Robert Kleinschmidt takes particular pride in the work he recently completed for the owners of a 2,500-square-foot high rise overlooking Naples’ Pelican Bay. The home displays careful reflection of Southwest Florida’s regional design characteristics while still confirming the enduring relevance of Modernist design. Most of the classic Modern furnishings Kleinschmidt chose for this project were designed more than half a century ago. Yet set against a canvas of Minimalist architecture, the entire installation looks as fresh and contemporary as anything on the market today.
Luckily, this client — Toronto-based empty-nesters — had no existing design baggage, because what looks great in Columbus, Kansas City, or even New York City, often doesn’t travel well. These snowbirds gave Kleinschmidt free rein to create a residential environment that was appropriate to the setting.
The apartment they purchased was essentially in its original state, and needed substantial upgrades, including a new kitchen and baths. But the owners were ready for a completely new living experience and brought nothing from their previous Naples residence; they purchased all the other furnishings specifically for this apartment. They did buy the Steinway grand piano from the previous owner of the apartment, and brought one treasure of a light fixture designed by Philippe Starck from their Canadian home.
Certainly qualities like its vibrant color palette in the context of its white backdrop, the informality of its furniture placement, and its overall emphasis on comfort speak to the apartment’s semi-tropical/coastal paradise locale. The abstract artwork in the home — all done by the owner — creates a perfect compliment to the furnishings.
While the quality of the project would suggest a substantial budget, Kleinschmidt points out that it cost less than you’d think, primarily because of his ingenious strategies for purchasing the furnishings. He was able to call on his longtime association with Knoll International to obtain attractive pricing on major pieces like the Noguchi table, the Saarinen dining ensemble, and three different sizes of Bertoia wire chairs.
Kleinschmidt mixed these with custom pieces of his own design: the glass slab desk in the master bedroom; the glass cocktail table and “Rockefeller” sofa, manufactured by Interior Crafts and originally designed for David Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan office, in the living room — as well as pieces from CB2 [the master bedroom dressers and nightstands] and Design Within Reach [the Anni Albers rug and Panton chairs]. Still other pieces are the result of particularly innovative sourcing, like having Modernica construct a 10-foot long cabinet, custom built out of components from Charles & Ray Eames’ classic 1947 storage system.
Kleinschmidt, whose architecture school classmate David Zeunert completed the base building architecture for the project, says that his innovative approach to this project also speaks to enormous changes in his field, particularly since the economic downturn of the last decade. “It’s never been harder to practice design,” says Kleinschmidt. “I’ve really had to re-invent myself,” he adds reflectively.
That may be true, but it definitely seems here as if he’s effortlessly synthesized so much of the work he’s done in his prior career; this residence is a logical outgrowth of decades of experience designing interiors at Powell/Kleinschmidt, the Chicago-based interior architecture firm he and Donald Powell founded in 1976 after many years working at Skidmore Owings & Merrill. When Powell decided to retire in 2009, Kleinschmidt established his own design consultancy, and has since completed a number of office, hospitality, and residential projects. All reflect his devotion to the tenets of Miesian Modernism.
If Mies van der Rohe and his colleagues created something called the International Style in the mid-20th century, the design approach that Kleinschmidt, and the generation of designers who spread the Miesian aesthetic, practices today is an example of a highly refined interpretation of the core principles of Modernism. It’s beyond “international” because its timeless sophistication would make it appropriate anywhere today. A better appellation for it might be “cosmopolitan.”
Written by Philip Berger
Photography by Mike Schwartz
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