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Architect William Scholtens gives you a behind-the-scenes tour. See more photos in our gallery below.
“Indistinguishable and dark.” That’s the assessment a Chicago couple made of the 40 or so Lincoln Park homes they saw when they were looking to buy four years ago. “They all looked the same and lacked natural light,” says the wife.
Only one (ironically, the first they saw) stood out—an 1880s rowhouse on a double lot with a southern exposure that drenched its rooms with light. An alley that distanced it from the building next door, bringing in more light, made it even more appealing.
But that was about all that appealed. The rowhouse, which at some point had been divided into six flats, had lost most of its vintage detailing; its plumbing, heating, and electrical systems were archaic; and everything had to be brought up to code, says the architect the couple hired, William Scholtens of Elements Architectural Group. Plus, the seven-foot-high, dirt-lined basement wasn’t deep enough to house the mechanical systems or any living areas.
Salvation came via a gut rehab that would make the place a clean-lined, kid-proof single-family home for the couple and their two young children—and “as green as possible, minus the granola,” says the wife. “We wanted it to be sustainable but feel sumptuous.”
For starters, it needed a finished basement to replace the dirt number and more room in the rear for a spacious new kitchen and living areas, as well as a garage. Making those additions (and connecting a former coach house to the main structure with a breezeway) brought the building from 5,400 to 6,800 square feet.
Scholtens devised a program to renovate everything else with elegant yet eco-friendly materials. State-of-the-art technologies and shrewd architectural features minimize energy consumption while optimizing air temperatures and light.
To those ends, there are hydrothermal solar panels on the roof and a geothermal heating and cooling system; a hybrid storage tank uses the energy harvested from those two sources and directs it where needed. Scholtens’s inventive window design for a bay on the building’s southern wall allows for plenty of sunlight in winter (and deflects it in summer); on the third floor, he added a clerestory-rimmed open-air atrium that harvests light and breezes.
Features that aren’t obvious yet are integral to the home’s green quotient include Energy Star appliances, low- and no-VOC finishes and paints, formaldehyde-free millwork, reconstituted-walnut veneers, locally sourced walnut and limestone flooring, lighting fixtures with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs, lead-free flashing to conserve the brickwork, and an automated system that senses occupancy and adjusts heating, cooling, and lighting accordingly.
Now the couple and Scholtens are waiting for the ultimate assessment of their greening efforts—namely, a prestigious platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes program. “We aimed for the top in every way,” Scholtens says.
Photograph: Nathan Kirkman
Styling: Diane Ewing