July 31, 2006
When it comes to architecture and interior design, modern can often conjure images of bare white walls, cold steel, and small, uncomfortable furniture. Take a closer look -- imagine airy, open spaces, natural light streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows, and intelligent design that allows you to function better in your home.
When Jim and Molly Perry hired modernist architect John Ronan to renovate their Chicago carriage house, modern wasn't necessarily what they envisioned - or even sure they wanted. But like any addict, they soon found that they just couldn't get enough of the modern touch.
Photos by Michelle Litvin for The New York Times
WHEN Jim and Molly Perry hired a modernist architect to renovate the old carriage house behind their graystone Edwardian town house here, they were, as she said, “nervous.”
After all, they lived with antiques, many from a Washington shop owned by Ms. Perry’s father. “I never imagined myself wanting modern architecture,” said Ms. Perry, who grew up among the Federal-style town houses of Georgetown.
But they were in an experimental mood and, anyway, the carriage house was out back. And when the renovation, designed by John Ronan, 43, was completed, they could not help but contrast it with the small, dark rooms of their Lakeview home. The old coachman’s quarters had become a spacious light-filled loft with a playroom, a guest room and an office for Mr. Perry, 46, a managing director of a private equity investment firm in downtown Chicago.
They liked the clean lines and pared-down feeling of Mr. Ronan’s design, finding it, Ms. Perry said, “simple and fresh.” In fact, they liked their first taste of modernism so much that they eventually threw over the old graystone and hired Mr. Ronan to design a bigger house with outdoor space where their three children, aged 7 to 11, could run free.
But not without a touch of their original hesitation. “We knew modern was his forte, but we weren’t sure that’s what we wanted,” said Ms. Perry, 41.
Then Mr. Ronan showed them a house he had designed for an art collector in Northbrook, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. The house, which overlooks a forest preserve, had glass walls. It was simple and functional, but not too severe. “As soon as we saw the house, I knew we could do it,” Ms. Perry said.
The Perry's didn’t want “a white box with a stone floor,” Mr. Ronan said. “They wanted openness and lightness, nothing too formal or too cold. They wanted to know how we could make the house modern but still comfortable and warm.”
To make room to build this house, they bought a Victorian on North Burling, a leafy street eight blocks away in Lincoln Park, and tore it down. The house was handsome, but it was cheaper to tear down than to renovate, even if they had wanted to. They didn’t. “We wanted to start fresh,” Ms. Perry said.
The property’s best feature, as far as the Perry's were concerned, was the size of the lot: 32 feet wide instead of the 20 feet of a typical graystone, Chicago’s version of a brownstone.
The 7,200-square-foot house Mr. Ronan designed for the family, who moved in in December 2004, is a far cry from the one it replaced. It is a no-nonsense box with an aluminum-framed grid of windows in three kinds of glass: clear, sandblasted and ribbed. There is a front yard with enough room for a game of stickball, a walled-in courtyard at the rear, and a terrace atop a freestanding garage.
To achieve the warmth the Perry's sought, Mr. Ronan used walnut for floors and cabinets, a blue-gray limestone from France for indoor floors, a warm gray Indiana limestone for outdoors and poured concrete walls that reveal the irregular textures of the wooden forms used in their construction. “That warms up what could be a cold material,” Mr. Ronan said.
Ms. Perry wanted the rooms to be filled with natural light. Mr. Ronan obliged with 11-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows along the street, 9-foot-tall windows on the upper floors and 8½-foot sliding doors in back.
“Every space has natural light, which is unusual for Chicago,” Mr. Ronan said.
There is not an antique in sight. The Perry's sent their furniture, except for a pair of candlesticks, back to Ms. Perry’s father.
“I wanted to keep some pieces I loved, like an old chest, but they just didn’t work in the new space,” Ms. Perry said. She went shopping with a Chicago interior designer, Leslie Jones, selecting clean-lined furniture. Mr. Ronan designed many built-ins, including walnut cabinets in the living room. A custom aluminum screen that takes the place of a balustrade along the main staircase gave the clients pause. “I didn’t want it to look too industrial, or like a jail,” Ms. Perry said. To avoid the effect of a cage, Mr. Ronan varied the spacing of the metal bars.
