Jerry Kleiner, the local restaurateur notorious for lavishly designed establishments such as Carnivale, Red Light and Marché, sits at one end of the King Arthur’s court–style dining-room table in his West Town home. He leans against a wing-backed chair, covered in fabric featuring nearly every shade of the rainbow, and points to the colorless Murano glass chandeliers dripping from each side of the room. “The chandelier will be covered in silk,” he says. “I don’t want to see the whole thing because it’s a little garish for me.”
Despite the fact that Kleiner doesn’t subscribe to a singular style, all of his rooms (in his home as well as at his eateries) share an immediately recognizable “Kleiner” air: an Alice in Wonderland surrealism mixed with the decadence of a triple-chocolate cheesecake. The energy—which hits an almost manic high—pulsating through the rooms is perhaps even more distinct than the aesthetic itself. Then again, that level of confidence and drive should come as no surprise; the man is on the brink of opening two new restaurants (and reopening a third) in the next few months in the middle of a recession.
Having grown up as the son of two custom tailors in Poland and Russia (before the family immigrated to Chicago in the 1960s), Kleiner attributes at least part of his aesthetic to his parents. “We didn’t have any food, but we had a sense of style,” he says. It wasn’t until he moved into his first condo in Rogers Park as a 21-year-old, though, that Kleiner started to stretch his fingers. After dabbling in a few other lines of work for seven years, Kleiner decided to put his eye for design to use professionally and designed his first restaurant, Fazio’s. Twenty-six years later, he has eight restaurants (the two newbies will open by May) and a manufacturing warehouse to his name. In addition to designing his own homes, he consults in the design of friends’ and acquaintance’s places as well.
As for the rooms in this West Town home, it’s a constant process of rearriving at the perfect pitch, and not one looks remotely redundant or even similar. A curved sofa, upholstered in pink and green silky velvet, sits in the middle of the sitting room, where the walls showcase a multi-colored baroque-style hand-painted pattern. In the den, a lime-green 10-by12-foot Wesley Kimler painting leaning against the wall (Kleiner has plans to swap the same painting for a hot-pink version) provides the backdrop for a zebra-print ottoman, an overstuffed brown leather couch and an actual-bear-size stuffed teddy in the corner. The bedroom channels Capri: striped walls painted in two tones of golden yellow, antique mirrored dressers and a few photos on the wall, one featuring Audrey Hepburn and another artsy shot of a Dior clothing label.
Ironically, the only room nearly devoid of color—other than black and white and a single pop of red from a vintage Coke machine—is the kitchen. The sleek, stark space features black and white checkerboard marble floors, high-end industrial stainless-steel equipment and an island covered with bottles of liquor. True to many restaurant folks’ form, Kleiner says he and his girlfriend, Marissa, eat out for every meal. The only people who use the kitchen are chefs auditioning for a job at one of his restaurants. The handful of items visible through the clear door of the refrigerator include almond milk, almond butter and some fresh-squeezed juice.
Despite the constant tweaking to the decor, Kleiner insists on maintaining the integrity of every space’s original form. “The beauty of the story is here’s a garage,” he begins, describing his own home, an industrial garage in its previous incarnation. “And here’s what you can do with a garage. There was beauty in it when somebody built this place. I wanted to take and build from that because there’s character in it.” A putting green and stone-covered hot tub now sit where trucks used to pull in, and a Steinway piano rests in the former place of a hydraulic lift. But the shell remains the same.
“I have to sit in [a room]. It’s like a batter going into a baseball field; you come out and the first guy is starting to do this with the dirt,” he says, kicking his foot to illustrate the gesture. “It’s the same thing with this. I have to feel it, sense it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I’ve got a pretty good batting average.”