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All images courtesy of B R Lillie Photography

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Mies van der Rohe reimagined: Inside Chicago’s ‘Stainless Steel Apartment’

The custom duplex was designed by Chicago’s Krueck + Sexton Architects in 1992

A top-floor corner co-op boasting an architectural pedigree as impressive as its Lake Michigan views is up for grabs in Chicago’s Gold Coast. Known as the Stainless Steel Apartment—for obvious reasons—the one-of-a-kind home was created in 1992 when Krueck + Sexton Architects combined a pair of stacked units on the 25th and 26th floors of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 860 N. Lake Shore Drive building.

Originally built in 1951, the landmarked tower represented a major breakthrough for the post-war modernist movement with its pioneering steel frame and glass curtain wall. The idea to connect two vertical units into a unified home, however, wasn’t something that had been done in the building before.

“When we suggested opening up a floor to create a duplex, everyone’s first response was ‘you can’t do that,’” explained architect Mark Sexton, who worked on the project for over a year with partner Ron Krueck. “But we found Mies’ old shop drawings, worked out the structural engineering calculations, and appealed to the co-op board for approval.”

Instead of hiding the connection between the levels out of sight or along a wall, the designers crafted a floating stainless steel staircase flanked by translucent, sandblasted glass to be the home’s architectural centerpiece. The result successfully bridges the two volumes, floods the home with light, and gives the effect of descending into Lake Michigan.

Alumni of IIT, both Sexton and Krueck respected Mies van der Rohe’s original vision throughout the design process. “The steel construction of the building was obviously an inspiration but we wanted to move the design forward instead of copying the past,” Sexton told Curbed Chicago. “Consider it the next generation of interpretation.”

As its name would suggest, the Stainless Steel Apartment makes abundant use of the hardy material in its millwork, room dividers, and built-in furnishings. While some might assume the choice is cold and sterile, the result is anything but, argues Sexton. “The steel has an unexpectedly rich texture and beautifully reflects light. Combined with the home’s lake and city views, it is as ethereal as it is durable.”

The theme of strength meets beauty is seen in the 3,400-square-foot home’s flooring—a terrazzo job embedded with sparkling crystal glass chips. The architects balanced all the hard surfaces with velvet-like cotton curtains, bespoke furniture, and custom wool carpeting.

The like-new condition of the home is perhaps the biggest testament to its durability and timelessness. “The pictures don’t really do it justice,” added Sexton. “The home is like a well-maintained sports car in both its design and the performance of the materials. It’s even more astonishing when you realize that everything’s more than a quarter century old.”

The architecturally significant three-bedroom, four-bathroom home listed this week with a $2.15 million asking price plus an additional $6,769 per month in co-op fees. It remains 860 N. Lake Shore Drive’s only duplex unit.

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