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In one of the first issues of Modern Luxury Interiors Chicago, we dubbed Jonathan Nesci a “designer darling in the making.” Ten years later, we think it’s safe to say he made it.

Designer Jonathan Nesci on a pile of curved steel tubes that will become part of his “Nesci dome” installation on the roof of the Ace Hotel. The piece is being fabricated by Active Alloys.  

 

To understand the kind of designer Jonathan Nesci is, it is helpful to know what he isn’t: He is not a by-the-books kind of guy; he isn’t into rushing things; he’s not too keen on cocktail parties; he isn’t intimidated by the unknown; and he doesn’t have a formal design degree.

The last fact is remarkable given his hefty résumé. His furniture pieces and exhibition structures have been shown around the world at posh design fairs like Design Miami/ and ICFF; his award-winning polished aluminum “Library Bookcase” shelves are a part of the permanent design collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; and he sits at the helm of a citywide fair spotlighting the robust design heritage of Columbus, Ind., where he now calls home.

Once a forklift operator for FedEx, the Oak Lawn native had dreamed of becoming a furniture designer. After landing a job in Chicago’s prestigious Wright auction house, Nesci spent his days restoring iconic works, while nights and weekends were spent sketching his first line of furniture at his West Loop studio and moonlighting with fabricators around town.

Today, he’s been designing full time for more than five years, and he credits his blue-collar roots for the collaborative nature of his work that has enabled him to expand far beyond the scope of furniture. “I feel very at home in a metal shop and have been able to build strong relationships,” he says. “I’m able to experiment with processes so fabricators take a risk with me.”

One of Nesci’s current risks is a splashy commission for the new Fulton Market Ace Hotel, where the designer is working on creating a sprawling rooftop communal space dubbed the “Nesci dome.” The nearly 30-foot-diameter structure will feature a custom woven net at around waist height, with 33 uprights of steel tubes that arc into a 75-inch diameter oculus. It’s a big step from the tables and stools he was crafting in his studio a decade ago, but it’s exactly the kind of boundary-pushing work the designer wants to be making. “I’m curious about a lot of things, and there are a lot of things I want to be involved in,” says Nesci. “If these last 10 years show any insight, I’m really anxious about the next.”