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A Lake Forest couple enlists Studio Gild to bring their historic East Lake Shore apartment into the 21st century.

Photography by Reagen Taylor

Photography by Reagen Taylor

It started as a favor for a friend: The North Shore couple were apartment hunting for a fellow commuter when they fell in love with Chicago’s historic beaux-arts landmark, the Drake Tower. With the help of Kristen Ekeland and Melissa Benham of Studio Gild, one vintage co-op apartment is now a modern city pied-à-terre for the couple and their daughter.

Photography by Reagan Taylor

Photography by Reagan Taylor

“When they purchased it, the home was a relic,” says Ekeland of the three-bedroom unit. “It hadn’t been touched in generations.” (Think heavy drapery, grass cloth wallpaper and highly carved mantels.) The owners wanted to do away with any such preexisting ornamentation and start with a blank canvas. “The goal was to create a clean-lined space that contrasted the couple’s primary Lake Forest residence,” explains Ekeland.

That meant enlisting Northworks Architects to knock down walls in the main living areas, giving way to sweeping views of Chicago’s northern coastline. But the real story here is in the millwork. Streamlined walnut cabinetry with sleek ebonized trim is a theme repeated throughout the apartment, providing ample storage while achieving a seamless look — note the absence of hardware.

“It was really a balancing act of conceal and reveal,” says Ekeland. The latter includes showcasing objects from the couple’s travels, many of which nod to the wife’s Chinese heritage. For example, the designers incorporated color and personality by hanging an ancient Asian screen above her bedroom headboard, layering on the elegance with a botanical-print Hermes lumbar pillow.

Off the living room, a set of Denali swivel club chairs and a temperature-controlled bar give the husband space to enjoy his extensive wine collection. The back panel, a custom Simes Studios’ design with subtle shagreen texture, reflects light from the adjacent living room windows. But it’s not all leisure — down the hall, a closet has been converted into a highly functional office space, appropriately equipped with an Eams executive chair from Design Within Reach and multiple built-in screens for him to watch the trade markets.

 Another notable millwork moment happens just off the main corridor, where the daughter’s concealed bedroom pocket-door is easy to miss. On the other side, an ebonized storage unit doubles as both a wall and a headboard — a dramatic contrast against the otherwise white room.

Photography by Reagen Taylor

Photography by Reagen Taylor

“We didn’t want the unit to feel foreign from its surrounding,” says Benham. Perhaps the most discreet yet effective detail is the stepped ceiling, which adds a subtle layer of character to the entire unit. In the end, the complete design pays homage to the roots of both the building and the family.

Sitting in her new living room, which now boasts unobstructed views of Lake Michigan, the wife concludes, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”


Complete Project / Photography by Reagen Taylor