The price tag? The Perry's won’t say, and Mr. Ronan would allow only that it cost about what any house using similar materials and finishes would per square foot, plus the price of the lot.
Mr. Ronan, whose office occupies a full-floor loft in the River North neighborhood, is emerging as an influential modernist in a city famous for its legacy of modern architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright established his reputation here, and the city has a large collection of buildings by Mies van der Rohe.
Mr. Ronan has designed a youth center on the South Side, a master plan for the redesign of South Chicago Avenue and numerous stores, offices and houses throughout the city. “Modernism took root here, but when the inevitable pendulum swung, it swung all the way back,” said Mr. Ronan, referring to postmodern architecture’s grip on the city in the 1980’s and 90’s.
As architecturally progressive as the city was, “it’s a very conservative place,” Mr. Ronan said. “There aren’t the kinds of industries like fashion, film and art that drive the demand for forward-thinking design in cities like New York, Los Angeles or Miami.” Still, he allowed: “It’s taken a while, but things are definitely changing. You can see it everywhere.”
Indeed, signs of Chicago’s enthusiasm for new modern architecture abound, even in historic neighborhoods like Lincoln Park. There are two other modernist homes on the Perrys’ street, which is a hodgepodge of architectural styles: a few Victorians, a 1970’s Brutalist bully and a chateaulike McMansion.
“There wasn’t a row of identical graystones that this house deviated from, so we felt more comfortable,” Mr. Perry said of adding the Ronan design to the mix.
The family is still buying furniture but has otherwise settled in. Their church and the children’s school are around the corner. Lincoln Park, with its soccer fields, bike paths and dog runs, is three blocks east; Lake Michigan is just beyond that. Mr. Perry’s office in the downtown Chicago Loop is a 10- to 15-minute drive, or a 20-minute ride on the El train.
Just six years after a renovated carriage house changed their lives, the Perry's no longer worry about “modern”; they are sPerry'simply at home.
“It’s a very adult-looking place, but the kids have their own floor and space to run around in,” Mr. Perry said. “It really works for the family.”
Wallpaper's back and bucking the paint trend by serving up true modern style and ingenuity. From Scratch and Reveal paper (think giant lotto ticket, and have a vacuum handy for foil shavings) to digital prints and hand painted sheets, modern wallpaper's filling the void left by a fading faux finishing trend.
We've found everything from Wallpaper By Numbers, wall-hung strips in the classic paint by numbers mold, to Flexible Glass (Maya Romonoff) and papers that imitate granite and metals (Wallteriors).
Interior designer Anita Lang Mueller, founder of Interior Motives, a high-end, full service interior design firm in Arizona, says she's noticed a growing demand for distinctive wall treatments. She's currently working on an entry way done in Maya Romanoff's Mother of Pearl with Venetian Plaster. It's a classically influenced clean, modern look, and Mueller says, gorgeous but it might not work for everybody. Lucky for us, she disclosed a few insider design secrets that can help us make the right decisions when we choose to cover our walls with paper.
Thinking About Wallpaper?
Check Out These Design Tips First!
• Always think about the light quality in a space (before you do anything, but this especially holds true for painting and papering). Brighten a room with less sun exposure with lighter colors and save the darker, richer hues for rooms with more natural light.
• Wall coverings are like anything else--they have an emotional impact. Before you commit to one, think about the way you would like to feel in a room. You've already narrowed your choices and can choose a treatment that evokes the feeling you want.
• Textural treatments like grasscloth, stringcloth and bamboo are sustainable options that have an inherent sense of quality and timelessness.
• It's hard to find a bold large print that you'll love forever. If you think you might get sick of it before it's time for a revamp, go for wallcoverings with texture and variations in tone. They're hard to get wrong.
• If you love a bold or large print but don't want it to take over the room, try it on one wall.
Flooring that clicks
While in the process of renovating my kitchen I made a troubling discovery -- there wasn't any flooring I found suitable to grace my floors! I wanted something modern, something fun - something that didn't require grout. And then it happened... Marmoleum.
Made from natural linoleum on HDF with a cork layer, Marmoleum Click's click and lock system promises easy installation. Available in 12x12 squares or 12x36 panels, and with 18 colors to choose from, the possibilities are endless (as I pleasantly discovered while creating and modifying my floor on their online floor planner).
