He'll Always Have Paris
A Francophile's collection of art moderne furniture comes home to a Chicago house designed with architect Paul Florian
Jay Pridmore -- Interior Design, 6/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Collector-designer John Mark Horton admits that he's "over-domiciled." His homes in Chicago, Indiana, and France sometimes seem too much to manage with complete ease. But the compensation—or consequence—is that his command of interior space runs deep. Witness his elegantly spare yet richly eclectic Chicago town house, part of a short block established as an artist's colony in 1927. This neighborhood of "handmade studios," as the Chicago Tribune called them in their heyday, still features facades uniquely embellished, or "bricolaged," with glazed ceramic tile, carved wood, leaded glass, and expressive brickwork.
Horton purchased the house partially out of an interest in the Chicago modernists, known for their raw versions of cubism, expressionism, and primitivism as well as their handicrafts. He also envisioned the interior as a place to explore his love of art moderne furniture. A complex and perhaps contradictory project, it was an attractive challenge for Horton. The idea, he says, was "a design where architecture and art are thought of at the same time."
From the front, the house appears deceptively simple, with its narrow facade of common brick. Exterior touches are subtly in keeping with the historic creativity of the block. A remarkable new stairway of folded cold-rolled steel leads to the front door, and Louis Sullivan–esque terra-cotta ornaments the wall of the sunken garden. But it's the interior where Horton and Florian Architects focused their energies. The 2,150-square-foot space is a sculpture of endlessly flowing curves and planes.
Quirky but slick architecture was what Horton and Paul Florian conceived together. The two met while Horton was working for Tigerman McCurry Architects, which has pushed the stylistic envelope from modern to postmodern and back again. Without Stanley Tigerman's tendency to provoke, even inflame, Horton and Florian nevertheless intended to create something both glamorous and strange—a place, Florian says, for "sleekness and luminosity to collide with a lot of rustic components."
The existing interior was inchoate, a nondescript residential building with its share of dropped ceilings. Windows at either end were ample if not large. Of the four levels, plus a roof terrace, Horton's favorite part was a two-story rear atrium. It ultimately inspired other "duplexed" areas in what Florian calls "a series of interlocking spaces running vertically rather than radially."
Florian compares this succession of solids and voids to the "picturesqueness of a hill town." Yet it also exhibits the direct influence of Robert Mallet-Stevens's highly organized use of asymmetrical curves—seen everywhere in his work, from chic Paris apartments to French movie sets. "With Mallet-Stevens in mind, we used a hierarchy of radiuses, which contributes to the clarity of the space," Florian explains. "It's a system of curves used in section as well as in plan."
Virtuosity à la Mallet-Stevens shows up most notably in the second-floor sitting room's tray ceiling, the wide planes of which curve down to walls that roll gently around corners into adjacent areas. As one moves upward through the various levels, rooms become smaller and increasingly private.
Just as the plan surprises the eye—glimpsed over a balcony rail, for example, or at the end of a snaking stairway—so do the vintage and antique furnishings. Among the most striking are a pair of "cubist" club chairs, a rosewood secrétaire, and an occasional table called a bonheur du jour. The pieces hold their own against the stark white wall paint, but their lines and polished surfaces are also offset by vernacular touches: common ceramic tile, deeply carved Spanish 19th-century pine doors, elaborate geometric frames attributed to a Mexican member of the street's original artist's colony.
One wonders if those original colonists would have approved of such streamlining in their quirky midst or if Mallet-Stevens would have been pleased by the Chicago version of art deco. Perhaps the two sides would have embraced the huge new rear window, its steel framing reminiscent of Piet Mondrian. For contemporary visitors, the house might be an eye-opening counterpoint to the loftlike status quo.
"I don't like large spaces," Horton says. "I find that people always congregate in smaller ones." In fact, his house features the light and flow that modern interiors seek as well as the coziness they sometimes lack. The success of the design—and it is intoxicating in many ways—owes a debt to a clever distillation of ideas from both sides of the Atlantic.
PROJECT TEAM: ROBERT SELLARS; ISAAC EUN.
CHAIR FABRIC (SALON, SITTING ROOM), CURTAIN FABRIC, BANQUETTE FABRIC, PILLOW FABRIC (SITTING ROOM): HOLLY HUNT. PHOTOGRAPH (SALON): THROUGH MONIQUE MELOCHE GALLERY. COVE LIGHTING (SITTING ROOM): MORR-SHARP ASSOCIATES. SINK FITTINGS (BATHROOM): DORNBRACHT. CUSTOM CASEMENTS: WELDING APPARATUS. TILEWORK: DOUGLAS RAY JACKSON. GLASSWORK: ARCADIA RESIDENTIAL. MILLWORK: PAOLI WOODWORK. STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: THORNTON TOMASETTI. MEP: SUBURBAN FURNACE COMPANY. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: FRASER CONSTRUCTION.