When a rare corner lot in the booming Lincoln Park neighborhood hit the market, the couple living in a town house across the street made an unexpected yet well-considered decision to purchase it. “We’d been living in the town house for 19 years and weren’t really looking to move,” says the husband. But after residing for so long in such a narrow space, the prospect of building a wider, brighter home with more room for the family of five proved to be irresistible. “We began thinking of all the affordances a new home would offer: more natural light, a bigger kitchen, separate rooms for the kids and more space for guests,” says the husband. “Each step in the process became so exciting.”
After interviewing several candidates, the couple commissioned architect Kathryn Quinn to design their new abode. “Kathryn was as equally comfortable with classical architecture as she was with modern expressions and the whole pantheon in-between,” the husband says. “It was important for us to have a design that was not only harmonious to the neighborhood but also a welcome addition.” Since the home is located in a Chicago Landmark District, it needed a style that would complement the significant historical and architectural features of the surrounding houses. The result is a limestone foundation and brick façade with zinc sheet metal cornices and other details, which hark back to a 19th-century Italianate design. “We introduced this idea in the spirit of ornamental metal that started to come into practice with cast-iron columns in the late 1800s within that Italianate style,” Quinn says.
Unlike some of the older, more historic homes, however, the new abode has large windows that flood the interior with sunlight. Multiple openings throughout the wide aligned corridors that house the public rooms allow the light to flow through unobstructed. “It was important to have circulation along the exterior wall, so we could have light-filled hallways and staircases,” says Quinn, noting that the ample landings lend themselves as another kind of interior room that’s inhabited, not just passed through. “Moving along the stairway is a celebration of the outdoors.” Indeed, the large lot afforded Quinn the luxury to incorporate a courtyard with a water feature and winding paths that contrast with the home’s rectilinear lines. “We were trying to create a softer, more family-oriented feeling,” says Wisconsin-based landscape designer Peter Kudlata of the home’s backyard. Additionally, the front of the house is planted with boxwood hedges and specimen trees for seasonal color. “The design in front is a little more formal in response to the home’s clean look,” Kudlata says.
For the interior, Quinn combined such elements as refined wood paneling and steel stairway balustrades with exposed brick and reclaimed-wood ceiling beams found in the family room that evoke a more casual ambience. “There’s an interesting dynamic that happens when you use an outdoor material inside,” Quinn says. “It feels like an outdoor room that’s been enclosed.” Those interior materials have matte finishes, allowing their natural textures and patina to come forth. In addition, custom-designed built-ins are used for storing or seating, creating an ensemble that unites the interior and exterior architectural style and its detailing. In response to the owners’ vision, designer Barbara Theile and firm chairman Susan Fredman, along with Indiana-based design consultant Rebecca Whitmore, worked to achieve a relaxed and welcoming space. For example, the team furnished the family room with a custom sectional and a thick shag rug. That casual theme continues in the library, with a conversation area in front of the fireplace and a rustic dining table. “It’s a huge house, but every space is cozy, warm and comfortable,” Theile says. “Everything is natural and flows into each other.” Says Whitmore: “We really wanted to make the house feel livable while providing elements that kept the integrity of the architectural design.”
The team also selected various colors and finishes throughout. In the kitchen, for instance, traditional perimeter cabinetry is painted in off-white, with the large islands colored in a complementary shade of blue. A beadboard backsplash enhances the old-time aesthetic. “They wanted the kitchen to feel as if it had been there forever,” Theile says. To that end, the home includes many handcrafted details that impart an old-world feel. “The millworker carved the family room’s reclaimed beams and ceiling boards, giving them a hand-hewn look,” says general contractor John Rosenwinkel. “Those elements were unique for our company.” The wife is especially appreciative of the casual and relaxed aspects of the home. “I’ve found myself tearing up just looking at the architecture inside,” she says. “The library is the perfect space to comfortably entertain.”
Because the main floor is half a story up from the ground, built-in wood louvered shutters in the paneled window opening jambs are stacked in sets of two, with only one needing to be closed for complete privacy. Therefore, gatherings and activities inside have more seclusion from the street while providing daylight in the upper half of the windows. “The highest form of luxury for me is privacy, and the second is to have nature surround you,” Quinn says. “We got both, and we were very fortunate to be able to do that in an urban setting.”
Though the owners were unprepared for the number of decisions to be made during the project, they are ecstatic with the fruits of their labor. “We were able to take our time with all the details,” says the husband. “There were a lot of hardships, struggles and challenges, but those often make for richer experiences, and we’re fully enjoying the rewards.”