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Best of Design

Chicago is known around the world for its architecture and design, so choosing the “best” of our city was a daunting task. How did we do it? With your help! Thank you for your submissions, nominations and, most of all, your excitement. Here they are: the top design talents in Chicago this year, as chosen by you.

A living room by Michael Del Piero, reader’s choice for best interior designer

Cindy's, located on the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, winner of best hotel design

Starlit Lattice in natural pearl, a new design from best wallcovering winner, Maya Romanoff

Summer Thornton, this year’s best transitional designer


Best Nursery: Gemma Parker Design 
Gemma Parker’s newly established eponymous firm specializes in residential commissions and custom furnishings, but its focus on delivering projects that reflect its clients’ lifestyles is particularly evident in this serene, neutral nursery. The family travels extensively, so the goal was to create a space that was timeless and could easily transition through the years as the baby grows. Parker explains that “the soothing palette was purposeful so that it can easily be made masculine or feminine by adding small accents.” Unexpected touches like the painted striped ceiling and map tapestry on the crib wall add to the uniqueness and multifunctional capability of the space while nodding to the family’s love of travel. 133 N. Jefferson St., Ste. 600, 312.789.4473

Best Kitchen: Fredman Design Group
With a big family whose members all love to cook, the kitchen in the Riverwoods house they’d just purchased needed a complete redesign. The homeowners brought in Terri Crittenden, CEO of Fredman Design Group, to design a kitchen big enough for the couple to use with their five adult children plus grandchildren. Crittenden removed walls, raised the ceiling and chose a sophisticated yet durable mix of materials such as stone, rift-sawn white oak and suede limestone to give a rugged contrast to the room’s sleek white marble and swirled-glass pendant lights. There are now two sinks and an 8-foot island, giving everyone room to chop, braise and taste in style. 1131 W. Armitage Ave., 312.587.8150

Best Bathroom: dSPACE Studio and PROjECT Interiors
With the help of Houzz, this design-focused homeowner partnered Tom Hagerty and Kevin Toukoumidis, lead architect and principal at dSPACE Studio, respectively, with Aimee Wertepny, lead designer at PROjECT Interiors, to build her dream home. The collaboration was a match made in heaven, and not just because both firms favor capital letters. The master bathroom of this new construction home, with views of the Fox River in the Green Bay area of Wisconsin, highlights the skill of each team member. Porcelain slab flooring and walls that continue up over the shower and tub onto the ceiling, and a curbless shower with integral drain, are just two impressive details. Heated flooring and the view to the river make the space feel like a vacation year-round. dSPACE Studio, 2920 Lincoln Ave., 773.423.2920; PROjECT Interiors, 1057 N. Honore St., 773.394.1174

Best Interior Designer: Michael Del Piero 
With an eponymous shop and a busy design practice that’s known for mixing global and luxurious elements into beautiful but livable spaces, Michael Del Piero is a Chicago designer with a national influence. We agree with the submissions—they included a dining room, bedroom, library and entry to name a few—and love the designer’s aesthetic and spot-on taste. The real key is her ability to create an enduring design that fits clients’ lifestyles. Michael Del Piero Good Design, 1914 N. Damen Ave., 773.772.3000

Best Small Space: Brynn Olson Design Group
With a guiding philosophy coined by designer Brynn Olson—“How you shape your space will shape your day”—this small high-rise condo in downtown Chicago shows both style and function. Her clients were looking for a home base in the city that would accommodate a variety of needs, including visiting family. Olson and her team created a sophisticated space that has the function and comfort of a house, but in a small footprint that makes the most of a city skyline view. 1229 N. North Branch St., 312.915.0925


Best Showroom Gallery: Pagoda Red
After spending time studying in Beijing, Betsy Nathan returned to Chicago in 1997 to open Pagoda Red, a showroom filled with her unusual antique finds. Today, the design destination—which recently opened a location in the Fulton Market area—stands as the leading source for authentic Chinese wares. Given Nathan reps an impressive roster of emerging artists and designers from both China and abroad—from vibrant abstract paintings by Ren Hui to eye-catching Lucite pieces by Julie Zhou—the showroom beautifully connects the Far East to the Midwest. 400 N. Morgan St., 773.235.1188; 911 Green Bay Road, Winnetka, 847.784.8881

