Mary and Tom’s Hip & Historic Haven

published Nov 11, 2010
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Name: Mary Visconti and Tom Caldwell
Location: the Loop — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 2,000 square feet
Years lived in: 4 — Owned

As a lifelong Chicagoan, I’ve often been curious about the Manhattan Building, the 1891 landmark that’s the city’s oldest surviving steel frame building. Designed by William Le Baron Jenney, the 16-story historic skyscraper features gorgeous bay windows and a prime view of the Harold Washington Library. Unsurprisingly then, I was pretty excited to see one of the apartments inside and even more excited when I saw Mary and Tom’s stunning, art- and book-filled home.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Contemporary with heavy mid-20th century design influences. We drool over completely spare spaces featured in design magazines, but we live here and work here and have a 13-year old cat miss jackson with “issues” and a big library and a big vinyl/78rpm collection and a lot of big pieces by local artists. Totally spare is heavenly in theory, but not totally realizable for us in practice. And spare precludes or at least inhibits eclecticism, which we like. We have some really expensive pieces, and we have other things we “gleaned” from yard sales, thrift stores, and trash piles.

Inspiration: In print, we’re really inspired by Dwell as well as books on both domestic and commercial architects/architecture. On line, we love Apartment Therapy, of course !, and Design Sponge. In life, we draw a lot of inspiration from the architecturally amazing city in which we live. We reside in an historic building the Manhattan Building in the Printers Row neighborhood and are surrounded by masterpieces like the Monadnock and the Rookery, but are also a stone’s throw from amazing new buildings and spaces like Piano’s modern wing at the Art Institute and Gehry’s band shell in Millennium Park. Tom is also a docent at Wright’s Robie House, which is inspiring every single time you walk into it.

Favorite Element: Tom: Random Bookshelves by MDF Italia. Mary: Our lighting–the three Castiglioni-designed Flos lamps, the Arco, the orange Nesso Artemide lamps, the two Flos Glo-Ball T lamps, the black standing lamp with the “shut up shade” and the big wacky nature shade in the office. I love lighting! If we had the room, we’d love to have the Fortuny lamp. It’s just too big. And it has a crazy big price tag!

Biggest Challenge: The kitchen and the bathrooms, which also serve as the biggest embarrassments. They are such big and expensive projects, and we’ve just ignored them really. It’s hard to know where to start, how to segment off discreet projects, how to work on the small stuff while awaiting the winning lottery ticket that would allow us to do the big stuff. We’re also challenged by the mirrored closet doors and walls in the front entranceway. We hate them, but don’t know quite what to do with them. Rip everything out, replaster, repaint and get new closet doors? Wallpaper over the whole thing? Paint? A mesh metal curtain? We’ve considered all of these options, but have decided on nothing to date.

What Friends Say: I can’t believe you got such a big space in an historic building in the loop! We really did luck out on the size. People also comment on our classic pieces–the Arco, the womb chair, the Noguchi coffee table, the Bertoia chairs–and the artwork, most of which is by Chicago artists.

Biggest Embarrassment: See “Biggest Challenge” section above! The embarrassment within the embarrassment is the “Broadway” style lights framing the mirrors in not one, but both bathrooms. Of course, the hideous beige berber carpet in the master and guest bedrooms is hardly a source of pride … Ditto on the track lighting that we’ve yet to remove.

Proudest DIY: All of the bookshelves except the Random are DIY from our graduate school days. We would actually really like to either replace them with some cool shelving/modular storage pieces from BO Concept or get some custom pieces made … And we can include the fireplace surround here, too, though it wasn’t totally DIY. When we moved in, it was more crazy mirroring. Inspired by a friend’s fireplace, we removed all the mirrors and worked with a really talented local artisan named Jan Sopoci who created what we have now out of rolled steel. It’s Jan’s prideful piece, but we really love it.

Biggest Indulgence: The wall mounted TV “cabinet” and shelving unit elevenfive by MDF Italia. The Athos sideboard by B&B Italia was a close second. The amazing series of photographs by a local artist Kyle Brumfield is right up there, too.

Best Advice: Be patient and invest in the really awesome pieces that you really love. For us, the most beautiful things–the Arco lamp, the Noguchi coffee table, the Saarinen womb chair, the B&B sideboard–just effuse this amazing energy within the space and help “hide” the less-than-radiant elements that we have to wait to replace.

