Gold Coast unit features lake views, 24-hour door staff, butler’s pantry – and a flute-playing monkey

Stepping into Edward Minieka’s Gold Coast Co-op is like opening a window into Jane Austen’s 18th century England.

Serious, long-dead men’s faces peer out of gold-leaf frames. A plum-coloured drapery hangs from an arch beside the walnut case of an English grandfather clock – the mechanism inside emitting a soft ticking sound.

“I’m an auction junkie,” says Minieka, wearing a tweed jacket and reading glasses that hang from a cord around her neck.

There are old pianos, a baroque tapestry and a 17th century pieta carved from linden.

But it does not stop there. As a preview, visitors to the University of Illinois Chicago professor emeritus’ co-op unit step off the elevator into a lobby where monkeys dressed as humans cavort on walls painted to look like to marble.

And that’s the problem, say the couple who own Minieka’s only other upstairs unit. Their home has been put on the market — for around $550,000 — and, they say, the dimly lit lobby and antique decor just don’t help sell the unit. It was an active quote on Friday and had been on the market since June 2021, according to redfin.com.

“I admire your enthusiasm for the lobby project that was done so many years ago. I wonder if you would agree that he had a very good race! the woman who lives next door wrote in response to an email from Minieka explaining the story behind her cherished home.

“While I know it’s your taste and setting and the story is important to you, unfortunately that’s not the case for us or potential buyers who have been through it so far. We would love to see a lighter, brighter space to accommodate people coming down from the elevator.

The woman said she and her husband were willing to pay for the painting.

And the co-op’s board recently stepped in, saying it planned to come up with alternative decorating schemes “in keeping with the aesthetics of the building”. If bickering owners can’t agree, the council chooses one, under the new rules.

But Minieka wonders why he has to change a design that had been part of the household for a long time before he moved into the building in 1979 and added – with the agreement of the previous owners – over the years. He said he spent about $8,000 in total. That doesn’t include the price of the ornate French mirror in the lobby, which dates to the 1730s, he said.

“The craftsmen who worked [the foyer] are established and well known. So it’s not like it’s a shabby thing,” Minieka said.

When the elevator doors open to its lobby, you step onto a stage “that has thrilled visitors for decades,” he says.

Minieka said he tried to explain all of this to his neighbors, who bought their unit in 2017.

“What bothers me is that they never took the time to find out the historical context,” he said. “They just blew it.”

Neighbors could not be reached for comment. Members of the co-op’s board of directors could not be reached or declined to comment.

The neighbors unit, in its online listing, is awash in sparkling neutrals – described as an “elegant 2-bedroom, 2-bath home with the highest standard of finishes.” There is no mention of the painted monkeys in the lobby.

Neighbors recently asked if Minieka would consider a compromise. He does not see how it is possible.

“It’s a complete package. I can’t just modify it and change one thing. It’s going to destroy it,” he said.

It looks like it was painted into a corner, with no more options. After all, he says, there’s no written record that he had permission to paint his hallway — it was merely an informal agreement between like-minded neighbors.

“The board, especially in co-ops, has a lot of authority, and unless there is some sort of written agreement allowing it – even if it’s been there for 40 years – the board can still choose. They could repaint it every year if they wanted. It’s a common space,” said Matthew Goldberg, a Chicago attorney who specializes in condominium and cooperative law.

Minieka says he has no intention of moving. If the lobby decor needs to go away, he jokes that he might even help.

“I’m going to throw a big bleach party before [the painters] come,” he said.