Best Bar Revamp: Rockit Bar & Grill
From the moment it opened in 2003, Rockit Bar & Grill was known as the playground for visiting musicians. So in late 2014, when the trio behind it—Billy Dec, Arturo Gomez and Brad Young—decided the River North hot spot needed a makeover, they knew just the person to head it up: Chicago- and New York-based interior designer Kara Mann, who draws on her love of music, as well as her background in fashion and art, to create distinct, edgy interiors. “We wanted to keep Rockit’s identity but modernize the idea of what rock ’n’ roll means,” says Mann. To highlight the architectural bones of the 1920s lamp factory-turned-sound studio, Mann stripped off the existing layers. Tones of smoky blacks and grays provide a great contrast to the raw elements, while the 50-foot Carrara marble bar adds drama. The beat, it seems, goes on. 22 W. Hubbard St., 312.645.6000

Best Modern Showroom: Orange Skin
It comes as no surprise that Orange Skin—the sleek showroom nestled in River North’s gallery district—was founded by a pair of architects. Since 2001, it has become known among industry insiders and enthusiasts alike for its unmatched stock of design-forward wares sourced from around the world. 223 W. Erie St., Ste. 1NW, 312.335.1033

Best Hotel Design: Chicago Athletic Association
You never know what you might find when you take a 125-year-old landmark building that’s been vacant for five years and turn it into a 241-room world-class hotel. And that’s just fine with John Pritzker, who, as chairman of Commune Hotels + Resorts and founding partner of Geolo Capital, was the driving force behind the stunning Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, which opened in May and has been packed ever since. While not everyone would jump at the chance to renovate and modernize an 1893 Henry Ives Cobb building, that was part of the fun for Pritzker, who worked with Chicago-based Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture and the award-winning NY-based design firm Roman and Williams on the groundbreaking project. “We referred to a lot of what we did as, ‘How could we not do this?’” says Pritzker of some of the risk-taking involved. We, for one, are very glad he did. 12 S. Michigan Ave., 312.940.3552

Best Restaurant Renovation: Cafe Spiaggia
When its big sister, Spiaggia, got a major interior design makeover in 2014, it was only a matter of time before next-door Cafe Spiaggia (both restaurants from celeb chef Tony Mantuano) got one too. And boy, has it ever, with plenty of sleek light fixtures, marble cafe tables and white leather banquettes courtesy of Karen Herold of Studio K Creative. Sibling rivalry is so overrated. 980 N. Michigan Ave., 312.280.2750


Best Antiques and Reproductions: Mike Bell & Westwater Patterson
A standout among the many wonderful tableaux on view at this year’s DreamHome at the Merchandise Mart was this glamorous living room, a study in shades of lime, designed by Eva Quateman. “I knew I wanted it to look really sophisticated—like a New York apartment might have looked after World War II when New York was getting really hip,” she says. “That was the inspiration.” The room features items from many of the top sources in town, including pieces from veteran antiques dealer Mike Bell, whose Westwater Patterson line, named after the company’s two owners, Joann Westwater and Peggy Patterson, produces contemporary and custom objects. Westwater Patterson’s black and gold table lamp, atop the Truex St. Regent cabinets from Gary Lee Atelier and below a Rosie mirror from Bradley Hughes, shines down on selections from Bell’s ever-changing line of gold-plated ceramic vases. Both offer the updated midcentury feel Quateman had in mind. “They were completely unique and the perfect finishing touches to the room,” she says. What’s more: The designer loved Bell’s pieces so much, she purchased them for her own home. 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, Ste. 613, 312.644.6848

Best Rugs: Organic Looms
Since 2007, Organic Looms has been sprucing up homes—and the environment—with its one-of-a-kind handcrafted rug designs. Each piece is made using biodegradable, environmentally sustainable, nonallergenic materials. Whether you’re looking for a modern statement rug, or a more neutral, versatile piece, Organic Looms creates stunning textiles to fit any space. Our favorite from the new collection: A handcrafted Persian with subtle tones of gray and blue, inspired by the graceful movement of a peacocks’ feathers. We won’t blame you for showing it off. Rugs from $60 per square foot, 401 N. Wells St., 312.832.0900

Best Wallcoverings: Maya Romanoff
For nearly five decades, Chicago-based Maya Romanoff has amazed savvy interior designers with its awe-inspiring wallcoverings adorned with such fanciful elements as shimmering mica, mother-of-pearl, fine glass beads and gold leafing. Established in 1969 by legendary artist and textile designer Maya Romanoff, the family-owned wallcovering company—the largest of its kind in the country—has sought to provide the finest offerings and most innovative products made by hand in its Chicago studio. If these walls could talk, what a story they’d tell. Price on request, 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, 312.212.8792

