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Sky-high Renaissance
Priceless artworks set the tone for U-Club condo



Iron gates and Moroccan sculptures mark the formal entry to the University Club Tower condominium. The Four Seasons Room beyond features hand-cast plaster crown moldings, inlaid wood flooring and hand-polished Venetian plaster ceilings that reflect the sky and the views down to the water, which adds depth to the space. "The biggest challenge was to find the (trades) people who are capable of producing the kind of detail we were looking for," interior designer William Koehnlein says.

Interior designer William Koehnlein was in on the ground floor of the University Club Tower, drawing up plans for his clients’ high-rise condo even before developers broke ground on the project.

Taking up about 8,000 square feet on one of the top floors of the city’s third-tallest building, the condo’s focal point isn’t the panoramic city views but the clients’ expansive art collection.

"Our clients wanted to have a space that would allow them to live fully with their collection of art," says Koehnlein, director of design for Collaborative Design, Waukesha. "The artwork dictated the environment it wanted to be displayed in."

Koehnlein’s art degree proved valuable to the project as he spent three days at the clients’ home cataloging the artwork that would be used in the condo, including old masters paintings, sculpture, stained glass and furniture, with some of the pieces dating to the Italian Renaissance.

"With many projects that I’m involved in, the client looks for us to do the final decorating job," Koehnlein says. "In this case they had most of their furnishings from a lifetime of collecting. We were responsible for creating the background the furnishings would fit into."

A William Bouguereau painting is featured at the end of the hallway.

Koehnlein’s floor plan works off of a central access point that separates public and private spaces within the condo. From the main entry is the dining room, called the Four Seasons Room from the sculptures that reside there. To the north are the kitchen, study and master suite; to the south are the library, billiards room, sitting and guest rooms. Each of the areas also has an enclosed terrace. The condo’s central corridor showcases artwork. "They wanted the main corridor to be large enough that they could step away and view artwork from a distance, so the corridors are quite wide," Koehnlein says.

What is the mood of the condo?

"It’s definitely traditional, but it’s very warm and inviting. Everyone we have walked through the space is struck by how inviting and warm it is. It definitely has a dressiness to it that is not typical. But the whole space is very eclectic, housing a collection of art they have collected throughout their lifetime. Many pieces have been handed down in their family. It’s a look we will often try to attain in a new home, to make it look like it’s collected over the years."

This is a designer’s dream project. What was your biggest design challenge?

"Expressing a vision to the clients so they could understand how it would look. They had some strong ideas of what they wanted in the space and we had to show them all the options so they could achieve what they were looking for. They brought a lot of things to the table that were successful in the outcome that I wouldn’t have necessarily considered."

How did you choose wall colors to accentuate the art and not compete with it?

The curves of the kitchen design take their cues from the building’s architecture. The booth seating is situated in a cozy alcove with views of Lake Michigan. One of the condo’s two enclosed terraces is located off of the kitchen. Koehnlein says his clients wanted the kitchen to be separated from the public areas of the home.

"Lighting is critical. The background is not totally void of tone. The background color is more of like a middle tone, which allows the artwork to kind of pop a little bit. Most of the wall covering is fabric we had backed and hung as wall covering."

What are the unifying elements from room to room?

"There is a flow of complementary colors being used from one space to the next. A lot of the same colors are being used but in different quantities in each room. The same species of wood is being used but we did different detailing. We also tried to have lots of refined details but not let them be over the top that they override the focus of the furnishings and artwork. The drapery treatments are unique in the four seasons room. The fabric has a really large-scale print printed border on it that we used to create the pattern on the valance. As it lays down the side panel you can see it being used vertically and on the valance horizontally. The fabric on the walls we used as the draw drape so when those are drawn closed it’s a continuation of the wall finish." 

The library is the main living and entertaining space in the condo. The window scheme was altered to allow for more wall space to hang artworks. A TV is hidden in the console. The fireplace mantel is custom-carved marble.


In the master bathroom, Koehnlein played with curves to create an elegant space befitting the rest of the condo. The floor mosaic reflects light as does the ceiling. The room also features his and her water closets with separate entry to the shower.



Inlaid wood floors and 15th century stained glass panels create a grand setting in the billiards room. Beyond the windows is one of the two enclosed terraces in the condo.