave with the dogs, they lock it up and head to Michigan or the Florida Keys,” says Balsam, “and when they return, they have this beautiful, tranquil space that is turnkey.” It’s like living in a hotel, but better.