Best Artisan Furniture: William Collins
“Consumers want quality products that are made in America,” says William Collins, whose original work, made entirely in Chicago, has made him a go-to for designers seeking pieces both lively—and lasting. “Nothing is more ‘green’ than something that you can pass on to future generations.” It’s charming, then, that these inventive Ico drinks tables first appeared in a pop-up this past spring. The wax-cast bronze base and finial are available in three patina metal finishes, and support a glass top available in bronze, low iron and clear. Pick one up now, and your ancestors will be toasting you ages and ages hence. $4,500, 5310 N. Clark St., Ste. 222, 773.610.3709

Best Wood Flooring: Apex Wood Floors
With their designs having graced the floors of cabins, city condos and suburban estates for the last three decades, the team at Chicagoland-based APEX Wood Floors knows a thing or two about starting from the bottom. The company’s original stains and custom finishes can complement any style, so the design possibilities are virtually limitless. Each individual board—whether it be European oak, Manor walnut or hickory, to name a few—is hand-selected, scraped, stained and finished by a select team of artisans. Even better? The company offers expert installation, maintenance and refinishing services, meaning your floors will continue to look just as stunning as the day they were laid. 120 W. Hubbard St., 312.595.1330,; APEX Wood Floors, 1326 Ogden Ave., Downers Grove, 630.963.9322


Best Transitional designer: Summer Thornton
Her client wanted something editorial and daring—a space where she could escape with a long soak and feel like she was in a different world. Summer Thornton delivered with a mix of new interpretations on something historic, such as the metallic-backed floral wallpaper, traditional moldings and clawfoot tub, and graphic-patterned painted floor. Says Thornton, “The all-white bathroom, while nice, has been done thousands of times. For me, this was a great example of taking traditional design and giving it a twist.” The end result is dramatic, bold and “suits her client’s sexy and vibrant personality perfectly,” says Thornton. 826 W. Armitage Ave., Ste. 3, 773.360.8442

Best Traditional Designer: Eva Quateman
While we would argue her style is more timeless than anything, we couldn’t agree more with your nomination of Eva Quateman for her design sensibility, knowledge and professionalism. Her eponymous firm handles everything from choosing furnishings to construction, as it did for the renovation of this apartment in Streeterville. The client was moving from a large home in Evanston and wanted as much light and usable space as possible. Quateman is known for squeezing every inch out of vintage apartments, and she did just that by reworking the existing layout. The result is a sleek, sophisticated space—the “grown-up apartment” for which her client was looking. 220 W. Huron St., 312.255.8800

Best Architecture Firm: von Weise Associates
This spectacular single-family home in Ravenswood was a new build with Chip von Weise as project lead and John Janda as project manager. The design divides the home into three functions among three pavilions, with each being separated by glass-enclosed stair halls. The pavilions can be open or closed and extend to the exterior terrace, allowing the home to transition between winter and summer weather. Materials such as zinc, limestone and stucco are prominent, and the interior furnishings establish a modern, high-end look that is easygoing and family-friendly. 311 W. Superior St., Ste. 216, 312.337.5511

Best Contemporary Design Firm: Kaufman Segal
Partners David Kaufman and Tom Segal approach their work with a business mind and a designer’s eye. No job is too big or too small, and they’ve developed a system that allows them to guide clients through the myriad options available. Case in point: This bedroom was part of a new build; Kaufman Segal chose finishes, furniture and decor. Their starting point for the bedroom was the gold wallcovering, leading to the rich textural bedding and accessories that achieve the luxe yet youthful look for which their client was looking. 900 N. Franklin St., 312.649.0680

Best Landscape Architecture: Mariani Landscape
When it comes to landscaping and hardscaping in Chicago and the surrounding area, Mariani Landscape is a venerable name, for good reason. This new build home in Lake Forest shows the team’s skill in championing native plants while maintaining vision and style. The team at Mariani worked with its clients to come up with a landscape plan that accentuated the classically beautiful architecture of this home while choosing a mix of plantings that will thrive in this climate. The full-service, family-owned firm sees a project all the way through installation to upkeep and maintenance, and has won several awards for its work. Known for high-profile ventures, the firm has recently introduced sustainable practices such as bio-diesel fuel trucks and a 100 percent organic lawn-care program. Their company mantra is to make outdoor spaces the best they can be; we believe they succeed in spades. 300 Rockland Road, Lake Bluff, 847.234.2172