Said to warm to room temperature quickly, Marmoleum is suited for most rooms in your home. And as an added bonus, Marmoleum has bacteriostatic properties to protect against the strongest of germs.
I'm a firm believer that customer testimony is always best... I'll let you know how the installation process goes!
July 27, 2006
Face the Day
The "faces" are the latest offerings by artist Shlomi Haziza -- a master at colorful acrylic sculptures. Innovating with the material since 1991, Haziza's works are collected worldwide. The whimsical sculptures are about 20 inches high and a whopping 8 inches thick -- which is a feat with acrylic.
The secret behind working with acrylics Haziza tells me, is the cooling process. Cooling can't be rushed or that "milkiness" that is evident in the acrylic furniture of 50 years ago will occur.
Green Grids Grow on Residential Roofs
For green-thumbed city dwellers, finding garden-ready sites can be a hassle, even depressing during those flower filled summer months. But for gardeners who have a home with a flat or slightly pitched roof, taking plants to the rooftop can be a great way to indulge those Mother Earth yearnings, and make a positive environmental impact to boot.
Green Grid, a modular grid system designed by engineers, roofers and horticulturists, gives good reason for rooftop parties and reduces energy costs. The grid is pre-planted and can be arranged quickly and easily to give homeowners a string of blue-ribbon benefits.
Consider this: The average outdoor hangout/party garden lacks stunning views, energy savings, and storm water management. A Green Grid has those. Plus it shades, insulates and cools homes, insulates sound, extends roof life and is made of recycled materials. Not to mention the pre-planted bit. Just organize the grid and you're gardening is done. We love it. Too bad our roof is steep as a chute.
The GreenGrid DIY Kit (www.greengridroofs.com, 847-918-4149) starts at $34.40 (plus shipping) per module with a minimum order of 12.
July 26, 2006
The sun is shining as a warm breeze enters your open window... perfect time to paint!
Need ideas to brighten (or darken!) your home?
Find out what others are doing!
More on Color from Caroline Barry
Check out this great color resource!
Good Fences Make a Better Future
We're all for sustainable materials, and those that can be made into variety of oft used and attractive items are even better. Bamboo grows to the top of our list as we see it made into gorgeous wallcoverings, flooring, even fences and gates.
Check out these sustainable, and inexpensive, bamboo barriers. These and many more are available at Master Garden Products, which takes too long to load but is worth the wait if you're looking for unique, sustainable garden items.
July 25, 2006
Plein-tifully Luxurious Furniture
We couldn't help but notice that many of our readers are quite taken with Philipp Plein's over the top doggie bed and figured Fido's best friend shouldn't be deprived of having over the top furniture. How about a mahogany Louis 10th chair & ottoman in very regal silver crocodile?
The law school drop-out has been making quite a stir throughout Europe with his Mies van der Rohe lines done up in dance club regala ala croc and ostrich leathers, Swarovsky crystals and signed stainless steel.
Now the German designer (note the two "p"s in his first name) is being heralded as a rock star designer after launching a clothing line to go with his home furnishings collection. His clothing line boasts the star's signature in Swarovsky crystals.
July 24, 2006
Reclaimed Dining Tables
Giving modern tableware a streamlined, classic wooden backdrop exudes good taste and lets eco-conscious style stand out.
This Alan Vogel dining table is made from reclaimed antique fir and constructed the old way, with traditional mortise and tenon joinery and hardwood pegs. But the sensibilities are modern: clean lines put the wood grain in the limelight; recycled wood use is a responsible response to modern environmental woes.
July 21, 2006
It's a Gasca!
Spanish designer Jesús Gasca brings Scandinavian sensibility and simplicity to his products -- but he adds a certain dash of Mediterranean spice. The combination of ethnic backgrounds is unique -- and so too are his designs. Gasca enjoys experimenting with metals and plastics and applying them in different shapes. The Onda Stool features generous curves and tubular steel legs. It was a familiar shape to me -- like a guitar pick that melted into a seat. Minimal in profile, it is exceptionally well made and well balanced.
Maybe I am on a musical bender, but I see the shapeliness of a guitar with his Globus chair.
Gasca and his son Jon create their products under the brand name STUA, which Gasca founded in 1983.