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Fresh Start

The duo behind SK Design Group drastically transforms a large condo with a gray palette and Scandinavian influences.

CLEAN CUISINE The sleek, tonal white kitchen is accented with stainless steel appliances such as a Miele built-in coffee maker, Sub-Zero fridge and a Wolf range on the island. Arper stools from the Babar collection by Simon Pengelly provide dine-in seating, as does the Eero Saarinen Tulip table from Knoll paired with Arper Palm chairs by Lievore Altherr Molina (not shown). 

A large-scale plaid wallcovering by Marcel Wanders creates a feature wall in the master bedroom, with symmetrical bedside tables with leather pulls and copper shade lamps by Tom Dixon. The built-ins and closet cabinetry were painted the same gray that runs throughout the condo.


FRAMING VIEWS The black metal Bola suspension light with smoky glass globes mimics the geometry of the west-facing architecture. The glass tabletop is a custom design by SK Design Group to go with the Nogi table base by Oskar Zieta. The undulating birchwood Tuisku bowl is from the Finnish Design Shop and “Outsider Blues” is by Chicago artist Brett Flanigan.


PLANE GEOMETRY An existing paneled wall was painted in Benjamin Moore Gray Owl and the mantel was replaced with a more modern version in Carrara marble. A painting by Maya Hayuk, in her signature geometric style, welcomes bold hues into the neutral space.


WELL ACCENTED Natural touches such as the cedarwood log tables and driftwood-like Sahta sculpture by Maoli add warmth to the modern setting, anchored by Camerich’s Freetown sectional, while the Saarinen Womb chair and accessories add a pop of color. The arcing Twiggy floor lamp is by Foscarini. 

A Corian-topped custom buffet also serves as a desk and provides extra storage. Katerina Kouzoukas chose the grayed lavender because it works well with the floor. The vases and sculptural copper candleholder are from Haute Living.  

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.”  



River North

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

Doug Fogelson
Photographic manipulations: “Exit Eden No. 2” above desk in dining room and “Dovetail” above bed

Graham & Brown
Marcel Wanders wallpaper in bedroom

Haute Living
Wooden stools in living room, Bosa and Moooi vases, and Carl Hansen heritage chair in bedroom

Kentwood Floors
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

Maya Hayuk
“Greater Than/Less Than Nr. 1” in dining room

Maxwell Colette Gallery
“Outsider Blues” by Brett Flanigan on column in dining room