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Trading Places

Two former traders purchase a Gold Coast abode as a second city destination and give Hunter Kaiser free creative reign.

The mohair drapery has a subtle grid-like pattern, similar to the city streets, and complements the steel beams of the furnishings.

Being the great magician that it is, Chicago can take on all different shapes and sizes for those who inhabit it, conjuring different memories. For two Aspen dwellers who met at the Board of Trade some years ago, those memories include the seduction of old trade and industry from which the city built itself up—and their relationship originated. And once the homeowner wife found Hunter Kaiser, it quickly became apparent that he was the man for the job: redesigning their recently purchased Gold Coast penthouse, an adult home away from home for hosting others and highlighting elements of their past. “She just said, ‘Do your thing, but make it Chicago,’ and so I took it really literally,” Kaiser says.

So the designer simply turned to the city for inspiration—incorporating motifs such as grain (the live-edge walnut dining table by local artisan Aaron Bladon and Geiger chairs caned with natural grass in the family area) and the raw industrial age (the midcentury steel I-beam base designed by Ward Bennett rests under thick glass for the formal living area’s coffee table, and Knoll’s Luxe drapery has an embedded grid motif). Smoky gray tones give way to wheat hues in the family area. “I wanted to make sure it was still warm, even with industrial elements—so we kept it highly textured with fabrics, like the velvet club chairs and badger pelt pillows on the sofa,” says Kaiser.

The adjacent casual family space pays homage to the agricultural days of Cyrus McCormick while incorporating more comfortable seating for guests. The custom sofa is by Avery Boardman; with a lift-out center tray piece, the coffee table is upholstered in metallic leather to double as an ottoman, so one can lounge near the see-through fireplace. The office aesthetic slants a little more masculine, resembling a gentleman’s suit. The chairs are decked out in houndstooth and wool Maharam charcoal pinstripe fabrics, and a paper airplane light fixture reflects the jet-setting executive. The concept in the master suite is a nod to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and the art deco architecture of the Board of Trade.

But the art is the true gem of this masterwork. In fact, Kaiser used it as the outline for the home’s color story, letting the furnishings, lighting and paint swatches fill in naturally. He went big—placing a vintage oil-on-canvas nude of unmistakable proportions above the master bed, scaled to match the 12-foot ceilings, which was a pleasant surprise for the homeowner: “When he first told us about the master bedroom art piece, I actually thought he meant it would be on the ceiling—and I still thought it was going to look good! That’s how much faith I had in Hunter,” says the wife.

Additional artwork by locals Diane Schroeder and Cathy Bruni Norris appears throughout the residence. And the cherry on top: black-and-white photography by local Chris Lake, capturing the “seen and unseen” elements of Chicago, like raw steaks at Fulton Market, moonlight reflecting off a puddle in an alleyway and a lengthy shot down LaSalle Street—iconic scenes of the client’s beloved second city.