In the first-floor family room, the Alfa sofa and the Marcel Wanders coffee tables and the tall Shadow lamp are from Luminaire. Click to see more photos of the home >>
In the afternoon, before the children return from school, the mood in this modern house in Bucktown is sophisticated, edgy, and yet somewhat reserved. When the kids arrive, they animate the space, following their parents as they lead a visitor on a tour, at times spinning off to their own destinations and then boomeranging back. The daughter, four, and the son, six, take the stairs that slice through the center of the house like seasoned climbers, she with a doll tucked beneath one arm. For the children, the house—with its first-floor family room, second-story loft space, and its basement playroom—is an indoor jungle gym of glass and steel. Outside, they can retreat to one of three decks to follow the sun.
"We wanted to keep things as clean and simple as possible," says the Chicago architect Mark R. Peters of his collaboration with the owners. The couple, who prefer not to be named, are involved in real estate and in an online motorcycle parts and accessories business; they connected with Peters, the principal in the firm Studio Dwell Architects, through the real-estate developers Karen and Bob Ranquist (see Chicago, June 2005).
After a series of snafus with their general contractor, Peters’s new clients decided to oversee the project themselves. They have a history of going after what they want, and in the beginning that was each other. One night in 1996, he was waiting outside her Lincoln Park office on his motorcycle for another woman, his date, to appear.
"Then this lunatic came running out and asked me for a ride," he says.
"So he blew off the other woman and took me out," explains the main-chance stranger he married two years later.
The moral: Don’t be late for a date or you may never own a house like the one you see here.
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In 2004, the couple were living in a townhouse nearby, with their second child on the way, when the site they now occupy became available. One of the two adjoining lots held a two-flat; the other was vacant.
By conserving some of the existing structure, Peters says, they could maintain the setbacks and accommodate a more spacious design. The interior of the four-bedroom house is 6,100 square feet; the three decks total 2,500. "Size matters around here," says the wife. The L-shaped structure faces north and encloses a courtyard in back, overlooked on two levels by 22-foot-high floor-to-ceiling glass. A transparent cube comprises the more public areas of the house, Peters says. Private spaces are contained within a rectangular volume.
"We limited ourselves to two materials," he explains, "cedar and a white ground-face block laid like brick. When the masonry is ground that way, it has a reflective quality and bounces light around nicely. To contrast with that, we used the cedar, and it softens up a lot of the hard elements"—such as the windows and their anodized aluminum frames. The stairway railings were fitted with perforated stainless-steel panels to protect the children from falls and to blend with the silver of the frames. "When you look at the metal up close, it looks solid," Peters says, "but from a distance it becomes transparent."
The white block and the cedar wrap around the outside of the house, and inside the glimmering block reappears as a wall in the living and dining area; the cedar, as the material of the second-floor ceiling. In the front and back of the house, it extends to create sun-screening overhangs. The materials play through and loop the loop.
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Architects—modernists, in particular—can get a little tense if they think their clients might be inclined to commit aesthetic indiscretions in the privacy of their own homes. In this case, Peters reports, his clients were sensitive about conferring with him, and he felt that the wife’s preferences in furnishings were consonant with the scale and tone of the architecture.
At the start of the project, the couple also consulted with the interior designer Marshall Morgan Erb about the layout of the house, the placement of furniture, and the selection of curtains for the living
and dining area. To keep the design spare and ensure privacy, Peters elevated some of the windows and incorporated others in frosted glass. Lutron Sivoia shades from Sound Living and patina Memory curtains from Knoll provide screening where it is needed. "They’re motorized shades, and they’re so quiet," the wife explains. "Our drapes are motorized, too. Everything here is motorized."
And every move here has been calibrated to achieve a light, effortless minimalism—in white, cream, and silver—often with a punch of color and a flash of futurism or humor. Two Random white pendant lamps from Design Within Reach hang in the atrium above the living and dining area, round globes that look like gauzy stilled planets. They illuminate two lipstick-red B&B Italia Tulip chairs from Europe by Net and more neutral furnishings from Luminaire. The family room opens onto a deck and the backyard—all the decks are made of Eon, a plastic product that has converted the wife into a believer. "It’s smooth on your feet, and it’s low maintenance," she says. "It’s prefab, and it doesn’t stain."
An installation of oak shelves and glass cabinets by Poliform spans the far end of the family room. The Alfa sofa by Zanotta, vivid in tangerine, and the smoked-glass coffee tables by Marcel Wanders for Cappellini are from Luminaire. The ivory wool area rug is a contemporary spin on a shag, deep and fibrous but with no frizz or fuzz. In this room, the comic element is the Shadow lamp, also by Marcel Wanders—its proportions resemble those of a modest table lamp, but it’s almost seven feet tall.
