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Stunning Chicago Home in Quiet Colors

Bathed in breathtaking details, the former playboy mansion is anything but hush-hush

Written by Krissa Rossbund

The thought is almost irresistible: If these walls could talk. True, we often think that about any house with more than a century to its age, but for a historic house in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood with a famous past owner whose legendary guests and parties likely had neighbors constantly whispering, it seems especially apt.  

The Beaux Arts mansion was built in 1899.

Built in 1899 by a prominent physician as a wedding gift for his daughter, the Beaux Arts-style mansion was once owned by Playboy founder and mogul Hugh Hefner. Hefner also bought the larger building next door, which had served as the doctor’s home, and connected the structures, designating the first house for his personal digs and the doctor’s house for, well, play. The compound became known as the Playboy Mansion. The pair of houses are now separated and have returned to single-family units. And while the history of the house that was originally gifted to a blushing bride may conjure images of lavish parties with questionable conduct, the current owners have restored the property into a magnificent example of sophistication, elegance, and propriety. 

All about architecture, the front door is backed by trellis French doors.

“We’ve always been fans of the architecture and craftsmanship that comes with certain historic houses,” Julie McGinley says of the home that she shares with her husband, Jack. “This house is full of Old World details from high ceilings to ornate plasterwork. Plus, the fact that its roster of residents includes both a puritan physician and Hugh Hefner has always been a great topic of conversation.” 

The couple knew that Gail Plechaty, known for interiors with illuminatingly light palettes, was the designer who would massage the architecturally rich interiors into a state of timeless and breathtaking grandeur. They were right. 

Once a breezeway that connected Hefner’s side-by-side properties, the sitting room is dynamic with a stately antique secretary that is painted with green lacquer. 

Neutral ivory was the base of the classic rooms. But it was an icy shade of blue, uninterrupted by any other color, that amplified the level of opulence spilling from one room to the next. To dress the house’s grand windows with soaring proportions, luxurious blue silk was fabricated into simple panels and edged with tassel trim. 

The living room lightens the expected tones of blue and white, and is well-appointed with sumptuous upholstery and fine antiques.

Hefner added paneling to the grand living room that was once his office, then stained it the color of rich mahogany. Now, it’s the pulse to all the other rooms with a graceful color scheme of pale blue and ivory set by interior designer Gail Plechaty.  

Fabrics—mostly silk—range from oversize damask in the dining room to glossy satin that was used to upholster the living room sofa and tufted ottoman in the ladies’ sitting room. With the exception of dining room damask and a hand-blocked table skirt in the top-level garden room, patterns were kept to a minimum.  When exceptions were made, they were subtle and tone-on-tone.

“Although this house maintained its classic bones and had pretty details, there was a lingering tone because of its past,” Plechaty says of the project. “It was a joy to work with clients who appreciate and respect architecture and allowed me to bring their home back to the grandeur it once had.” 

While Plechaty finds every project that she designs memorable in its own way, this one was especially enjoyable due to clients who spoke her same design language.

Formerly Hugh Hefner’s bedroom, the dining room teases with a color that is not quite blue, not quite green on an oversize silk damask that skirts the table and backs the chairs.

Dubbed the "choiserie room," the sitting room features a pretty fireplace with a stunning onyx surround.

Elegant draperies in the master bedroom sitting area came directly from a showhouse space the homeowners admired.

A personal space for homeowner Julie McGinley, the ladies’ sitting room is anchored by a timeless daybed made intimate by a blue tester lined with pleated, ivory-colored fabric. The bed is flexible too and has a mattress underneath that pops up, transforming it into a queen-size sleeper. 

 A mirrored vanity table and chair embellished with pearl trim provide a spot to apply makeup

Situated on the fourth floor of the house, the garden room features the original roofline with new interior architecture. Given its urban location, the space draws in ample natural light and boasts access to an outdoor terrace. 

Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Hilary Rose

Interior designer: Gail Plechaty, Real Simple Design, 224/723-8675 and 847/977-2004,  

Upholstering: Montoya’s Upholstery Shop, 847/329-0480.
Drapery hardware: Brimar,
Stone work: Stone Age Innovations, 708/705-8069.
Lamp shades (all shades except for shades on Nancy Corzine lamps): Lake Forest Lamp and Shade, 847/579-4499. 

Pages 110–111. Staircase—
Carpet runner (“Westfield”/Linen): Stark,
Table (Austrian, ebonized pear wood): antique.
Chair (“Gibbons Armchair” #KJ1001-A): Dessin Fournir,
Chair-seat fabric (“Gissey Plain” #36356-001): Scalamandré,
Chandelier: original to house.
Flooring: existing.
Paint (“Navajo White” #947, half formula): Benjamin Moore,  

Pages 112–113. Dining room—
Paint (“Night Mist” #1569); trim (“Navajo White” #947, three-quarter formula): Benjamin Moore,
Drapery (“Antoinette”/Pearl #10047-009): Donghia,
Drapery trim (“Tulip Braid” #FX1350-001): Scalamandré,
Chairs (“Garber Louis XVI”/Venetian finish #1059A);  fabric for table skirt and chair backs (“Costanza”/Aqua #NC 0670-286); chair-seat fabric (“Boucheron”/Ice): Nancy Corzine,
Trim on tablecloth (“Rouen Tassel Fringe”/Topaz #984-41594); trim on chairs (“Le Musee Silk Gimp”): Samuel & Sons,
Rug (#C810-034-126): Ebanista,
Sisal rug: Carpet Colors, 847/327-9400.
Chandelier (antique Empire Ormolu and Patinated Bronze): original to house.