Dream Sources: The showrooms at Luminaire and the model kitchens at McDufee Design both here in Chicago.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:


    • Orange Nina Artefort chair: ID Chicago
    • DIY orange bookshelves
    • “Key Niche”: Bradley Jacobsen
    • “Untitled” photography series by Kyle Brumfield: Carl Hammer Gallery


    • Heywood Wakefield butterfly drop leaf dining table and chairs: eBay
    • Heywood Wakefield Kohinoor chest: eBay
    • Heywood Wakefield look-alike side table: thrift store in Buffalo, NY
    • B&B Italia Athos sideboard: Luminaire
    • MDF Italia Random bookcases: Luminaire
    • Castiglioni Taraxacum 2 suspension lamp by Flos: Luminaire
    • Scandinavian glassware Magnor, Norway and various Iitalia pieces: Denmark
    • Orrefors stemware
    • Sapien bookcase DWR
    • Vintage “Smokador” smoking stand: library sale, Atlanta, GA
    • “Buddy’s Dream” hand colored photograph: Stephen Danko
    • “Paris 1989” painting: Tom Caldwell
    • “Jazz at the Philharmonic” framed program: David Stimpson Books


    • Jane bi-sectional sofa by Gus: ID Chicago
    • Gray felt flooring squares: Flor
    • Noguchi coffee table: DWR
    • Saarinen womb chair: DWR
    • Saarinen small tulip table: DWR
    • Pottery vases: Lill Street Gallery
    • Bertoia chair: Luminaire
    • elevenfive wall unit by MDF Italia: Luminaire
    • Pro-ject turntable: Needle Doctor
    • Jasper Morrison moooi cork stools: ID Chicago
    • B&O Beocom 2: B&O Chicago
    • Castiglioni Arco lamp: Luminaire
    • Black “shade shut” lamp: Luminaire
    • Rolled steel fireplace surround: Jan Sopoci
    • “Orange Baudelaire” painting: Tom Caldwell
    • “Paper Doll” cutout figure: Derek Erdman
    • “Field Museum Chandelier” photograph: Kate Roth


    • Defunct Francis Francis espresso maker: illy
    • Vintage Vienna Beef Polish Sausage sign pinched by delinquent kids in Atlanta, GA


    • Italian glass door: McDuffee Design
    • Desk/table: IKEA
    • Herman Miller Aeron chairs: local shop and eBay
    • Flora/fauna lampshade: ID Chicago
    • “Girl” painting: Michael O’Brien
    • “Eddie Murray” painting: Derek Erdman
    • DIY orange bookshelves


    • Castiglioni Viscontea suspension lamp by Flos: Luminaire
    • Flos Glo-Ball T lamps: DWR
    • Antique dresser: antique shop in Deland, FL
    • Barrister bookcase: back alley in St. Louis, MO
    • Antique school desk and chair: back alley in Chicago, IL
    • Orange Nina Artefort chair: ID Chicago
    • Mini antlers: Student show at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    • “Ballerinas” painting: Derek Erdman
    • “Girl” painting: Michael O’Brien
    • “Untitled” painting Tom Caldwell


    • Heywood Wakefield dresser with mirror: eBay
    • Heywood Wakefield TV table: eBay
    • Heywood Wakefield step end tables: eBay
    • Castiglioni Taraxacum 1 suspension lamp by Flos: Luminaire
    • Animal pillows by Fauna: Design Public
    • Orange Nesso Artemide lamps: Marshall Field’s on State Street
    • Yellow Bertoia chair: charity auction
    • Black butterfly chair: back alley in Buffalo, NY
    • Vintage Schwinn bicycle: Uptown Bikes
    • Chicago picto-globes: Carl Hammer Gallery
    • “Tzara” painting: Tom Caldwell
    • “Daytona Beach” photo collage/painting: Stephen Danko

“The Cave of Solitude” (Record Closet)

    • Shelves: IKEA
    • 30-years worth of 78s & LPs amassed by Tom Caldwell
    • miss jackson–housecat: back alley in Chicago, IL

    Thanks, MARY and TOM!

    Images: Kathleen Luttschyn

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