She had one of the largest blank canvases in Evanston, and over the course of almost three years, has created a magnificent masterpiece. Maria Bortell of Chicago is the lead designer on the massive remodeling project for The Merion, “I was in charge of the interior design to renovate every room in this building including apartments and common spaces,” said Bortell.
The Merion was formerly the North Shore Hotel, built in the early 20th century, and known for both its opulence and its ideal location in the heart of downtown Evanston. In the 1970’s it became the North Shore Retirement Hotel and then in 2014, the hotel was renamed The Merion as it completed a major transformation under the supervision of Bortell. “For the most part, everything was gutted. You wouldn’t even recognize the lower level and the lobby level,” she said, This includes the renowned Crystal Ballroom, the elegant JEM Dining Room, The Bistro, the lounge, game room, library, wellness center, fitness center, conference room and executive office suites.
Perhaps the most stunning makeover has been the apartments. The 185 original units were turned into 140 more spacious apartments. “They’re much larger and more user friendly,” Bortell said. Each boasts top of the line finishes including hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.
As a luxury rental community, Bortell was responsible for outfitting each apartment with furniture, artwork, bedding, floor and window coverings and accessories. Her vision, she said, was to create an atmosphere with the warmth and comfort of home, combined with the feel of an upscale, “plush” hotel. ‘We want the apartments to feel special, yet at home at the same time,” she said. The apartments all have a similar feel, but also boast individual detail, making them each beautiful and unique.
Her focus, Bortell said, has been on “looking forward…not for this year but five or ten years forward. We wanted a place where people would feel at home for a long time,” she said.
Bortell said that in renovating The Merion, she drew heavily on her theater background. “It’s about knowing your audience. That’s where theater training helps. This audience, of seniors, is changing a lot and will continue to change. We want to stay ahead of that. Our residents expect updated, upscale, beautiful amenities and we provide that.”
“We’ve had great feedback,’ Bortell said. “I’ve really put my heart and soul into this for two and a half years, as has everyone else here. It’s especially satisfying when people see it, after having seen the former site. People are always amazed.”
While continuing to put finishing touches on each of the apartments in the building’s original site, Bortell has started working her magic on The Merion’s new tower, which is slated to open this fall. The eight-story addition will feature 65 new, fully-appointed apartments as well as an indoor pool.
For a limited time, The Merion is offering 50% off the first six months of a 13-month agreement.