If you could muster the capital, 2009 was a good time to build in Bucktown. Land prices had sunk below 2006-07 levels, and the cost of acquiring teardowns was reasonable (average price per square foot in the neighborhood, now pushing $500, then hovered in the low $300s). One younger couple, looking to move up from a South Loop condo, seized on an opportunity to build new on the 1800 block of North Marshfield, backing up to the Kennedy but also a half-block from eastern end of The 606 and an expanded Walsh Park.
Sid and Elena Jatia bought a vacant worker’s cottage on a standard lot for $205,000 (here’s what it looked like), tore it down, and employed Studio Dwell Architects to help design and build a carefully considered modern four-bed with 3,900 square feet of living space. Sid, an executive with Under Armour and an architect by training, worked collaboratively with Studio Dwell to get just what he and Elena desired and served as the general contractor on the project. “Architects spend their lives designing homes for other people and reading design magazines,” says Sid, who has a degree from Parsons School of Design and worked for his father’s architecture firm in India. “It’s great to put those skills to use on your own home.”
The glassy dwelling looks like a simple box with limited privacy and an exaggerated façade, but it is in fact oriented around an interior courtyard. Almost every room taps the glass-walled courtyard for light and seasonal greenery, and this void at the core of the house extends sight lines from front to back yard. “Six months of the year you’re cooped up in the house,” says Elena, a freelance photographer and food blogger. “It was important to us to have this function as a light well.”
The couple applied for a zoning variance to build three stories, and with a little ingenuity they were able to fill more of the lot with house. A whole-home sprinkler system removed the need for an external staircase (the typical Chicago wood or steel decking), thus accommodating a yard, garage, and deep floor plates. Critical to the home’s livability are insulated soundproof windows, about $100,000 of them. The tall garage also provides a shield from the visual pollution of an elevated expressway, mostly hidden until you reach the top floor.
The home’s interior is captivating. High-grade cedar, free of knots, was laid across the living room ceiling giving a nice matte contrast to reflective glass and steel; aged European oak planks make up the main level’s flooring; an ergonomic kitchen has a lovely island and wall-mounted appliances, with the fridge cloaked in cabinetry German-style; the floating steel and wood staircase leads to a second level with two bedrooms and an office sporting two glass balconies (a bedroom candidate as well); and the third level carries the master suite with soaking tub and a snowed-in roof deck. A contender for the most satisfying space is definitely the lower level media room/family room with a projection system, wet bar, and adjacent sauna. The ceramic flooring is teed up for a radiant heating system—a buyer just needs to install the boiler.
Price Points: Listing agent Al Medina and his colleagues at Redfin posted eight listings in the past two weeks around town, four of which have had multiple offers. It may be that large numbers of buyers are entering the spring market, with a continued imbalance of supply and demand. Fifteen groups of people came through the first open house this past Sunday, with a few following up. In the last six months, the average market time for 4-bed/3-bath houses selling for over $1 million in an area bounded by the Kennedy, Webster Avenue, North Avenue, and Damen Avenue has been about 60 days with a big individual range. “If you’ve got it priced right and there’s nothing wrong with property, you should sell [in Bucktown] in 25 or 30 days,” says Medina.