Now Playing

Gelman (left) and Ziol met when their sons attended school together. Photo by Tony Soluri

Green House

by Tate Gunnerson | Modern Luxury Interiors Chicago magazine | July 9, 2012

“We had this blank canvas, so I sat down and wrote a nine-page list of everything that I would ever want in a house,” Michele Gelman explains from behind her kitchen island. She is preparing quinoa paella and a salad of lettuces and microgreens in the sleek prep space of the Gold Coast home that she shares with her husband Bruce and their three children. The holistic nutritionist grew most of the produce herself—either in her rooftop greenhouse or in chic planters alongside the in-ground swimming pool in the front courtyard, both of which ranked high on her list of “must-haves.” Also making the cut was a root cellar, a geothermal energy system and solar panels. Bright sunlight streams through a set of oversize double doors that overlook the pool and perfectly manicured lawn. “You have this seamless flow between the inside and outside,” Gelman says, pointing out the shallow steps leading directly into the pool, where Gelman’s best friend and interior designer Lauren Lozano Ziol supervises their children (five in total) as they giggle and splash in the midnight blue water—an island oasis amidst a sea of skyscrapers.

The stunning observation points (“We have unobstructed skyline views,” Gelman says) and the potential that comes with having so much space are what convinced the Gelmans to buy and renovate the building, which was built in 1916 as an electric substation and later converted into a warehouse. Working with architect Michael Hershenson, the Gelmans reimagined the space as an eco-friendly single-family home with bamboo floors, walnut built-ins and a central glass and steel staircase that echoes the original structural beams, which were left exposed and painted black. To furnish the place, Gelman looked to her best friend. “Lauren is the first person whose house I ever went into and said, ‘I could move in right now,’” Gelman says. “She has a very educated, tasteful eye, but she’ll never do everything in one style.”

In the dining room, Ziol chose a linen and gold wall covering that lends the space an earthy elegance—one of several striking wall coverings throughout the home. She paired Gelman’s antique crystal chandeliers with a large, contemporary cerused oak Parsons-style dining table of her own design and ’50s-era French dining chairs designed by Richard Wainwright. “Mixing old and new allows you to live in whatever is chic in the moment while giving a nod to the timeless elegance of the past,” Ziol says.

Such nods are especially evident in the spacious, open living area, which sports a pair of matching sleek, limestone-clad fireplaces, leather paneled accent walls and mid-century modern furnishings, including an original Dunbar sofa by Edward Wormley. This is one of several such classics, including a desk and credenza in the upstairs office, that Gelman bought from the building’s prior owner, who used them as office furniture. A grand piano divides the space from a cozier second seating area where another Wormley-designed Dunbar sofa mingles easily alongside furnishings that Ziol custom-created: a pair of deco-style chairs with macassar ebony arms—which she covered in an eye-popping, peacock blue silk velvet—and a set of bunching tables made of forged metal and topped with antique mirrors. A shimmery grasscloth wall covering adds a touch of glamour. “I love the elegance of the Francine Turk painting with the ornate frame above the mid-century sofa,” Ziol says. There are three additional pieces by the local art darling on display in the spacious second-floor master suite, while everything from contemporary abstracts to a colorful piece of Aboriginal art above the fireplace in the office add to the Gelmans’ extensive collection.

Although transforming such a large space into a single-family home was more challenging than they had originally anticipated, Gelman says that the result was well worth the effort. “Look around,” she says, as she carries the bountiful green salad to the kitchen table overlooking the pool. “We feel so fortunate to have our own little paradise!”