The Gold Coast of Chicago may seem worlds apart from the English countryside. Yet, when you first step inside the 3,500-square-foot apartment on East Lake Shore Drive, you feel transported to a pastoral fantasy in which grand entrance halls greet you at the front door and dramatic archways usher you into plush spaces decorated with antiques, wood carvings and 18-karat gold. You expect to look out the window and glimpse an immaculate Elizabethan garden dotted with perennials and an emerald pasture in the background. Instead, you are treated to a mesmerizing cityscape portrait sweeping down Lake Shore Drive, drinking in the entire shoreline to the north, with its crystalline waters of Lake Michigan, white sandy beach and sparkling lights at night. The juxtaposition of these two seemingly disparate worlds gives the apartment a singular quality. The unique “manor in the city” ambiance initially captured the attention of its current owner.
“I wanted the relaxed sophistication of an English country manor house, without the manor to maintain,” says the retired executive, recalling his 2014 purchase.
He recently listed the apartment with Meladee Hughes, a Gold Coast native and an icon of Chicago real estate for the last five decades. She has listed and sold the apartment at least three times over the course of the last 15 years. “It has the elegance of Downton Abbey, yet it’s very livable and easy to maintain,” she says. “All of the finishes are museum quality. Everything is the best of the best.”
Under the vision of Chicago architect Pam Hutter, who reimagined the space for two different owners, the apartment has gone through several evolutions over the course of its long existence. Hutter first refashioned the kitchen, powder room, laundry room and guest suites in 2006, followed by an elaborate primary bath and closet redesign in 2018 — which won two Crystal Key awards for best-designed bathroom and the best overall remodeling project in Chicagoland. “The homeowner wanted a bathroom that looked like it had always been there,” says Hutter. “He said exactly what I often say, even before we met. I knew it was the right fit.”
With their visions aligned, Hutter got to work recreating the flow and layout of his primary bath, giving it new life with all-new plumbing, fixtures, cabinetry, walls, finishes and lighting. The first challenge for Hutter and her team was the bathroom’s footprint itself. “How do we incorporate all that our client is asking for, including a tub and large shower, into this small space?” she recalls. Her firm’s solution was to create a shower room under a new barrel vault ceiling, giving the entire space a sense of volume. She also placed a deep freestanding tub in front of the window and made it the focal point, along with a view of the lake.
Hutter excels at creating texture, using an artful blend of original and new moldings showcased throughout the home. In the primary bath, Pratt and Larsen custom tile moldings adorn the entire space, while a 2.5-inch wainscot band and crown molding define the space. “There is nothing anemic or wimpy about the use of texture, and therefore shadow in this bathroom,” she says. “I say ‘shadow,’ because when there is texture, there is light and dark on the wall as the light plays with it. The shadow highlights the texture and makes the visual much more compelling.”
The intricate floor-to-ceiling tilework presented another challenge for the design team and took eight weeks to complete. “Due to its bevel and depth, the field tile could not be cut and still work with the panel moldings,” says Hutter. “Therefore, all the tile had to be worked out for no cuts. While the drawings showed this enough for the custom tile to be made, the little differences that ensue during construction caused it to have to be reworked. Mike Nagel of MAW Chicago was the perfect guy for this project.”
The new primary bath eventually became a homage to the apartment’s original European-style artistry and the owner’s ancestral line. Among the most striking embellishments: 18-karat gold faucets and antique terracotta dragon gargoyles that emit steam in the shower room and that had been inherited by the owner from his grandfather who had been a builder. “They had been in his basement for at least 50 years,” the owner says. “I thought I would put them to good use.”
The owner added a fireplace to the primary bedroom, as well as more lighting in the entrance hall, dining room and library — and left the rest of the apartment’s grandeur intact. The entrance hall provides the first introduction to the home’s traditional allure, setting the stage for interiors punctuated by dramatic archways and bespoke details.
“You instantly become aware that you have entered a graciously designed home,” says the owner. “As you turn to the right, the stunning view of the lake, with its bright blue water and white sandy beach, draws you to the windows in the living room. Then you notice the room itself and the exquisitely carved wood paneling, mirrored display shelves and fireplace. It has a French-European feel.”
The library lies just beyond the living room, where gorgeous built-in bookshelves and an elaborate bar set a stately tone. Three spacious bedrooms reside in this wing.
At the other end of the apartment, a magnificent dining room seats 20 easily, under the dazzle of an immense crystal chandelier. “There is something about having a wonderful meal under all those crystals that makes it even more special,” explains the owner. Double doors open to Juliet balconies.
The inspired de Giulio kitchen is touched with luxury appliances such as a Wolf range and a Sub-Zero integrated fridge, plus a center island with seating where the owner sits and enjoys the ever-changing sights of the city as it transitions from day to night. The powder room, laundry room and private office complete the floor plan.
The timeless opulence of the apartment extends to the Italian Renaissance–style co-op building, the 102-year-old grand dame of East Lake Shore Drive. Guarded by a 24-hour doorman and heavy wrought-iron and glass doors, the main lobby impresses with a striking 30-foot ceiling decorated with painted plaster and modeled after the Escorial palace outside of Madrid. A location on one of the city’s most prominent streets puts you within steps of the Magnificent Mile and all of the best restaurants, shopping, hotels and cultural pursuits.
“There are not many places in an urban setting where you have a park, a beach with a beach bar, and biking and jogging trails literally across the street from your front door,” proclaims the owner, who treasures early-morning bike rides along the shoreline. Other highlights include a local farmer’s market on Tuesdays, just three blocks away, and easy access to Chicago’s famed nightlife. “There are so many wonderful places to fall into for a glass of wine after a tough day at work,” he shares. “The Drake Hotel and Z Bar are two of my favorite haunts.”
From the sought-after location to the stunning views and award-winning architectural design, this timeless Gold Coast co-op is the epitome of luxury Chicago living. “There is no better location,” concludes Hughes. “It has the best view in Chicago.”
For those reasons, the current owner will miss living on East Lake Shore Drive and the joy it has brought him over the last seven years: “If the next owners enjoy living here only half as much as I have, they will be thrilled with their decision.”