Chinoiserie sitting room—
Secretary (George II green lacquered japanned secretary bookcase, antique): bought at auction.
Chair at secretary (antique Biedermeier): Christa’s Ltd., 312/222-2520.
Chair-seat fabric (“Augustine”/Ochre #B7576005, by Braquenié): Pierre Frey,
Upholstered chair by secretary: Real Simple Design,
Chair fabric (silk velvet): Scalamandré,
Wallcovering on upper walls (#ZG 316): Zoffany,
Paint on lower paneling (“Navajo White” #947): Benjamin Moore,
Area rug: Ebanista,
Base rug: Carpet Colors, 847/327-9400.

Living room toward window—
Paint (“Alabaster” #SW 7008): Sherwin-Williams,
Drapery (“Eden”/Brume #07774027, by Boussac): Pierre Frey,
Drapery trim (“Tulip Braid Fringe” #FX1350-001): Scalamandré,
Drapery hardware (Versailles Collection): Brimar,
Lounge chair (designed by Gail Plechaty: Real Simple Design,
Chair fabric (“Traviata #10265): Nobilis,
Pedestal table (antique Charles X, brass inlaid gueridon table): owner’s collection.
Wool rug (#C810-035-653): Ebanista,
Sisal rug (by Marshland): Carpet Colors, 847/327-9400.
Chair between windows (“Florentine” #1091); chair fabric (“Silk Faille”/Platinum #NC0312-152): Nancy Corzine,
Chandelier (antique French Ormolu): original to house.
Art: The Find-Julie Gordon,

Pages 114–115. Living room toward sofa—
Paint (“Alabaster” #SW 7008): Sherwin-Williams,
Bookcases; art: The Find-Julie Gordon,
Drapery (“Eden”/Brume #07774027): Pierre Frey,
Drapery trim (“Tulip Braid” #FX1350-1): Scalamandré,
Drapery hardware (Versailles Collection): Brimar,
Sofa and chairs: Real Simple Design,
Sofa fabric (“Florentine” #10309_82); chair fabric (“Traviata,” Privilege Collection): Nobilis,
Sofa trim (“Rouen Tassel Fringe”/Topaz #984-41594): Samuel & Sons,
Lucite side tables (designed by Gail Plechaty): Real Simple Design,
Lamps (“Hammered Glass Opaline Lamp” #11146): Nancy Corzine for Allan Knight,
Cocktail table (“Gerlain” #5088-56).
Demilune: antique.
Wool rug (#C810-035-653): Ebanista,
Sisal rug (by Marshland): Carpet Colors, 847/327-9400.  

Pages 116–117. Ladies sitting room—
Mirrored makeup table (“Harlow Vanity” #7020-48); upholstered chair at vanity (“Claudette Slipper Chair”); chair fabric (“Chantal”): Nancy Corzine,
Makeup mirror: antique.
Drapery and exterior bed drapery (“Antoinette”/Pearl #10047-009): Donghia,
Trim on bed drapery (linen fabric blocked); white fabric on interior bed drapery, daybed and pillows (linen): Scalamandré,
Daybed; upholstered chairs; ottoman (designed by Gail Plechaty): Real Simple Design,
Chair fabric (linen); trim and silk contrast welt: Scalamandré,
Ottoman fabric (“Tamika Silks”/Pearl #3032, by Harlequin): Zoffany,
Trim (“Treccia Palladio”#V783-001): Scalamandré,
Floor lamps: Lake Forest Lamp and Shade, 847/579-4499.
Rug (Sisal in “Crosswinds”): Carpet Colors, 847/327-9400.
Art: Bedside Manor Ltd.,

Garden room—
Paint (“Navajo White” #947, half formula): Benjamin Moore,
Fabric for skirted table (“Bosphorus”): Sabina Fay Braxton,
Bench (“Klismos”/Grey Leather): Global Views,
Upholstered chair: Real Simple Design,
Chair fabric, pillow (“Stoddard”): Scalamandré,
Floor lamp (“Fluted Candlestick Floor Lamp” #605): Nancy Corzine,
Lampshade (Venetian Silver): custom.
Chairs in foreground (“Madeline”/Palazzio Silver #1170A); chair fabric (“Shadow Stripe”/Greige); contrast welt (“Chantel”); side table (“Bordeaux Accessory”/Venetian Silver #5093); cabinet (“Charleston Breakfront” #10018-94): Nancy Corzine, nancy
Chandelier (“Carelia”/Antique White & Gilt): Nancy Corzine for Niermann Weeks,
Large antique urn: Real Simple Design,
Area rug: Stark,