Wenge cabinets, Egyptian limestone countertops, and copper Artichoke lamps combine elegance and modern informality in the kitchen. The front of the house is more traditional in style than the rear, where large commercial windows offer a view of the backyard. See more photos in the gallery below.
Opposites attract, which can create some intriguing compromises on the home front. “My husband wanted to live in a stainless-steel-and-concrete number, and I wanted an old landmark building with creaky floors,” says a banker-turned-stay-at-home-mom who grew up in Evanston, in a house from the 1860s. “So I said, ‘What if we find an old place and restore the outside, then gut the inside?’ Then we’d both get some of what we wanted.”
The idea appealed to her husband, who works in West Town, so a search ensued for an old house close to his office. After many near misses, their real-estate agent e-mailed them a listing for a once-elegant, now-dilapidated Italianate on a double lot. “I knew immediately it was the one,” the wife says. They put an offer on it within two weeks.
The house, in the center of the Wicker Park Historic Landmark District, had been converted at some point into a two-flat and was, frankly, a wreck; a rundown garage didn’t help matters. The location meant the street-side façade of the house had to remain the same—a problem for architects Julie Fisher and Rachel Crowl of fcStudio, who have done several projects like this in the district. “We add the modern interventions at the rear and inside,” Crowl says.
The couple’s needs and aesthetic disparities added another layer of challenges. The wife agreed to turn the back porch into a sleek addition, have the garage rebuilt, and give the yard a makeover. But inside, she wanted gracious architectural detailing and “real rooms.” The husband was hoping for loftlike openness, though with a home office that provided both privacy and access to the family action.
The architects used three gestures inside to achieve these goals. First, custom-milled architectural trim on all walls, doors, windows, and the new main staircase pay homage to both styles. These elements “have the grand scale of their traditional counterparts but are cleaner and more modern, so they feel lighter,” Crowl says.
Next, the open layout for the first floor is supremely flexible. Except for the kitchen—an Italian affair that is both stately for her and sleek for him—all the spaces are transmutable, their functions determined by furnishings, which can change, rather than by architecture. “We use the front space for a formal living room and family area, but it could also be a formal dining room,” points out the wife.
Finally, the architects outlined the home office with frosted glass sliding doors so it could be closed off when necessary for privacy and quiet. It could also serve as a guest room or craft area in the future. Or not. “It took us three years to get to this point, and it’s finally perfect for us and our daughter,” says the wife. “We don’t want to change a thing.”
Behind the Scenes
The façade of the house, in the Wicker Park Historic Landmark District. See before and after photos in the gallery below.
“Old”(in front) and “new” (in back) are relative terms; both parts of the house required extensive design work. In front, the masonry, windows, and entryway were restored to their original look. In back, materials and design elements used in the two-story addition and in the original house were carried through to the garage to unite the two structures. Brazilian ipe, a dense hardwood often used for decks, was incorporated in both places at the suggestion of the wife, who likes its rich grain and durability. Chicago common brick, visible on the side-walls of the house, was also used for the garage. Minimalist steel railings designed to complement the new back of the house are echoed in steel awnings over the back door and the garage entrance.
See more photos in the gallery below.
1. One wall of the nursery features a cheerful monkey-themed wallcovering; the rest of the room was painted Farrow & Ball Dayroom Yellow to match. The multihued rug is from The Red Balloon. 2. To give the fireplace star status, the architects designed a majestic yet streamlined honed-granite surround topped with an oak mantel. Over it hangs a graphic vintage poster. 3. The child’s (and guest) bathroom is both waterproof and pretty, with walls clad in a striking sea-blue glass tile. 4. A large mudroom has custom cabinetry for storage, a terrazzo tile floor that’s impervious to water, and a dog shower—though the family has yet to get a dog.
Photography: Katrina Wittkamp
Styling: Cynthia McCullough
ABOUT OUR SOURCES: We attempt to provide as much information as possible about the products and professionals involved in designing the homes we show in our pages. Items not sourced here are probably not available for sale; they might be antiques or part of an owner’s personal collection. When an item or product line is widely available, we may not list a specific store for it. If you have a question about our sources, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.Architecture and design: Julie Fisher and Rachel Crowl, fcStudio, 1111 W. Chicago Ave., 312-850-0850, fcstudioinc.com. Oak plank floor: Carlisle Wide Plank Floors, 445 N. Wells St., 312-464-0633, wideplankflooring.com. Custom window treatments: Workroom, 1906 W. Belmont Ave., 773-472-2140, workroominc.com. Garden design, installation: Chicago Specialty Gardens, 688 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-243-7140, chicagogardens.com. Black cone planters at front door, Sprout Home, 745 N. Damen. Ave., 312-226-5950, sprouthome.com. Outdoor furniture: Gloster Nexus dining table and Vigo armchairs, Chicago Specialty Gardens. Deckhopper lawn chairs, Chicago Specialty Gardens. Kitchen: Minotti-cucine cabinets and countertops, McDuffee Design Group, 230 W. Huron St., 312-705-7053, mcduffee.com. PH Artichoke lamps, Source of Light, 229 N. Damen Ave., 312-421-5841, sourceoflight.net. Fixtures, Dornbracht, Waterware, 1829 S. State St., 312-225-4549, water-ware.com. Vintage egg baskets, vintage oval platter, Jayson Home & Garden, 1885 N. Clybourn Ave., 773-248-8180, jaysonhomeandgarden.com. Dining area: Custom table, Hudson Furniture, New York, 212-645-7800, hudsonfurnitureinc.com. Vintage dining chairs, Golden Triangle, 330 N. Clark St., 312-755-1266, goldentriangle.biz. Area carpet, Beauvais Carpets, New York, 212-688-2265, beauvaiscarpets.com. Home office: Sliding doors, Poliform, 445 N. Franklin St., 312-321-9600, poliform.com. Living areas: Double-sided storage cabinet, Golden Triangle. Mamluk area rugs, Steven King, Boston Design Center, Boston, 617-426-3302, stevenkinginc.com. China Maze hand-knotted rug, Beauvais Carpets. Sofa and loveseat, Crate & Barrel, 646 N. Michigan Ave., 312-787-5900, crateandbarrel.com. Cream L-shaped sofa, Design Within Reach, 1574 N. Kingsbury St., 312-482-8661, dwr.com. Wire mesh coffee table, CB2, 800 W. North Ave., 312-787-8329, cb2.com. Reclaimed-teak Asian-style coffee table, Golden Triangle. Chest of drawers and X-stools, Christian Liaigre, Holly Hunt, Merchandise Mart, 312-661-1900, hollyhunt.com. Vintage blue ikat throw, vintage Indian gypsy pillows, persimmon vases on mantel, Greek key pillow, antique silver tray, vintage spice boxes, Jayson Home & Garden. Bathroom: Tiles and fixtures, Waterworks, Merchandise Mart, 312-527-4668, waterworks.com. Nursery: Crib, chair, bookshelves, Grow, 1943 W. Division St., 773-489-0009, grow-kids.com. Carpet, The Red Balloon, 2060 N. Damen Ave., 773-489-9800, theredballoon.com. Wallpaper, Fromental Swinging Monkeys B002 at Holly Hunt. Paint, Dayroom Yellow #233 by Farrow & Ball, Merchandise Mart, 312-222-9620, farrow-ball.com. Mudroom: Terrazzo tiles, Waterworks.