Despite a sea of beige, Gold Coast rentals are hardly neutral

Despite a sea of beige, Gold Coast rentals are hardly neutral
Although it has white appliances, this one-bedroom unit in Chestnut Tower features an open laout and an in-unit washer/dryer. (Andrew A. Nellis/Photo for the Chicago Tribune)
I didn't know the Gold Coast could be so beige. But when Gayle Hallen, a licensed sales and leasing agent with Chicago Apartment Finders, takes me out to view apartments for rent in the neighborhood, each of five units we see is blanketed in that neutral of all neutral colors.

"Beige offends the fewest amount of people," explains an agent at one of the buildings.

She's right, no doubt. But if the flooring is boring in these Gold Coast digs, their location makes up for it in glam.

Hallen emphasizes the deals to be had on rent, even in buildings a short distance from the tony Mag Mile. As condos have become increasingly difficult to sell, owners are converting their places to rentals -- even short-term rentals -- more often than in the past.

That translates to more vacancies in apartment buildings. And, at least in this area, rents are being reduced accordingly.

Our first stop, in fact, is a condo for rent on Delaware Place. The owners have made it available via Chicago Apartment Finders for $1,475 per month. In the 820-square-foot unit, the kitchen counter is composed of the planet's strangest faux granite. Imagine a kind of leopard print in chartreuse.

I see spots all the way to our next stop, at 100 W. Chestnut St. Though I don't choose these apartments, I'm briefly captivated. Word on the street is that the building's 24-hour, heated indoor pool and Jacuzzi are rarely used. But that doesn't mean they have to be.

For people who travel often, a package of free services -- including cat feeding, package delivery, plant watering -- could be a major boon. And for people who stay put, the building serves a free continental breakfast daily. I hear the coffee is good.

Upstairs, in a 720-square-foot unit for $1,344 per month, I feel like I'm in a scene from Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich." There's a miniature window in the living room. About the size of a college student's mini-fridge, it's dwarfed by the standard window beside it.

What's up with that, architecture firm of Weese, Seegers, Hickey, Weese? If I crawl through the mini-windows of your 1983 building, will I fall into a tunnel that spits me out on the New Jersey Turnpike? I would like that, actually. But in the end, I decide the place feels too much like the decade in which it was built.

At 121 W. Chestnut St., I'm brought back to the future. The upscale lobby walls are clad in cherry wood panels, the floors in Terrazzo. When I look up to see three chandeliers by Denmark's Poul Henningsen (the Artichoke Lamp), I'm sold.

In the 36-story building, one-bedroom units currently listed as available or "on-notice" range from about $1,400 per month to $1,800 per month. Those prices -- which are subject to change, says the management company -- reflect Chestnut Tower's current "move-in specials," or about 1 1/2 to two months free on select units.

The first of the two apartments I see is 870 square feet. Featuring a hardwood entryway and stainless steel appliances by GE, the corner unit runs for $1,825 per month (reduced, by way of a move-in special, from $2,185 per month). Here, the beige carpet leans heavily toward gray. Let's call it greige. It's a color I can live with.

The second apartment is smaller at 770 square feet, but I like the price: $1,555 a month, reduced from $1,960. I also prefer its more open layout: An island separates the kitchen from the living room. Someone else preferred it, too, because they've since moved in.

The white Whirlpool appliances -- which are purported to be less attractive than the stainless steel numbers in the first -- are perfectly OK by me. And the in-unit washer/dryer, a rarity in Gold Coast (or any) apartments, is more than OK.

When an apartment building calls itself "a pet-friendly building," it usually means a cat- and fish-friendly building, where dogs are unwelcome. At Chestnut Tower, I could finally get the pug I pine for. Thanks to a surprisingly picturesque dog run attached to the building, my puppy would get more exercise and fresh air than some dogs in the suburbs.

And for fresh air for bipedal residents, a rooftop deck offers views that are reach-out-and-touch-the-skyscrapers gorgeous, a reminder of why the word "location" is oft evoked thrice when it comes to real estate.