Chicago’s Happiest House Smiles Down on North Center

Architect and builder Eric Parfenoff believes a façade can be pretty funny.


 

List Price: $1.149 million
The Property: Here it is, the happiest house in Chicago. On the façade of this home under construction in North Center, are four characters made of brick, limestone and the shapes of the windows, smiling down at us.

The character who’s responsible for them is Eric Parfenoff, an architect and builder. In today’s video, I asked him what’s up with the smiling faces. “I think good design should be like a good person,” he says. “I think it should be friendly, honest, not take itself too seriously, and have a sense of humor. That’s what I pursue in all my design.”

A home under construction in North Center
Photos: Dennis Rodkin

It is, in fact, a very friendly facade. The interior, still under construction, will contain a floor plan and finishes that is somewhat standardized in Parfenoff’s homes. “Doing this for 29 years, I’ve sort of established a floorplan that works on a 25-foot-wide Chicago lot,” he says. There are only so many configurations that flow well and allow the best use of space.” When complete, the home will have three bedrooms on the second floor and two more in the basement, with a fairly open main-floor layout that includes living dining, kitchen and family room areas. Crown moldings, skylights, high-quality kitchen finishes and other details will make the interior a pleasant family space.

Because there was little ready to show inside, we looked at a few of Parfenoff’s other whimsical facades. One that he sold in 2009 uses the same components—brick, limestone and the window shapes—to create an image he describes as “knights holding hands [as if they’re] standing on a castle parapet, protecting the house.” Why knights? “At the time, my son was two or three years old, and that was my inspiration.”

Once you know they’re knights, you get it, but I asked what a buyer thinks when walking up to a house with knights or smiley faces across the front. “Buyers typically don’t see it until I point it out,” Parfenoff said. “That makes me very happy, because I don’t want the house to be a one-liner.”

Roof detail on the North Center house

Next we went to the first of his houses I had seen, one that sold last fall. On this one, the facade features a row of fish hanging down the facade. It’s a fun addition to the neighborhood, and stands out from the other homes on the block. “If you look at a Chicago streetscape, basically it’s mostly façades”, with no suburban-style side yards, he says. “So I put most of my emphasis on the façade. That’s where I have my fun.”

All three of these houses are within short distances of one another. “I live in the neighborhood, and I really believe in building where you live,” Parfenoff told me. “Have faith in where you live and continue to improve it.” He and his family live a few doors down from the happy house, surrounded by art made by several generations. In the video, we show a fireplace mantel that combines the tile work of his mother and his father, and has carved wooden pieces on the hearth made by his grandfather. In the same room is a gallery of pictures of several homes he’s created, where you can see how they progress. In the early 2000s, the images on the facades are not that pronounced, but then they get sharper. One house evokes a heavy person and a thin person standing next to one another, and another has a stylized flower pot seeming to sprout on the front of the house. Then there are a couple of years where he got more conservative during the Recession, followed by the recent series of three we saw above.

Having seen a bunch of his houses, either in person or in pictures, I asked Parfenoff what will be on the next façade. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I’m working on it right now, but I hope that my legacy will be a series of these characters populating the city by the time I’m through.”

Price Points: Kristi Gunther, the listing agent for all of Parfenoff’s recent houses, notes that aide from a fun facade and a good, livable floorplan, the house boasts all-brick construction and a prime location in the Bell School district. Bell is one of CPS’s top-ranked general-population elementaries.

Listing Agent: Kristi Gunther of REMax, 773-477-7727 or kgunther@yahoo.com

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