A midcentury inspired Kessler Woods dwelling gets manhandled — in the very best way.
by JESSICA ELLIOTT | photographs by JUSTIN CLEMONS
Joshua Rice is brainstorming with an upholsterer. He’s in the sleek living area of his latest project — the Kessler Woods home of healthcare executive David Evans, designed by architect Douglas Hildinger, and he wants the sofa’s new fabric to be perfect. “The sofa is made by a bunch of meticulous Germans,” Rice tells the upholsterer. “It has to be right.”
Granted, the sofa costs more than Rice’s first car and this is typical interior-designer talk. (Not to mention, Rice custom designs furniture himself.) But there is a calm relentlessness about Rice — an innate meticulousness evidenced by the deceptively simple design in Evans’ light-filled, midcentury-inspired two-story house. Joshua Rice is nothing if not a stickler for the understated. The Bodron + Fruit veteran’s work is strategic and uncomplicated. Call it the simplicity syndrome.
But don’t let the muted palette (“Color can be served with pillows and decorative objects,” Rice says) and bare-bones vibe fool you. There is a story behind each piece. The curious black-globe lamp? It’s a New York auction find by the French Bouroullec brothers. The living area’s 1960s rosewood coffee table? Imported from Italy. Rice thinks nothing of spending hours trolling online auctions or traveling to them — Chicago’s Wright is a favorite — doing fastidious research to source rare and vintage finds.
For this house, client Evans’ hectic travel schedule meant that Rice had plenty of time to hunt: He’s been working on this project off and on since 2009. “I obsess on finding the right chair,” Rice says. “It has to be from this period, and I want something from this designer, and it doesn’t come up for auction very often — but we have to have it.”
But aside from a few thistle-filled Grange Hall vases on the dining table, a stack of design magazines on the floor and some coffee-table accessories, there are precious few knickknacks to be seen. “He doesn’t want a lot of stuff,” Rice says of Evans. “But what he has, he wants to be good.”
It’s Rice’s own mantra, too. Only a Gateway laptop rests on the matte-black Joe D’Urso desk at Rice’s downtown office, shared with architect Jessica Stewart. There’s not even a pen. In fact, the only other “things” around are rare pieces Rice himself couldn’t pass up. (“It’s the one area I can still be obsessive-compulsive about,” says Rice, father to daughters Tuli, 3, and Seren, 1, and husband to wife Jennifer). A British William Plunkett rocking chair is placed beside his desk — he’s been mulling on upholstery for it. He’s thorough, down to his sneakers. He wears hard-to-find German Adidas. He loves them so much that he purchased three pair.
Being meticulous is a trait he honed — along with his penchant for clean-lined simplicity — under interior designer Mil Bodron and architect Svend Fruit, during a months-out-of-college-turned-seven-year stint at Bodron + Fruit. Rice launched Joshua Rice Design in 2007 and hasn’t looked back. Spending time on both the design and architecture side, and working on such key projects as a Howard Meyer house on Nakoma Drive and a Philip Johnson manse on Strait Lane, Rice “was able to refine my taste and learn restraint.” For client Evans, that meant streamlining by swapping new for vintage. “He’s gotten me to focus on those signature pieces,” Evans says. “He takes the simple approach to the overall look. That’s really made it what it is — not overdoing it.”
While Rice is still collaborating with Evans — “a year from now it will probably be different,” Rice says — for now, each piece is in its place, in perfect order.