Big Ben

List Price: $2.499 million
The Project: By far the largest home in the St. Ben’s neighborhood, this newly completed mansion fills the shell of a former six-flat apartment building. The builder Bill Varney took advantage of the wide, shallow structure to create a home whose expansive southern façade lets virtually every room bask in sunlight…


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List Price: $2.499 million
The Project: By far the largest home in the St. Ben’s neighborhood, this newly completed mansion fills the shell of a former six-flat apartment building. The builder Bill Varney took advantage of the wide, shallow structure to create a home whose expansive southern façade lets virtually every room bask in sunlight.

Varney, an adaptive reuse specialist who heads up Construction Concepts in the nearby North Center neighborhood, bought the building in 2007 with an eye toward uniting its smallish apartments as one spacious single-family home. Stripping off the brown brick, he wrapped the structure in a Gold Coast–style cut stone exterior, while inside he installed extensive millwork and other rich trim details, such as the corbels and pilasters of the kitchen cabinetry and the walnut wainscoting and ceiling beams of a study on the master-suite floor. The most distinctive interior feature is the frilly wrought-iron scrollwork on the landings of a four-story curving staircase that hangs beneath a skylight.

Although the finishes are quite formal, Varney created a fluid, open floor plan rather than chop up the spaces with walls. The living and dining rooms occupy one end of the main floor and the kitchen the other, but Varney is pleased to point out that “you can see from one end of the house to the other.” The second floor holds three bedrooms, each with its own bath, and a family room. The entire third floor, which once contained two apartments, is now a two-bathroom master suite, with ample closets. An elevator serves all the floors, as well as the rooftop.

Up on the rooftop, the advantage of being taller than all the surrounding two-flats and single-family homes becomes clear. The long-range views take in downtown buildings, while the close-range view frames the steeple of St. Benedict’s Church. The immense roof deck includes a pergola-topped outdoor kitchen.

Price Points: Varney initially priced the home at $2.995 million, but in early March he brought it down to the present asking price. Certain details, including some kitchen appliances and the color finish of the iron on the stairs, will be left for buyers to make their own selections, but they are included in the asking price. The average price in St. Ben’s—for homes that are, in most cases, less than one-third the 8,000 square feet of this one—was $758,000 in 2009, the last year for which DreamTown’s site has complete data. But Varney notes that there are several houses of this stature for sale in nearby Lake View and North Center. “I think it’s the best value of any of them,” he says, “because of the craftsmanship, the details, the amenities, and the schools.” The house is in the sought-after Bell School district of the Chicago Public Schools, and of course St. Benedict’s Catholic schools are close at hand.

Listing Agent: Charles Schnuda of Coldwell Banker; 312-475-3241 or Charles.Schnuda@cbexchange.com

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