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Loft and Found

An enterprising couple take repurposing to a new level, turning a dilapidated old factory into a bright-spirited, family-friendly city home

styling by arden nelson

When Eric and Shawna Schoonveld were considering transforming a rundown former factory on Chicago’s West Side into their dream home in early 2003, they decided to get a professional opinion. Architect James Gray of Cornice & Rose in Barrington took in the boarded-up windows and rotting wood as he stepped gingerly around holes in the floor. Then he delivered his verdict. “Eric, don’t walk away from this one,” Gray remembers advising his client. “Run.”

The Schoonvelds, who had been living near Taylor and Leavitt streets and wanted to stay in the city, bought the place anyway.

“Suburban sprawl drives us insane,” says Eric, a lawyer who works in the Loop. But they’re not drawn to gentrified areas. “As soon as a Starbucks opens in a neighborhood,” he adds, “that’s when I want to move.”

From the outside, not much has changed in the three years since the Schoonvelds bought the building, other than a coat of bright yellow paint on the door. (In fact, when an insurance adjuster first stopped by to assess the finished property, he reported back to the office that he couldn’t find a residence among the warehouses.) But inside, the Schoonvelds have transformed the two-story space into a spacious, bright, family-friendly home with lots of natural light and even a back yard. “I like modern, but not when it’s cold,” says Shawna, who took charge of the interior design. “There’s a limit to how funky we can be with a five-year-old,’ she adds, referring to their daughter.

The building, which dates to the early 1900s, had housed a bottling company and a bookbindery; after falling into neglect in the ’60s and ’70s, it was reinvented as a machine shop in the late 1990s. The Schoonvelds’, who had considered building a house in the city but wanted more space than most lots provided–seized the opportunity to buy the property at a bargain price, seeing vast potential in the 13,000-square-foot space.

They weren’t intimidated by the work they faced: Eric had held jobs in construction throughout high school, college, and law school, and the couple had both taken leading roles in the building of a new homeless shelter for Breakthrough Urban Ministries, where Eric sits on the board of directors. “We like to have projects,” he says. The design and construction on this one would take about 14 months.

The home is filled with examples of their creative thinking. With Gray as their architect and a network of skilled craftsmen to execute their ideas, the couple repurposed material from the building and designed many of their own decorative elements. Original wood ceiling beams were transformed into stairs in the front entry and benches that run underneath the living room windows; window frames of weathered wood hang on the ceiling of the master bath and a guest bathroom for a skylight effect.

Loft and Found - page 1

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