THE CURATING EYE
Seamlessly integrating architecture, interior design and fine art, Suzanne Lovell crafts three-dimensional narratives that reflect her diverse clients
Architecture underpins all great design, and it has certainly proven a solid foundation for Suzanne Lovell. The multifaceted Chicago-based design professional honed her skills at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—“a fantastic bootcamp,” she says, “that taught me about the intersection of all the different disciplines and trades, including HVAC, lighting, and plumbing”—before launching her eponymous residentially focused firm in 1985. In the ensuing decades, Lovell has taken on tony estates, palatial beachfront homes, sleek Manhattan penthouses, and recently, her first superyacht. In 2011, Lovell authored a glossy tome, Artistic Interiors: Designing With Fine Art Collections, which testifies to the centrality of painting, sculpture, photography, and other mediums in her work—an approach she’s abetted by integrating a dedicated fine-art advisory service, directed by colleague Kristin Murphy Romanski, into her practice. Lovell talks us through her interests and inspirations.
Interior Design: How do your architecture, interior design, and fine-art advisory teams work together?
Suzanne Lovell: Our integrated process ensures projects are conceived holistically. When reviewing architectural materials for a client—a certain stone, concrete, cerused oak—we’ll also review furniture and fabrics for those rooms. Art placement opportunities are included in that conversation. It’s all interwoven from the inception.
ID: How is acquiring art for a client different from creating an interior?
SL: At an architecture/interiors firm, you source and buy to create a certain aesthetic. The art world is 180 degrees different: You have to prove that you’re not decorating with the art; otherwise they won’t show you the really good stuff or allow you into private sales. Kristin and I might take somebody to a show to find art for their residence—or simply to educate them. People want experiences. If they have a phenomenal experience putting together their house, and if they can walk a guest through it and tell a story about it, how fabulous is that? Building a house can be an experience, too, and it can be really fun.
ID: What does the fine-art advisory service encompass?
SL: It’s a very complex business. We frequently collaborate with auction houses and galleries and work on clients’ existing collections: logging the pieces, coordinating appraisals…that sort of thing. We also help clients bequeath art to museums; we’re very tied into what the museums are hoping to add to their collections. At the same time, I think it’s fascinating that a lot of collectors today are creating their own museums because they want visitors to have an experience with their art—rather than donating it to a museum where it might sit in storage for 10 years.
ID: What are you excited to be working on now?
SL: We have a big residential project in upstate New York. We’re gutting the interior and taking a very Danish-Norwegian approach: white plaster, Andes black granite, and clean, raw oak. The house overlooks an incredible garden.
ID: Your work takes you all over the world. What upcoming trips are you most anticipating?
SL: Kristin and I are planning a trip to Cork, Ireland, to visit Joseph Walsh, an exceptional maker who engineers bentwood pieces into furniture and sculpture. I had a long conversation with him about integrating his bentwood into architecture; I’m excited to continue that discussion at his studio.
ID: What impact has being headquartered in Chicago had on your business?
SL: Chicago is a special place. I don’t think we could have built this kind of business in New York or L.A. There are a lot of really loyal people here—our team has worked together for a long time and is very good at communicating with each other—and not a lot of big egos.
ID: I understand that you recently designed your first superyacht. What was that like?
SL: You don’t have the luxury of space on a superyacht! It requires incredible accuracy and organization. Every element has to be very tight and well-articulated. That coordination intrigues me.
ID: Your work runs the gamut from traditional to modern, with many projects blending elements of both. What does this say about your approach?
SL: I never want people to say, “Oh, that’s a Suzanne Lovell house.” I like to honor what people enjoy. I had a client who really wanted a knotty-pine house. That was her character, and it was really fun to put it together. During a walk right after we got the job, I saw a great big tree mushroom and pulled it off. Those became her sconces, albeit made out of resin.
ID: You created a penthouse concept for Vista Tower, the Jeanne Gang skyscraper currently under construction in Chicago. Did you enjoy designing a space with no client per se?
SL: It was super fun. Drone footage allowed us to see exactly what the 360-degree views will look like at that level—and how much noise there’d be up there. You can buy a view, but then you have to make it a place that holds you and gives you moments of peace. We had to figure out ways to turn in toward the core and the artwork. Art is what gives you the memorable moments.