HEWITT HORN INCORPORATED. GENERAL CONTRACTING - CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT
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THE HIGH LIFE

WITH THE HELP OF DESIGNER NATE BERKUS, CHICAGO ANTIQUES DEALER MARY JEANNE REESE TRANSFORMS A FADED 1920S APARTMENT INTO A SOPHISTICATED AERIE
Text by Gretchen Wahl - Photography by Thibault Jeanson - Styled by Carlos Mota

Olivia and Madeline Reese, in coordinating pink tracksuits, are in the middle of a tumbling routine in their Chicago living room. Madeline, 12, props Olivia, 8, up on her knees, Cirque du Soleil-style, both oblivious to the porcelain vase and Biedermeier secretary within harm’s way. The girls begin wobbling, collapse, then burst into giggles.

Smiling in the universally tolerant way mothers have, Mary Jeanne Reese seems unfazed by the danger posed to her artfully arranged furnishings. “Beautiful things are meant to be used and lived with,” Reese says. “I taught my girls to respect possessions, but if something gets broken….” She waves her hand dismissively.

What a perfect place for the young and the antique to mix it up. A sprawling co- op with sparkling views of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago, the Reese home is an eclectic assortment of old, new, and things in between. In each room, the precious is made accessible with a palette of soothing taupes and lavenders and just the right shock of color or unexpected accessory.

Of course, it took some work to get there. When Reese, an entrepreneur who launched Au Coin du Feu, a firm that sells antique furnishings, and fireplaces and flooring salvaged from European houses, first saw the apartment, she had just moved to Chicago from the suburbs and was living in a rental while renovating a four-floor townhouse. But a year and a half into the project, the prospect of an upstairs-downstairs routine had begun to worry her so much that she started house-hunting for something on one level. The 1920s apartment, with 3,300 square feet of space and a rabbit warren of halls, had the potential– it just needed a gut job.

To pull it all together, Reese called a local architect David Pickert and designer Nate Berkus, both of whom she knew through her business. The instructions were simple: Create something gracious, formal, and open. For Pickert and Berkus, that meant preserving the 465-square-foot living room with views of the lake, but giving it more human dimensions; keeping the den and dining room intact, but overhauling the kitchen completely; and tearing out the crazily sloped floors. While the dup tried to save the period features (an arched doorway from the foyer to the library and living room), appliqué moldings didn’t make it. “Some details aren’t worth the trouble,” Reese said.

Once the physical renovation was complete, the task of decorating was made easier by the fact that Reese, an inveterate collector of art, objects, and furniture, had assembled a three-inch thick album of every single item she owned, down to the linens in the girls’ bedrooms. The detailed photographs and measurements became a reference work for Berkus, both for figuring out where furnishings might fit, and in determining what the designer should buy to update Reese’s look. “I would fail Mary Jeanne as a client and friend if I didn’t create something fresh,” he says.

Entering the apartment today, guests are enveloped in tasteful elegance. The living room, no longer cavernous, has been divided into three inviting sitting areas, each an assemblage of eye-pleasing tableaux. In one section, a foot-long, bisque-colored rhinoceros rests on a Karl Springer shagreen table, while in another, a pair of vintage armchairs, recovered in a graphic Clarence House print, contrasts with mustard-yellow vases. The room’s centerpiece, a Louis XIV fireplace in marblestone, is paired with an ethereal landscape.

The sophisticated mix continues throughout the apartment, even in the kitchen. Though her friends advised her against it as impractical, Reese insisted on stainless- steel kitchen counters. She’d had them while living in Munich in the 1990s and loved the patina they developed. “They will simply look better and better with age,” she says. To soften the industrial feeling, Pickert and Berkus relied on particulars– a white Saarinen table where Olivia and Madeline do their homework and a floor of gray-brown marblestone. “All kitchen floors should be stone,” says Reese. “It shows no dirt and is easy to clean, even when the dog has accidents.” Plus, she says, “It lasts for centuries.”

When it came to the bedrooms, Reese wanted to crate private havens. Hers, a 1940s Los Angeles-inspired suite, is in restful grays and golds, and has its own foyer, dressing room and bath. Olivia’s room is all girly lavender and pink, while Madeline scored with a queen-sized bed of her own (the space doubles as a guest room). Each has a private bath. “I wanted to be equitable,” says Reese.

The formula can be applied to her apartment as well– achieving the right balance between the past and the present, the delicate and the durable, or “the comfortable and the eclectic,” as she puts it. And having now settled in, it’s an equation Reese feels she’s solved: “I took the best of the past and created something new.”