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Date-Night Getaway

June 9, 2008 By B.A. Hoffman



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A Chicago high-rise retreat

This pied-a-terre in Chicago’s River North neighborhood gives new meaning to the phrase “date night.” “We raise our four kids in the west suburbs of Chicago,” says Jon Butcher. In describing his 3,500-square-foot, Japanese-inspired condominium, he explains, “This is where we come to get away from our kids. We use this as our date place.”

This condo is the Butchers’ second in-town Love Shack, which boasts a 360-degree view of the city and 3,000 square feet of outdoor living space. “When I walked into this condo, it was the most dramatic space I had seen in Chicago,” says Butcher. “It feels like the city is wrapped around you. As soon as I saw this garden in my head, it was all over.”

Imagine arriving in this modern, minimalist masterpiece after a long week at work. You drop your overnight bag in the bamboo-wrapped foyer and press the “romance” button on the wall-mounted AMX touchscreen. The living-room sheers close magically (and silently)—allowing you to enjoy the glowing Chicago sunset and the intricately designed Japanese garden, comprised of bonsai-trained Scotch pines and peaceful pools of water that ripple amidst the boulders, yet maintain your privacy at the same time. As meditative, Japanese-inspired music oozes through the home’s distributed audio system, your stress melts away. You exhale. A scent called Damascus washes over you as it seeps through the home’s air vents, setting the mood.

After you grab a bottle of champagne and two chilled glasses from the refrigerator, you mosey onto your private city deck—a soaring, 50-foot-tall space that’s equipped with a cozy, 20-foot, U-shaped sectional sofa upholstered in Sunbrella and Perennials fabric. “This is the most dramatic place to have a cocktail in all of Chicago,” Butcher says, as he relishes the thought of watching the city come alive at night. After dinner, he changes the music setting to “cocktail,” which includes a playlist of sexy, hip lounge music; the lighting dims, and the room’s aroma changes to Silk Roads, an exotic and sensual scent. The waterfalls continue to flow, and the shades remain in an up position. The outside living areas are activated for outdoor enjoyment.

Scent is an integral element of every home that Butcher designs. “When I start a living environment, my whole deal is, what kind of experience do I want to create—not architecture or interior design, but how do I want to feel, and how do I want other people to feel?

“Whether the experience is tranquil, relaxing, or sensual—or playful or fun—I take a look at what I have to work with,” he explains, which includes using music, lighting, plant life, and water to invoke a sense of peace and relaxation in any room. Fire and fabrics, he says, can add sensuality and sexiness. And then there’s aromatherapy, Butcher’s secret design weapon. “When I put together an environment, my key focus is sensuality in the true sense of the word—the senses. For a truly exceptional environment, you can’t leave any of the senses to chance.”

In ancient times, people from every major civilization infused their public spaces—Roman baths, Asian temples, and Renaissance courtyards—with flower, spice, or aromatic wood fragrances. Butcher believes that adding a special aroma to a room environment creates mood and memories. To that end, he infuses his fragrances of choice throughout the condo with the help of AromaSys, an automated scent-delivery system designed by Mark Peltier of Minneapolis. (Peltier has installed his systems in many Las Vegas hotels, but this is his first residential project.) The system disperses scented oils in a fine mist that’s distributed through the home’s air vents every 30 to 40 seconds. “There’s such a connection between smell and memory,” says Butcher, who has been with his wife for 18 years. “The aromas [used in the house] are strongly associated with my love for my wife and the experiences we’ve had over the years. When we walk in, we know we’re back [to us].”

To not distract from the stunning garden and city views, Butcher decided to incorporate minimal technology into the home: a few flat-screen TVs and an invisible audio and automation system. “Our St. Charles house has it all,” he says. “It was the smartest house in the world at the time, but the city house is much more simple.”

“They didn’t want to see anything,” says Dan Daker, the co-owner of MediaTech in St. Charles, who also upgraded the technology in Butcher’s primary residence. “There are only a few visible keypads in the whole place.” The main audiovisual components are tucked into a built-in cabinet to the right of the living room’s 61-inch, high-def NEC plasma monitor; 20 Boston Acoustics speakers, most of which are concealed in the ceiling, deliver sound; and 10 Rockustics speakers fuel the outdoor audio system. The home’s HVAC system, lighting, audio, video, waterfalls, fountains, window treatments, and aromatherapy system can all be controlled via the wireless or in-wall touchscreens. “We customized the AMX software; it’s called “capture and play” technology,” says Daker. This technology allows the owner to record a specific event—lighting levels, audio and video volumes, playlists, and temperature—to a specific lifestyle mode button. These lifestyle modes range from away to arrival, romance, late night, theater, daytime, cocktails, wakeup, and asleep. The owners can even preset the mood before their arrival via the telephone-interface system. “They can call in to activate the lifestyle modes, and there are 12 of them,” Daker says. The window blinds can open and close with the movement of the sun to protect the woodwork and furniture. And, in keeping with the space’s minimalist, no-clutter-allowed approach, all music is stored on the main home’s AudioRequest Z1.500 Zone Music Server, which is synced into the city condo system via ARQLink.

There is one tiny piece of over-the-top technology in the house: Each of the 12 carefully manicured Scotch pines are kept warm via underground heating pads. “Putting a garden on top of a Chicago high rise is a very ambitious project,” Butcher says. “I was glad to pull it off because you never really know until you pull the trigger.” To ensure the longevity of the master gardening of Hoichi Kurisu—who essentially “trained” each Scotch pine for 30 years to look like a bonsai—each root ball is heated to 55 degrees to stave off freezing temperatures. The automation system can also turn off the pond’s water systems, as well as the waterfalls and outdoor lighting. “They’re so happy up there,” the homeowner says of the Scotch pines, adding that he’s worked with Kurisu on every home he’s developed. “To get a garden to drain properly and function the way it should—150 feet above ground—is a real feat.

“After having this place for almost three years, I never get over how shockingly beautiful it is,” Butcher continues. “It knocks you over sideways. It’s surreal to see a formal Japanese garden on a terrace, with a modern city behind it. After that initial experience of the garden, the city, and the aromatherapy, I just sigh and know that we’re back.”

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