“I’m not an open floor plan person at all,” says designer Marshall Erb. “I think a space should reveal itself to you slowly. I equate it to why burlesque is so appealing: It’s the slow reveal. If you walk out and expose everything, there is nothing left to discover.” Along with the good bones and Lakeview location, it was this element of intrigue—the defined rooms and a closed-off kitchen with a swinging door that sold him on the space he has called home for more than nine years. “I cook all the time and want the ability to close o the kitchen so you don’t have to see the mess,” says the Chicago interior designer.
In the small galley kitchen, where “everything is right there and you don’t have to take too many steps,” says Erb, he refreshed the original steel cabinets with a coat of paint and updated the lighting. He also loves to entertain, and while the apartment may not be large, it more than accommodates a seated dinner for 10 as easily as a cocktail party for 50. “It is amazing what you can do when you consider conversations,” says Erb in regard to fitting in those 50 guests. The furniture in the living room looks extravagant and untouchable, but it is all intended to be moved around, such as the antique tabouret stools that were transformed with hide upholstery and gold-leafed feet. The sofa, a custom design with a singular cushion that he has used in several client projects, sits below an antique gold-leafed Japanese screen. The screen acts like wallpaper and adds texture to the space, and “at night it is a pretty dramatic presence when it is darker and moodier,” says Erb. “It is very minimal compared to other Japanese screens; it’s portable and 16 feet long — the perfect designer accessory.” In lieu of a replace, Erb lights the candelabra at night, and the reflection of candlelight in all of the gold and mirrored surfaces creates a cozy glow. Mismatched antique end tables and lamps flank the sofa, a move that Erb forces on himself because he tends to buy everything in pairs. “Asymmetry can make a space, but it has to be balanced,” he says. “Forcing balance through scale, proportion and color is much more interesting.”
A Murano glass chandelier that Erb fell in love with and had restored was almost forced on the dining room, but when he brought it home, he realized the brutalist brass Tom Greene fixture he already had was the perfect t. e dramatic shadows it casts bounce o the ceiling and antiqued mirror screen, while an antique dining table creates an elegant yet moody atmosphere for Erb’s frequent dinner parties. A series of cubist-inspired sketches in identical frames act as paneling, while sculptural art sits atop a column to add dimension. “I love to display art in different ways and play with depth and height,” says Erb. “Too many things hung on a wall is flat, so I’m always on the lookout for a good column.” To wit, a pedestal sits by the piano with a sculpture he bought at auction. The movement of the piece beautifully follows the arch line of the painting near it — a mixed-media work that is an interpretive floor plan of a Le Corbusier design that was part of Erb’s thesis. He is quick to give credit for the artful grouping to Spencer Witczak of The Art of Installation, who re-hung all of his artwork. “Having someone else hang your art in a new way gives such a unique perspective on things,” says Erb. “I would have never put that piece front and center with two drawings by Picasso.”
The bedroom was also taken to a new level by Witczak with a dramatic gallery wall. While the room started with the intense peacock-blue paint, it is the Walter Gropius tapestry-like fabric on the headboard that steals the show. “You could never convince a client to do that, but it has all of these colors in it and just makes the room,” says Erb. Along with antique Regency-style and Chinese dressers, Serge Mouille lighting, an antique armoire and a French dresser, there is a little bit of everything in the room. “It’s a play on all kinds of periods and objects, so it’s fun to lie there and just look around,” says Erb of his retreat.
Lately, he finds he has a lot of second - and third generation clients who have grown up with his work. “For young families, you have to consider things like fabrics and corners,” says Erb. “You can’t be comfortable if you’re worried about ruining the finishes.” And as much as he loves antiques, he is similarly a fan of some polish too. “Whether it’s a shiny car or a shiny dining table, I’m attracted to it,” he says. “It may not look like you can relax and put your feet up here, but you can. I want my clients to feel how I do when I come home.”
An antique Japanese screen is a major focal point in interior designer Marshall Erb’s living room. As with the rest of his space, there is a unique mix of antiques and art paired with modern pieces.
The 1903 Chickering & Sons baby-grand piano, with a vintage piano chair upholstered in Edelman leather, is one of Erb’s prized possessions. “It adds a lot to the space,” he says, “and then having someone play it [for a party] is just priceless.”
The beauty of a smaller space is you get to live with better things because you pare down and upgrade as you go.”