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A Modernist Treasure in North Center Is on the Market

The home is a wonderful departure from a Chicago housing design trend of promoting insularity and security over interaction with the community.

The house differs from the rest of the block by giving its living spaces an uncompromising public aspect, and the architect who designed it believes it has the largest window panes of any home in Chicago.   Photo: Christopher Barrett

The most expensive listing in North Center is priced at $2.35 million for good reason—it’s a modernist architectural treasure of startling grace and complexity.

The handiwork of noted Chicago architect Brad Lynch of Brininstool + Lynch, the four-bedroom home was designed for the architect’s own family in 2007. Now with grown kids, Lynch and his wife are headed downtown, creating this opportunity to fill a one-of-a-kind vacancy.

“We moved here 25 years ago and let the kids run down the old house for a while,” says Lynch. “In 2006 we planned to renovate but the design got so expensive that we decided to build new. My wife really wanted to stay in the neighborhood and I wanted to be downtown, so taking on this project was a compromise of sorts.”

The home’s extreme transparency turns heads and slows traffic on the 3900 block of North Claremont, but Lynch sees his work as contextual in scale and material with heavy reliance on red brick already prominent on the block. When you close the front blinds the structure practically vanishes into its surroundings.

“Historically Chicago related to the street through front porches,” says Lynch. “Even the millionaires of Prairie Avenue who owned the stockyards would mill around their porches. I’ve been around long enough to watch early waves of gentrification where people put their open spaces in back and security up front with wrought iron gates. Our huge windows counter that trend by making the house very public with an option for privacy, and the neighborhood has aligned itself much more with this openness in recent years.”

The front and rear windows, which at 10.5' x 15' (and one ton each) Lynch believes to be the largest panes ever installed in a Chicago house, make a tube of the main level. Living, dining and cooking areas are on display, with the garage and a sunken concrete patio as backdrop. The patio is a sculptural void in winter but a vibrant secluded green space the rest of the year. It also lines up evenly with the finished basement, where another huge window acts to distort the sense of space in a rear lounge area while also adding seasonal landscapes to the indoor experience.

The custom millwork is a long central slab that unifies spaces aesthetically and accentuates the verticality of the house. Everything you don’t want in full view is contained in this sublime construction—within cabinets, shelves, closets, utility rooms, and powder rooms.  “We have more junk than we ever had in the old house, when I still though we had too much,” says Lynch. “But everything has a place now.” I’ve seen efficient, seamless built-ins like this before but nothing to this scale; it serves the storage and mechanical needs of every floor.

Three of the four bedrooms are on the upper level and all the windows face north. The windows are set high so you see above the roofs rather than directly into the neighbors’ windows.

Careful consideration was given to every element of design and layout: instead of a powder room awkwardly located at the center of dinner parties, it’s shuttled to a landing in the open stairwell; heating and cooling is zoned very efficiently, critical in a home with so little vertical divide; a grate by the side door actually has drainage for soggy footwear; and the ultra smooth ceilings are virtually free of visual disruptions—no vents, wires, speakers, etc.

Most of the carefully sited modern furniture is not part of the sale but can be negotiated into the closing. The scope of built-ins, however, including a long kitchen island/table with stool seating, meets all but your cushioned needs.

Price Points: Lynch had the home on the market in 2010-2011 for reasons other than downsizing; at $2.6 million there wasn’t much of a market for it then, at least in North Center. Now offered for $2.35 million in a neighborhood with a dozen new-builds listed above $1.5 million and median sales prices up 43 percent since 2009, the expectation is quite different.

Karen Ranquist of Berkshire Hathaway KoenigRubloff has the listing.

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