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.
“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.
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.
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.”