In the apartment’s entryway, William J. O’Brien’s
Untitled, 2008, stands behind Frank Gehry
shelving from Denison’s childhood bedroom,
The dining table and chairs are
Edward Wormley from Wright
auction house, with a grouping
of striped vessels by Shio
Kusaka. Anthony Pearson’s
Untitled, 2007, reflects Spencer
Finch Prussian Blue light fixtures.
In a bedroom, an assortment of works
and collectibles by Joseph Beuys,
Wolfgang Tillmans, Sol LeWitt, Mon
Levinson, Howard Finster and Claes
Oldenburg sit on mid-century
modernist shelving inherited from
Denison (LEFT) and Salkin sit amidst treasures like a zebra rug from Denison’s grandfather’s Kenyan safari, and an elephant tusk Denison hunted as a teen.
There are 2,000 stories in here,” says uberarchitect Dirk Denison, arriving at his home for our midday photo shoot. Surprisingly, it is the first ever at his art-splashed, floor-to-Spencer-Finch-lighting-fixture-filled space. Most shoots take place at one of his firm’s award-winning projects, like Chicago’s stunning L20 and Terzo Piano restaurants. But his Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe condominium along Lake Shore Drive comes complete with its own interesting tale, and an especially surprising plotline for a critically acclaimed design star.
After 17 years of living in a rented apartment in Chicago while globetrotting for high-profile projects, his friends gathered for what Denison has affectionately dubbed “the condo intervention.” His cousin, Chandra Goldsmith Gray, was moving with her husband, Stephen, from her 22nd floor, two-bedroom apartment to make room for a second child, “and so it was decided that I buy their unit,” he adds. Gray had just renovated the space, so Denison moved in without the slightest architectural tweak; he thought it to be wasteful to renovate something that had just been done.
While he was moving into the 22nd-floor apartment, Denison asked a broker friend to let him have a look at a few unrenovated units for sale in the same building. There was one that struck a chord: a cavernous, window- filled unit facing north and west that was formerly Henry Crown’s pied-à-terre back in the ’70s. The apartment had its original gold lamé wallpaper, a mirrored ceiling, gold-plated Sherle Wagner swan and dolphin bath fixtures and faucets, and was full of light and life. Denison bought that upstairs unit the very same week, and has since been using it for artists in residence.
Two years ago, after a serendipitous meeting the year before at a Chicago Architecture Foundation party, his partner, David Salkin, moved in and they began plans to finally “make the move” upstairs. “There’s a fun dynamic up there. We will definitely keep some of its original features,” says Salkin, who also uses the space as a design studio. His rugs, lighting fixtures and artwork dot the downstairs apartment amid the duo’s vast collections.
Like a museum curator, Salkin can speak in detail about every piece in the place: Newer names like Chicago sculptor William J. O’Brien mix and mingle with rare Lichtensteins, Warhols and Salkin’s Frye boots, which are set artfully against the entry wall and serve as a doorstop.
“We like beautiful things,” says Denison, also an associate professor at IIT College of Architecture. “All of the stories here are the people, friends and events we’ve shared and the connections between those things.” As for the furniture, there is only one piece he’s purchased—the rest came as hand-medowns or gifts. The Frank Gehry-designed bookshelves in the entry were childhood furnishings from Bloomingdale’s. The couch is from his great-aunt, a teacher with a wonderful sense of style. The coffee table was a gift from friends Susan and Lewis Manilow, who couldn’t find a place for it in their own home.
It might seem that living in his own Denison-designed space would be a given, a showplace of his work. “The design that I do for my clients is very fulfilling,” he says. “Coming home is a respite, but in terms of my creative energies, my clients are my priority.” Dirk Denison Architects, 1123 W. Washington Ave., 312-455- 1388; dirkdenisonarchitects.com