Circle of Life
Powell/Kleinschmidt designs a Chicago-area summer apartment for devoted grandparents and art collectors
Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 6/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Over the past 26 years, Donald Powell and Robert Kleinschmidt, partners at Chicago firm Powell/Kleinschmidt, have certainly worked on more complicated, larger-scale projects, from corporate interiors to country clubs. However, designing for clients who are in love with beautiful environments goes to the very heart of P/K's practice. A 5,500-square-foot apartment on Chicago's suburban North Shore tells a wonderful story about two legacies—the clients' and the interior architecture firm's—coming together as one. "Our team was stimulated the entire way to go to new heights on this project," says Kleinschmidt.
The clients, a husband and wife, had sold the North Shore house where their two sons and a daughter were raised. The couple then moved to Florida but also decided to purchase a summer residence in the suburb where they'd once lived, near shops, trains, restaurants, and—most important—three grown-up children and five grandchildren, aged 6 to 16.
The clients' legacy centers on a love for collecting world-class modern art and a joint commitment to sharing their knowledge and passion with children and grandchildren. "It's all about family," says Kleinschmidt, who explains that these clients are unusual in their ability to make informed choices about both design and art. "But the decisions all center around the family, about making the time they spend together more enjoyable and more meaningful."
P/K's willingness to become intimately involved in every aspect of the project and in the clients' needs is, in no small part, the firm's legacy. Both Powell and Kleinschmidt began their careers at the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill before forming a partnership in 1976. The partners have never abandoned their modernist principles and are unwavering in attention to detail and design excellence.
The architects admit that this project presented planning and design challenges never previously encountered. The apartment, one fourth of a floor of a brand-new building, had been bought primarily for the convenient location and did not meet many of the clients' expectations. True artistry was required to manage technical and invisible aspects of the project, and P/K paid close attention to the position of every sprinkler head and mechanical device, including the sophisticated security system and environmental controls to moderate humidity for archival purposes.
A corridor, asymmetrically placed within the plan, organizes the interior and doubles as a gallery for art. Living areas occupy the deep, east side of the corridor, taking maximum advantage of daylight. The kitchen and master bedroom are positioned at opposite ends of the corridor, with storage and ancillary spaces, not requiring daylight, positioned away from the window wall, along the west perimeter.
Because of the seasonal nature of the residence, P/K used wood floors, finely textured wall paint, glass, and leather—all low-maintenance—to achieve a sense of calm. The focus is internal. Windows are covered with either floor-to-ceiling screens or scrims that diffuse the sunlight. Dark-stained Australian oak plank flooring runs throughout, layered with custom rugs in most rooms. Tan progresses to brown. White, used very sparingly, becomes the accent color. "We don't have the intensity of the direct sun here in the Midwest, and much of the light tends to be reflected," says Kleinschmidt, who explains that these deeper tones bring greater psychological warmth.
P/K designed much of the hardware and furniture. The family room, for example, features a custom sectional sofa with plenty of pillows, armrests, and ottomans to entice grandchildren, adult children, and grandparents into the same room to relax, play games, watch a movie, or simply spend time in one another's company. "Furniture placement supports the way the family lives," says Kleinschmidt, who was careful to ensure that furniture layouts nurture rather than dictate.
A well designed environment filled with modern art. Room for three generations to enjoy being together. Now that's a beautiful legacy.