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At Home - Open House

A loft turned out to be the perfect solution when two collectors of contemporary art began to long for larger paintings and photographs. PLUS: Resources

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A built-in audience:in the sitting area on the first floor,paintings by Ruprechtvon Kaufmann (left) and Eric White over-look furnishings by B&B Italia and Eames from Luminaire.

They had it all. Well, almost all. In 1999, two years after Mike McVickar and Brian Westphal met through a personals ad in the Chicago Reader, they bought an 1886 brick cottage in Roscoe Village and renovated the interior. “It was completely new, from the water and the electric to the walls,” Westphal says. “It was a great house. We loved it.”

McVickar, 42, is a lawyer with General Growth Properties, a company that owns, operates, and develops shopping centers, and Westphal, 40, is a vice president in the technology department of the Northern Trust Company. They collect contemporary representational art, mostly from Chicago galleries-the figures and scenes here are recognizable, although they rarely seem to have literal meanings. The paintings, photographs, and drawings that McVickar and Westphal own are often provocative, sometimes amusing, and always finely rendered.

But within five years, their house began to seem a little crowded, and several paintings that they were interested in buying were simply too large for the rooms. Then one day McVickar spotted an ad in the real-estate section of the Reader for a 4,000-square-foot loft in Ravenswood with new windows, floors, and mechanicals, as well as radiant heating. A sheet-metal barn anchored the opposite end of the property. In between, there was space for a large garden.

 
The linear kitchen design is by Bulthaup.

Stuart Grannen, the owner of Architectural Artifacts, a salvage and antiques business, had bought the early 20th-century brick industrial building from the estate of the developer of STP oil treatment products and had completed an extensive but spare makeover before deciding to sell the place and retire. A real-estate investor and his wife bought the property but moved to Florida and later sold it. Changing his mind about retirement, Grannen expanded his business and still lives in the city half the year.

“I just wanted a box at the time, and that’s what I built,” Grannen explains, adding that he left the new owners with a shell and open interiors that they could reinvent to suit their needs. “It was really two rooms-upstairs and downstairs,” McVickar recalls. “But Brian is visionary and creative about design. When we walked in, he just knew it had a lot of potential.” Grannen had used the first floor as a gallery space; a small kitchen and a bathroom sans door with walls that did not reach the ceiling were on the second floor-the ultimate bohemian abode.

Now the eyes have it here. Visitors are met by the gaze of the many subjects displayed on the walls and windowsills. A number of the works are portraits of one individual or two: Gregory Jacobsen’s naughty, grotesque little girls; Beth Foley’s electric Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz; Christian Vincent’s weary, earthbound and yet dignified Cuban prostitutes. Other works feature groups of figures, among them Eric White’s mesmerizing meeting of women entitled Orgonomic Functionalism Conference; basing the painting on an old photograph, he transformed a sorority alumnae event into a gathering of devotees of the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.

McVickar is avid about researching art and artists; with his innate design sense, Westphal took the lead in transforming the loft. The couple closed on the property in March 2005 and lived there for a few months before moving out for the renovation to begin. Being there was an advantage, Westphal says, in deciding how they would proceed. They worked with the architect Brian Maite, now also the general manager of M. J. Electrical Supply, a lighting business owned by his father-in-law; Maite’s wife attended law school with McVickar.

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