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An Architect Showcases His Home’s Inner Workings

Mike Shively emphasizes the structure of his Wicker Park home as part of its beauty.

Shively doesn’t cook much, so his kitchen is simple, showcasing materials rather than appliances. From the steel beams to the exposed wood ceiling, “everything comes together architecturally in this area,” he says.   Photos: Mike Schwartz; Styling: Johanna Lowe

Anyone who has opened up a wall or a ceiling during a renovation knows that the guts of a house aren’t usually very pretty. But architect Mike Shively wondered what would happen if the building blocks could become part of its beauty. A Wicker Park three-flat that Shively purchased in 2013 became his testing ground. “We hide a lot of things with trim and drywall,” Shively says. “The detail in my design is the honesty of what the structure is trying to do.”

Shively, who worked at residential architecture firm Morgante Wilson and this fall launched Mike Shively Architecture, kept the brick exterior of the 1890s structure essentially unchanged, save for restoring key details such as cornices and windows. He made minimal changes to the first and second floors (he plans to rent them out) but had a more extensive remodel in mind for his home on the third floor.

Take the ceiling, for example. Shively had his heart set on wood. Instead of beams applied to drywall, though, his ceiling is formed by the polyurethane-coated Douglas fir joists that hold up the floor above. “You normally can’t do that because there’s a lot of ductwork hidden in the ceiling,” he says. “It took a great amount of planning, but I got all that [ductwork] out of there.” Radiant heating in the floor keeps him toasty in winter. And cooling vents and electrical wires were left exposed to complement the eclectic vibe of the space, which carefully blends old and new elements. This approach demanded meticulous attention to detail from contractors, as their handiwork would be in full view.

In the comfortable living area, a Gus Modern sectional mixes with a Le Corbusier chair. Shively purchased the Adrian Pearsall coffee table secondhand for $200 while in college. “I’ve hauled it to every house I’ve lived in,” he says.

Back to that ceiling. When Shively bought the building, all three floors were about 800 square feet, which he determined was fine for the rental units but a bit too small for his home. To squeeze out every usable square foot of space, he replaced his unit’s original ceiling with the new Douglas fir version but situated it 18 inches lower. This careful move allowed him to transform attic space into a second-floor loft, with master and guest bedrooms and baths connected by a bridge. His home now measures 1,400 square feet, with a ceiling height of eight and a half feet on the first floor.

Shively also maximized every bit of main-level space, leaving most rooms open for ease of entertaining. Guests enter his home in the middle, with clear views of the kitchen and living room. On sunny days, light pours in from skylights overhead. A neatnik by nature, Shively designed shelves, cubbies, and drawers to house frequently used items, from his cherished record collection to his clothing. One of his favorite features is the home’s walnut cabinetry, which he hired Indiana-based Lambright Woodworking to construct. Natural wood finishes, exposed steel beams, and other raw materials shine throughout the house. But Shively added enough embellishment to keep things interesting, including vibrant green paint in the mudroom and graphic tile floors in the master bath, which he designed himself.

After devoting many years to bringing his new space to life, Shively has found that the reality is even better than what he planned. When friends ask the architect to name his favorite Chicago building, his answer is as natural and honest as his designs: “My new home.”

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