Jaime Laurita believes in full-circle moments.
A little over a year ago, the chef and designer to the stars found himself in the Merchandise Mart, shopping to outfit an A-lister’s Chicago apartment. He walked into the interior mecca’s Dream Home space — a now-shuttered showcase of gorgeous rooms by local designers — and asked the receptionist how he could get involved. Fast forward a year, and Laurita met CEO Selim Bassoul of commercial kitchen appliances behemoth Middleby at a trade show. Bassoul said were branching into residential, and brought Laurita on as creative director, pegging him to lead design on the company’s first-ever residential showroom — located in the exact Merchandise Mart space as the Dream Home had been.
So, late last year, Laurita found himself back at theMart, overhauling the space in just nine weeks — “You can’t even get a sofa in nine weeks,” he laughs — and transforming it into an experiential showroom inspired by the Chicagoans it caters to. (Learn more here).
Here, the Bucktown resident — who reality fans may recognize from appearances alongside his sisters Caroline and Dina Manzo on the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” — talks about his star-studded resume and love for design.
SPLASH: You’ve traveled on tour with Madonna a number of times. What is your role when you’re with her?
JAIME LAURITA: For her specifically, I design her backstage environment, her world, a place where she comes [to find] consistency on the road. I basically turn locker rooms into Vanity Fair. I have a tractor-trailer and a plane filled with equipment [needed to create] ambiance, and I do that all over the world. It’s a place for her to call home, to get centered, to get the energy she needs to get onstage. I do [similar things] for lots of different celebrities: either the food, the afterparty, the event that they want to have — but mostly it’s about the relationship between the artist and myself. It’s an energy thing.
S: How was designing the showroom different from designing an environment like that?
JL: It’s all about taking what I’ve learned from all of these celebrities and watching how they craft an experience for their guests. This is an opportunity for me to be in the showroom, and show my work for the first time — most of my design work is very confidential, I can’t show it because it’s for very well-known musicians. … I prefer to be [in the showroom], one-on-one with the clients. I’m kind of like a kitchen voyeur. I want people to bring me samples and [things they like] and I get to play with them and give them ideas. I’m cooking for them, serving mimosas and caviar and scrambled eggs on a Saturday morning. It’s all about taking all of this life experience and being able to sparkle it on people in Chicago.
S: The showroom’s kitchens are designed as spaces that can be the heart of the home. Has that always been the case for you?
JL: One hundred percent, absolutely. I’m one of 11 children; I was number 8 and I was basically born to be a potato peeler. So I grew up in the kitchen and I love to cook — to me, the kitchen is where all the shit happens, it’s the coolest place. We had both grandmothers cooking and food was everywhere — there was pasta drying on the beds, there was tomato sauce and three refrigerators and three ranges, it was nuts. So I grew up around it, and when I wanted to become a chef it was just something that naturally fit.
S: Now that you’ll be stationed in Chicago more permanently, will you miss being on the road constantly?
JL: I’ve done it for so many years and we all have to evolve. If I do get the call from Madonna about her next tour, I definitely have to consider it because it’s a part of who I am, but I wouldn’t miss it. … I’m 53 and I’m at a perfect place in my life where I’m no longer searching for anything — I’m just allowing the universe to deliver and serve me something great.