Forget the oft-said axiom that opposites attract. Research shows we have definite preferences for the familiar in everything from love to where we live, a phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect. And it is this exact theory that may explain how a Chicago lawyer happily ensconced in a Lincoln Park residence came to build an architecturally significant new home situated on Lake Shore Drive. “A developer was converting an old mansion into condos and selling off its grounds,” says the homeowner, who often walks his dogs in the area. Having grown up in a building a few blocks away, the owner was familiar with the neighborhood and felt the chance to construct a home on such a storied street, where land is scarce and high-rises now prevail, “was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Given the site’s prominence, the owner entrusted the home’s design to architects Dan Wheeler, Sharlene Young and Tom Bader. For direction, “Dan told me to take pictures of buildings that I liked,” the owner says, “and I ended up shooting a lot of vintage greystones.” Again, they were familiar, since the areas he had lived were rife with prime examples of this dignified style. So a greystone it was, but “one suited for a 21st-century lifestyle,” says Young.
Like its stately predecessors, the home sports a dramatic bay window and is tall, trim, exquisitely detailed and clad in dusky limestone. But that’s where the similarities end. Here, the bay is the full width of the living room’s east wall and brings the heavily treed outside into the area. “Limestone in two cuts and finishes, smooth and rusticated, clads the exterior to create a decorative fac¸ade as significant as its predecessors, but sleek and sculptural instead of ornate,” says architect Steve Kadlec, whose namesake firm assessed and refined the home’s interior layout, materials and finishes.
Inside, “the house is loaded with sustainable measures, which was the owner’s highest priority,” says Young. These include strategies to maxi- mize and minimize solar gain by time of day and season; a combination of geothermal, forced air and radiant heating; rooftop solar panels; a rainwater harvesting system for irrigation; and a novel “out-sulated” exterior wall assembly to minimize heat loss and temperature swings. This last feature, conceived by the architects, required creative execution, notes contractor Woody Aberson. “We had to control the outdoor environment because the foam was so temperature-sensitive,” he explains. “So we kept it dry by enclosing it with plastic sheeting during installation.”
The interior materials palette is devised to be warm and relaxed, but still modern and resilient. Hand-scraped bleached-walnut floors are rich yet forgiving enough for dogs’ paws, walnut built-ins artfully define living areas and provide storage, and ceramic tiles and bronze trim give the fireplace decorative heft. Designer Jill Schumacher furthered the game plan, softening the home’s sleek architectural lines with quality furnishings that are “earthy yet not muted and plain. And most everything is environmentally friendly and durable,” she points out. Textural trees and shrubs, such as Hornbeam oak and rhododendron, accomplished the same mission outside. “Everything was planned to frame and accentuate the architecture,” says landscape designer Leslie Cervantes.
Thanks to his knowing team, today the owner says, “I’ve come to really love this house, and realize how it makes sense to build something original rather than a copy of a 100-year-old design.” Original it is, but still familiar in the most important ways.