Siweb: Your clients were empty nesters who had raised their family in Lake Forest. How was this a change for them?
Eric Ceputis: Their previous house was a classic suburban Tudor, but they had already begun to acquire pieces from the postwar period. For their new place, they wanted modern architecture and chose half the top floor in a 1951 Mies van der Rohe high rise.
ED: Did you combine apartments?
EC: In the original floor plan this was four units, but it had been combined before my clients bought it. We did replace the 1970s kitchen with a Bulthaup system and renovated the master bath, which had lots of green marble; we also took out a fireplace that divided the living room. But otherwise we didn't really change the layout.
ED: The palette is very neutral.
EC: I realized early on that the couple were not drawn to color. They were intrigued by the subtle, natural changes of mood in the water and sky. When we went shopping, they kept gravitating toward black and gray. As a designer, you have to learn your client's vocabulary and respect it.
ED: You did manage a few pops of bright color, though.
EC: Usually just one per room, like the Cini Boeri chair from the '60s in the master bedroom and the Dan Friedman ladder lamp in the dining area. And there is no pattern. There are textural variations in the fabrics and the finishes, like the wire-mesh cocktail table in the library, but nothing that reads as too decorative.
ED: Why did you decide to go with dark floors?
EC: The floor grounds the space and draws your eye to the views. It works like an infinity-edge swimming pool.
ED: But the bathroom floor is white.
EC: In that room we wanted something more ethereal, a sense of being in the clouds. We went with white terrazzo tile on the floors and glass wall panels back-painted white.
ED: Since we're talking about floors, how did you come to choose tile for the library floor?
EC: That was an invention that came out of necessity. I wanted to use the stainless-steel Fireorb, but I didn't want to move the flue. I borrowed a little space from the adjacent bedroom for the alcove, but it had to be covered with a fireproof material. The clients loved the Live Black tile, which is made of matte porcelain and has beautiful imperfections and exaggerated proportions. The tiles are three quarters of an inch wide by 16 inches long.
ED: And no window treatments at all in the apartment?
EC: Privacy is not an issue in most of the rooms, and you certainly wouldn't want to cover up the views. Besides, the detailing in the aluminum of Mies's walls is incredibly beautiful. There are motorized shades on all the windows to manage the light.
ED: Where did you shop?
EC: We went to New York and to Milan, but we did a lot of shopping here, at , for example, and and the . Quite a few pieces were bought at auctions at . There are pieces from in Winnetka and from in Manhattan.
ED: Is it furniture or is it art?
EC: One of the things I tried to do here was explore the overlap of art and design. The white marble cocktail table in the living room was sold as furniture, but to me it's art. The stool in the living room is a unique piece by , from his "Where There's Smoke …" series. It's a ottoman he burned and reupholstered in a felted wool.
ED: Are any of their pieces currently in production?
EC: The Panton chairs in the dining room are the new plastic ones released in the '90s, not the original fiberglass ones. At in Miami, we fixed our sights on a vintage Unicorn sofa, but someone else got to it first. Luckily, Kagan decided to reissue the sofa, so this one is new. The sheet-metal Pallas dining table by is a prototype that we had bought for the house in Lake Forest.
ED: You avoided many of the "usual suspects" in your mix.
EC: Well, there are certainly pieces by famous designers, like Le Corbusier and Eames—and the wall-mounted cabinet in the dining room is by Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand (it was made for dormitories in Africa). But when you're curious about design, why go to the pieces everyone already knows? I find it exciting to discover something new. We bought the silver metal Jean-Pierre Vitrac lamp in the living room, which is very rare, without having any idea where it would go. And I had never seen the Vittorio Introini shelving before we bought it for the library, although I've seen it since. The specialness of these objects is part of the joy.
What the Pros Know
• Keeping the floor a consistent color or material throughout unifies the rooms and makes this apartment seem even more open than it is. Here, the floors in the public areas are dark-stained red oak, and carpeting is used in the bedrooms.
• The kitchen is sleekly minimal with reflective surfaces: The less visually busy a room is, and the more light that moves around it, the bigger it will appear.
• In the context of a bright, white apartment, a dark room can seem nurturing and mysterious. The library, which doubles as a guest room, can be closed off from the rest of the apartment with pocket doors.