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Photography by Andy Barnes

Foreign Accents

by Lisa Shames | Men's Book Chicago magazine | November 8, 2011

Not everyone can envision a dream home inside a cold storage meatpacking facility. But as a partner in Chicago restaurants Hubbard Inn, English and Barn & Company, Daniel Alonso is used to doing some major interior design transformations.

That’s exactly what Alonso and his wife, Marina Nieves, have done at their Fulton Market loft, a 3,000-square-foot space that was once a warehouse for meat, seafood and chicken. “The entire floor was a walk-in refrigerator,” says Alonso. “Everything has been through here.”

Originally purchased by Alonso and his business partners Adolfo Garcia and David Mitria, the three-story building housed a variety of businesses, including a boutique and gallery, after a gut rehab. When the third-floor tenant moved out two years ago, Alonso and Nieves moved in—following six months of renovations. “We deliberately did it nice and slow,” says Alonso. “It’s our home, so we didn’t want to rush it.”

Paramount on the couple’s wish list was finding a way to play off the space’s industrial history. So the cement-topped kitchen island is a response to the cement walls near it. Overhead, reclaimed Chicago River posts, sliced and sandblasted, line the ceiling.

Equally important when it came to drafting the floor plan was Alonso and Nieves’ love of entertaining. “The big open kitchen reflects the life we wanted to celebrate in the space,” says Alonso.

Most important of all was creating a home that highlights the eclectic mix of antiques and other design items Alonso and Nieves have collected from their trips overseas, as well as the gifts they’ve received from their globe-trotting families. A few favorites include a collection of copper pitchers from Egypt, a dowry chest from India and cowhides from Argentina. “When we travel something always comes back with us,” says Nieves.

In addition to those lovely items, particularly eye-catching is the beautiful Murano chandelier that Nieves’ Venezuelan grandmother bought on her honeymoon in Italy in 1937. It hangs over the custom-built African bubinga wooden dining room table. In the foyer, a seven-seat antique wooden church bench from London complements the long wall it rests against. And a gift from Nieves’ mother, a dozen intricately decorated Peruvian antique mirrors—“The wall of vanity,” says Alonso—decorates a nearby wall.

It’s not just the inside of the loft that’s full of surprises, either. In the foyer, just outside the front door, three 19th-century Chinese coats once worn by field workers line the wall of the staircase leading up to the 2,000-square-foot rooftop terrace.

The mix of urban grit with worldly artifacts and vintage pieces is a look you’ll also find at Hubbard Inn. “I love contrasts,” says Alonso. “I think it’s cool when you can grab a 70-year-old Hamadan rug and juxtapose it against a minimalist steel fireplace.”

Alonso credits his Spanish-born parents, in particular his father, for influencing his aesthetic. “He spent his 20s in Spain, during the 1950s,” says Alonso. “He had a penchant for bespoke suits and established friendships with several prominent bullfighters. His stories and experiences have always played a large part in my own sense of style.” Beyond that, Alonso’s ideas on design can largely be traced back to globe-trotting. “It’s not so much that my style has evolved over time,” he says, “it’s that my life has given me the opportunity to travel and pick up different influences.”

From the start, Alonso and Nieves had a clear idea of how they wanted their home to look. “We complement each other,” says Nieves, adding that she’s the more detail-oriented person, while Alonso tends to take care of the big picture. “It was like two peas in a pod,” says Alonso.

They weren’t afraid, however, to ask for help when it came to some woodworking elements they envisioned. So they teamed up with Alex Morales of Smartmouth Designs, a good friend and talented artist. It was with Morales’ input that so many intricately carved doors, which became a theme throughout the loft, came to life. “In terms of design, doors are something you touch and see every day, so why not do something special with them?” says Alonso. He could, he says, “wax philosophically” about the symbolism of doors in the afterlife, but that the original idea was much more down to earth: “We wanted to bring a little bit of creativity to those areas that are normally an afterthought.” Thus flourishes like the pantry with its gorgeous floor-to-ceiling sliding panels. “It’s functional and it looks good,” says Alonso.

While the space looks finished, it’s still very much a work in progress for Alonso and Nieves. One of the most recent additions was the guest room conversion to a baby’s room to accommodate their daughter Daniela—who, Nieves says, has also staked out the living room tapestry rug as her play area. And next summer the couple plans on tackling the sprawling rooftop deck. The room to work, Alonso says, is a good thing: “There’s enough of a clean canvas that we can continue to fill the home with elements of our life and experiences.”