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Modern Redux

A bold makeover of a 1990s house makes geometry gorgeous

Photography by Nathan Kirkman

Styling by Susan Victoria

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Even new buildings occasionally need an update. When this three-story Bucktown house was designed and built in 1992, it was among the first of its type in a changing neighborhood. Early photographs show unobstructed views of the house’s two outside side walls, but brick houses have since been built on either side of the house, close to the lot lines.

Joshua Slusarz and his partner bought the Brininstool & Lynch–designed house in June 2003, after admiring its spaciousness (about 900 square feet on each floor), geometric lines, and concrete block construction, which allowed the house to be eight feet wider than local codes permit for wood frame construction. The blocks were left artfully exposed on several walls inside.

The new owners were less enthusiastic about other aspects of their new house, namely the birch woodwork and other interior finishes, the flow of some of the rooms, and the relative lack of natural light. They hired architect and interior designer Patrizio Fradiani to make the space more to their liking.

“It was a house that had good bones in terms of modernist language, but it missed some occasions to be really outstanding,” Fradiani says.

As the new kid on the block in an emerging neighborhood, it included some low-end materials and fixtures. “It was a sea of birch wood everywhere inside-birch walls, birch kitchen, birch built-ins, birch bathroom, you name it,” the architect says. “And the façade had small wood windows. We didn’t change the actual architecture of the house. Really, it was a project about light-introducing light and contrast into the whole residence.”

Fradiani added windows to the front and back walls and replaced others with larger, more graphic steel-framed windows that echo the shape of the concrete blocks. In the second-floor living room, natural light comes from a skylight, one story above, via a generous light well. Fradiani highlighted one end of that well with large white fabric lamps, whose curvy shapes contrast with the blocks behind. “We created a connection between the two floors by hanging two lamps so that you can see the wires and they lead the eyes up,” Fradiani says.

The recess with shelves next to the skylight area used to be a pass-through to the kitchen. Closing off the living room made it more formal, which Slusarz likes for entertaining. “We created a cove so the language of that mirrored what was in the house,” Fradiani says.

The fireplace surround and nearby built-in storage consoles were birch; Fradiani kept them and painted them white, highlighting the Mondrian-like design.

The new floors throughout the house are ebonized maple. Fradiani found that the redesigned space became more graphic through contrast. “The floors are dark gray; the fireplace and shelves are white. The furniture is very light-colored. We created a neutral envelope within which to accent color.” Fradiani and Slusarz used classic modern pieces of furniture in the house, such as the white Barcelona chairs in the living room.

The living room is closed to the kitchen, but the dining area is now completely open, with a stainless steel island helping to define the kitchen area. The refrigerator and freezer were given cabinet fronts to match a smooth white wall of cupboards, a look that occasionally confuses guests.

A long stretch of glass-fronted cabinets visually connects the kitchen and dining room spaces. Slusarz loves that he and his partner have room to store all their serving ware near where they use it. The marble-topped oval dining table is a classic design by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. Guests like sitting on stools at the island and in comfy chairs at the table as they watch their hosts cook. “Everyone gravitates to this area,” Slusarz says. He and his partner tend to eat at the island when they’re home alone.

The new, larger windows facing the trees give the third-floor bedrooms an arboreal feel. The translucent closet doors, which glow when the lights shine from behind, accent the lightness in the master bedroom. This bedroom and bath area were gutted to open up the space and to upgrade the bathroom; it now has a doorless shower hidden behind a simple panel of glass, marble floors, and a sleek, double-sink vanity. Only the towel racks survived. “We love those!” Slusarz says. A translucent window lets light into the shower from the skylight space on the other side of the wall.

The guest bedroom’s major feature, apart from the treehouse effect one gets from looking out the window, is an adjustable double-gooseneck lamp that Slusarz spotted in a photo layout of a Prada store in Tokyo.

Fradiani attended to exterior details, as well. He replaced a second-floor cedar deck with a metal grate, allowing the light to filter through to the floor below, where Slusarz, a management consultant, has an office. Fradiani also designed a slate patio surrounded by crushed white stones, complete with a water feature-a single jet of water rises about three feet high from the stones, from no visible source.

He designed the landscaping, too, adding a raised bed of ornamental grasses and a row of shrubs to frame the yard. The geometric shapes of the patio slate mirror the windows, the steps of the exterior staircase, and the cinderblock walls. In the backyard, as throughout the house, the rectangles dance.

Buyer’s Guide

Client: Joshua Slusarz
Location:
Bucktown
Space: 2,700 square feet

Architect and designer

  • Patrizio Fradiani, Studio F; (773) 880-0450

General contracting

  • Attom Construction; (312) 656-1960

Kitchen

  • Cabinets : Varenna by Poliform, 110 Merchandise Mart, (312) 222-8465
  • Wooden bowl : At Luminaire, 301 W. Superior St., (312) 664-9582
  • Stainless steel fruit platter : By Janiga Jakub, at Orange Skin, 1429 N. Milwaukee Ave., (773) 394-4500

Dining Room

  • Table: Calcutta gold marble top designed by Eero Saarinen for Knoll, 1111 Merchandise Mart, (312) 454-7318
  • Chairs: “Luta,” by B&B Italia, at www.europebynet.com
  • Light fixture: P0126, by Cappellini, at Luminaire
  • Tabletop accessories : Yellow Hokkiado bowl with aluminum band, at No Place Like, 300 W. Grand Ave., (312) 822-0550. Metal “Blowup” bowl on table and Kartell “Infinity” Modular plastic wine rack, at Orange Skin
  • Clamshell lamp : At www.europebynet.com

Living Room

  • Chairs : “Barcelona,” at Knoll
  • Skylight lamps : “Falkland,” by Danese, at Luminaire
  • Ottoman : “Rasta,” in woven wool, at Luminaire
  • Tabletop Accessories : Alessi blue glass bowl, at Orange Skin. Jade bowl, at Lille, 1923 W. North Ave., (773) 342-0563. Taupe and orange glass bottles, at Abode, 1904 W. North Ave., (773) 227-6400. “Mushroom” lamp and other glassware, at No Place Like

Master Bedroom

  • Sliding doors (and doors throughout house): Bosca Arredi, www.boscaarredi.com; Lee Ann Perry, (773) 342-8776
  • Chair : “Tulip,” by B&B Italia, at www.europebynet.com/
  • Rug : Natural-hair shag rug, at I.D. , 3341 N. Clark St., (773) 755-4343
  • Pillow : “Marine” linen pillow, by Area, at No Place Like
  • Plastic vases : “Nembus,” at Luminaire
Bathroom
  • Sinks : “Vero,” by Duravit, at K&B Galleries, 1880 Merchandise Mart, (312) 645-1833
  • Towels : At CB2, 3757 N. Lincoln Ave., (773) 755-3900
  • Vase : At Abode
Guest Bedroom
  • Light fixture : “The Pipe,” at Artemide, 223 W. Erie St., (312) 475-0100
  • Table : Leather bedside table, at Luminaire
  • Ottomans : “Cubo” cubes covered in tobacco felt, at Luminaire
  • Pillow : Yellow “Knot” ribbed knit pillow, at CB2
  • Vase : “Urbana,” at Orange Skin

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