By Megan McKinney
One of the Chicago area’s most superb properties, the 1931 Lester Armour estate in Lake Bluff, has been on the market for almost two years. The current owner is rock star Richard Marx, son of the mid-century Rush Street jazz musician and composer Dick Marx, and the asking price is $18 million.
The property’s house, designed by David Adler in collaboration with his sister, interior designer Frances Elkins, originally contained a legendary mirrored boudoir, a room that has captivated Adler connoisseurs and others for decades. The space began as a private retreat for the first Mrs. Lester Armour, the former Leola Stanton. After that, from 1949, it was a sanctuary for Lester Armour’s second wife, Alexandra Galitzine Romanov, and, since 1978, the exquisite bathroom/dressing room has delighted audiences of the charmingly quirky Robert Altman film “A Wedding.”
After Richard Marx bought the property, he ordered the mirrored treasure removed from the house, and it wound up at Salvage One, Chicago’s Near West Side center for resale of architectural remnants, where it languished for a half decade —until one day, New York interior designer Miles Redd walked in.
In the words of Miles Redd, above:
“It was destiny. I do think that bathroom was meant for me; I really think David Adler was up in heaven, looking down. That bathroom was at Salvage One for something like five years. The contractors taking it out of Richard Marx’s house had done a beautiful job. But when it finally arrived, it was really not that easy to get back together; in fact, it was an absolutely colossal pain — but it was all there. I was wandering around one day and I saw it, so I put it on hold for a week, and then I called back to say I would take it. But the sales associate thought my hold was over, and someone else had come in.
“I told her I would buy it then and there with cash, but she wanted to check with the other guy. When she called back to tell me he was taking it, I was absolutely devastated but asked her to let me know if anything changed.
“Now I’m somewhat philosophical because I buy a lot of things at auction; they come and they go, and there is always more to see. Usually, I’m easy about letting things slip away, but I was devastated to lose that bathroom; there’s just not another one. Eventually, it turned out the other guy had actually not paid for it; maybe he left a deposit or something, but he never picked it up. So Salvage One called me, and it was mine. Thank you, David Adler.
“But at that point, I thought maybe it really should stay in Chicago. I mean, there was a part of me who thought that, so I called — what’s the famous museum in Chicago that has the Thorne [Miniature] Rooms? I called the Art Institute. I said, I have this period room by a famous Chicago architect, and you really should install it in the museum. They talked it over and decided no. I thought, well, I tried.
“I then felt I had permission to have the bathroom installed in my town house in New York. I had done the right thing, and now this beautiful space gives me pleasure every single day.
“It is such a unique and special room; I do absolutely cherish it. It’s always seemed to me to be David Adler’s interpretation of Hollywood doing a kind of very high-style New York City fantasy. Except that fantasy didn’t exist, even in New York; it was a thing that occurred in movies, like Joan Crawford in ‘The Women.’ It’s this glittering glamour of a world that doesn’t exist. And, for me, to just wake up in that reality every morning is a glorious thing, like living in a movie.
“In New York, the proportions are not what they are in Chicago, so it is the largest room in my house. It’s kind of like a gigantic ballroom adjacent to my bedroom that I use as a dressing room and bathroom. It’s sort of where I live. When people come over, I use it more often than not as a dining room. It is easy enough to plop a table in the middle of the room, and you’re not that far away from where the sink is.
“Sometimes people ask me how I would describe it, and I tell them it’s like a diamond. But then they say, ‘Oh, God, but it’s so reflective, how do you stand it?’ But you don‘t really see yourself in this room because there are so many reflections, you don’t really take it in. It has a kind of hard, cold chic that feels like living in the interior of a diamond.”