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Lifestyle cubed from Home & Architectural Trends volume 2801
Post-World War II, the great American dream became tied to the suburbs, as more and more people came to believe a better lifestyle lay out beyond the urban limits.
Now, little more than two generations later, inner-city neighborhoods are once again proving popular as couples and young families seek a more urbanized lifestyle than that of their parents.
Benefits such as cheaper housing stock also contri-bute to the desirability of such areas. The resulting gentrification then generates its own market.
Located in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, which is in varying stages of renewal, most properties on this particular street date from the early 1900s, says architect Peter Nicholas.
"This area comprises lots of 25ft x 125ft and adjoins a more valuable neighborhood, which has gone through the gentrification process. The existing house was beyond repair and needed to be replaced. The owners had seen examples of our work and were looking for something clean and modern."
"The main requirement was for a home that would maximize the useable outdoor space while at the same time provide an appropriate level of privacy," says Nicholas.
"We are also aware, when designing homes in areas such as this, of the need for breaking up the mass of the structure.
"A staggered facade, mix of cladding materials, and in this instance, extensive glazing at the basement level, all work to give the impression of a much lighter presence."
Internally, too, the process was one of maximizing the available footprint, while at the same time creating a light-filled interior.
"The lot is typical for Chicago, which results in limited building width, so while you want to maintain privacy between houses, you also have the dilemma of how to bring natural light inside.
"By utilizing the centrally located stairwell, we were able to have it function as a light well, from which we could pull light into the rest of the house."
Similarly, full interior walls have been replaced by various architectural objects, such as the double-sided fireplace, that are designed to demarcate the spaces while maintaining open sightlines.
Material and color palettes were also chosen to create a free-flowing continuity and sense of lightness.
"The dark floor in the formal rooms provides a negative plane on which the remaining objects float.
"The transition from these spaces into the kitchen and informal living area, with its porcelain-tiled floor and glazed end wall, creates a continuity of flow from interior to exterior. This is reinforced by the change in ceiling treatment, which like the tiles, continues through the glass barrier, drawing the eye with it towards the rooftop entertaining area above the garage," says Nicholas.
To ensure a seamless flow from indoors to out, the level of the courtyard was raised to sit flush with the floor – a task that required the building of a retaining wall around the entire courtyard and backfilling of the whole space.
"It was a fairly massive undertaking," Nicholas says. "But in the end, it was integral to achieving the right result, which was to establish the courtyard as an extension of the living area and not as a separate entity."
"Outdoor areas are a scarce commodity in Chicago, so being able to utilize rooftop space above the garage was a definite bonus and allowed us to give focus to each of the outdoor spaces.
"The rooftop area, with its Jacuzzi and casual seating is well suited to entertaining, while the courtyard is ideal for al fresco dining."
The multilayered facade of this contemporary house, by Peter M Nicholas AIA of Nicholas Clark Architects, serves to break up the mass of the building, reducing its visual scale and overall impact on the streetscape.
Peter M Nicholas AIA, Nicholas Clark Architects (Chicago, IL)
Brakur Custom Cabinetry
Scott Mathieson, Pacific Construction Group
Cooktop and ventilation
Isokern modular masonry fireplace
Mirage 3¼in solid birch with Java stain; Neostile porcelain tile in Ekru
Story by Justin Foote
Photography by Eric Hausman