Peek Inside Joe Pabst’s Outrageously Artful Downtown Condo

Armed with a desire to (ahem) simplify, Joe Pabst turns to downtown living, crafting a highly curated interior to enjoy for years to come.  

A series of life events, including a new relationship and the prospect of building something fresh together, prompted local philanthropist and collector Joe Pabst, whose ancestry is best revealed by his last name, to sell his over-5,000-square-foot Georgian Colonial home and pursue high-rise condo dwelling.  

The search was a simple one. Pabst had his heart set on a certain Downtown condominium building, so he and his partner, John Schellinger, a legal administrator, toured several units before finding their jewel in the sky – a northeast-facing double unit on the building’s 24th floor with sweeping views of Lake Michigan. 

A cozy spot to sip a cup of coffee or read the morning newspaper, the dinette feels equally intimate and grand. “You never feel lonely here,” muses Pabst. “And with guests, we can push the tables together.”; Photo by Anna Spaller



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“Initially, I thought we could just live in the space as it was and get a feel for what it was like,” recalls Schellinger. “[But] Joe had a completely different vision. He wanted everything open. No rooms.” 

“What I envisioned was a studio,” explains Pabst, who was born in Arizona, spent much of his childhood living on the East Coast, and then moved to Chicago before settling in Milwaukee. “Having had a large home, it was sort of lonely to have multiple guest rooms and not have them constantly filled.” He hired Living Space Design Build, a Milwaukee-based remodeling firm Pabst had collaborated with on three previous homes, to tackle the project – a full-gut renovation that took nearly two years’ time. “Even the sills of windows were replaced,” he says. 

Schellinger, an avid cook, enjoys the kitchen’s ample counter space, which features gold flecks and a subtle purple hue. The island’s scored wood paneling is a continuation of the home’s strong recta-linear grid theme; Photo by Anna Spaller
“This place demanded a bar,” Pabst says. “It’s a jewel of an area to make a drink, and to be able to serve it. So often, people are building cocktails in the kitchen and invading the space of the cook.”; Photo by Anna Spaller

The move required a careful edit of Pabst’s extensive collections. “I disposed of some things that were beautiful, but not joyful,” he says. The result is an impeccably curated, deeply personal interior. Every inch of the place is “decorated,” but the effect is dazzling rather than overwhelming.  

Mahogany-like wood paneling – an homage to the building’s 1960s roots – provides a neutral backdrop for Pabst’s colorful rhapsody of original art, family heirlooms and antique furniture. Polished stainless steel cornices and baseboards, crafted by Gallas Metalworks, create an optical illusion, as if the floor disappears, and a lacquered plaster ceiling offers a subtle sparkle overhead. “Two pounds of glitter went into the ceiling,” Pabst notes. “At night, it comes alive.” Intentional vistas run the entire length of the home, connecting each space to the next, and doors crafted from exotic veneers are works of art.

As with all areas of the home, the lounge features a collection of works that vary greatly in size, medium and association. The coaching prints, for example, once hung in the tack room of Pabst’s great-grandparents’ horse stable. “They’re not the sort of thing that I would purchase,” says Pabst, “but they’re part of who I am.”; Photo by Anna Spaller

In the kitchen, stainless steel cabinetry and scored wood paneling are softened by blue subway tile and richly colored cookware. The “lounge,” where he and Schellinger enjoy a cocktail before dinner in the evening, features a settee and pair of chairs that belonged to Pabst’s great-grandmother. 

The next project for Pabst is perhaps no project at all, but rather the privilege of enjoying the things he loves most – his impressive collection of vintage cars; his philanthropic endeavors, which concentrate on animal welfare and LGBTQ causes; and, of course, his home, alongside Schellinger and their beloved dachshund, Orik. 

“I’ve never lived in a place where I was more successful at doing nothing,” Pabst muses, “and I think that is an incredible gift. … To sit in a place that is your own brand of beauty and to look out at the majesty of nature.”

More Photos: 

Schellinger (left) is quick to praise Pabst’s design talent, though he admits to having little to do with the process. “When I see the end product, and how beautifully everything works, I’m just amazed at what he has created in this space for us,” he says; Photo by Anna Spaller
Nearly every inch of the space, including the doors, is used to display Pabst’s extensive collection of art and heirlooms; Photo by Anna Spaller
Pabst’s “dudeoir” features both his office and, on the opposite wall (not shown), a platform bathtub. An antique outboard motor is used for stashing and sorting mail. “I see it as a pure and beautiful example of classic industrial design, and as stunning as most any sculpture,” Pabst says; Photo by Anna Spaller
An antique burlwood writing desk, purchased by Pabst’s grandmother in Berlin, Germany, dates back to the 18th century. “I remember my mother working at this desk,” he recalls; Photo by Anna Spaller
A restored Polaroid camera from Retrospekt in Milwaukee, customized with colorful leather by Dave Mitchell of Mitchell Leather Factory in Thiensville, evokes delightful memories. “I was charmed in discovering John also had one that had belonged to his father,” says Pabst; Photo by Anna Spaller
When an adjacent unit became available one year into the renovation, Pabst and Schellinger scooped it up, bringing the home’s total size to 2,800 square feet. The ceiling’s system of steel beams – a means of transferring power, says Pabst – continues into the new space, which includes an attached guest suite; Photo by Anna Spaller


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s October issue.

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