The kitchen is a custom design by Poliform in gray and white—a blend of stainless steel, laminate, and quartzite. "We liked the style; it’s quality stuff," says the wife. "And the service was unbelievable." Openings on either side allow the parents a view of their children in the family room. But these days the kids are often occupied in the kitchen—after our photos were taken, the couple had the far kitchen wall painted with Rustoleum that created a blackboard surface. Now the wall is covered with doodles and addition problems, as in 42+4=46.
While the couple’s house was under construction, the two-story structure to the east became available, so they bought that, too, and for now are renting it. "We really bought that for the tree," explains the husband, indicating the leaves that float beyond the high kitchen windows. "That’s the real-estate business—you’re either sitting on a pile of cash or you have nothing."
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Downstairs, the children have a playroom equipped with pint-size furniture in bright red and orange. Their mother has an office here, with an adjoining exercise area, and her mother has a room of her own, as well.
One of the couple’s favorite places is the loft on the second floor, where a Tufty-Time sofa by B&B Italia provides seating. "We read books up here in the evening," says the wife. "In the summertime, it’s all green leaves, and I love checking out the street scene." The children’s bedrooms, with a bathroom in between, are across from the loft. Pink for her; blue for him. "What am I going to do?" says their mother. "I have to let them be kids; they can be really cool later."
The master bedroom, at the opposite end of the second floor, is large and spare, with a Tokyo platform bed by Porro and a fixture nearby of illuminated glass bottles suspended by woven cords from the ceiling, a quirky yet poetic construction. Beside the windows stands a tall S-curved chest by Shiro Kuramata, a design based on a Japanese myth, explains Michael Graham, a sales associate at Luminaire—or, more simply, a delightfully realized rendition of dancing furniture. "I sat outside from 3:30 in the morning one year to get that," the husband says, referring to the store’s legendary nightlong get-in-line sales.
Poliform designed the spacious walk-in closet in the master bedroom and the bar on the third floor—a wall-size built-in of oak, stainless steel, and matte laminate. "This is the area where we go after the kids are sleeping and we want to continue the party," the wife explains. Father and son have peeled off and disappeared during the last stage of our ascent, possibly to confer about motorcycle parts. Mother and daughter and I press on, jumping puddles of rain on the wraparound rooftop deck as they talk about their summers here—the pizza and the swimming pool, the music and the sun.
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Design Within Reach, 1574 North Kingsbury Street, 312-482-8661; 10 East Ohio Street, 312-280-4677; 1710 Sherman Avenue, Evanston, 847-424-0881; dwr.com. The Random pendant lights above the living and dining area. The Cuks rug in the loft. The Bubble Club sofa and chairs and the planters on the rooftop deck.
Marshall Morgan Erb Design, 943 West Superior Street; 312-563-0000, marshallerb.com. The interior designer.
Europe by Net, 1-888-660-4870 or +44 (0) 20 7734 3100; europebynet.com. The Tulip chairs by B&B Italia in the living and dining area and the Tufty-Time sofa by B&B Italia in the loft area. The Tokyo platform bed by Porro in the master bedroom.
Knoll, Suite 1111 Merchandise Mart; 312-454-6920, knoll.com. The Memory curtains in patina in the living and dining area.
Lightology, 215 West Chicago Avenue; 312-944-1000, lightology.com. The Bottle 16 light in the master bedroom.
Luminaire, 301 West Superior Street; 312-664-9582, luminaire.com. In the living and dining area, the Baku sofa by Montis, the Ponte extension dining table by Casamilano, the Spica dining chairs by Montis, and the Arco lamp by Castiglione for Flos. In the family room, the Shadow lamp and glass coffee tables by Marcel Wanders for Cappellini and the Alfa sofa by Zanotta. The Shiro Kuramata chest and the Urban felt rug in the master bedroom.
McGuire-Western Lumber Company of Chicago, 225 North Francisco Avenue; 773-533-3360, lumberchicago.com. The Eon decking.
Modern Outdoor, 15952 Strathern Street, Van Nuys, California; 818-785-0171, modernoutdoor.com. The lime-green furniture on the ground-floor deck.
Poliform, 445 North Franklin Street; 312-321-9600, www.poliformusa.com. The linen rug in the living and dining area. The ivory wool rug in the family room. The kitchen design, the Varenna cabinets, the quartzite countertops, and the Nex stools. The closet design and the Tre-Piu Pavilion sliding glass doors for the master bedroom. The third-floor bar. The Tre-Piu lacquer interior doors.
Roderick Reves, by appointment at 773-769-3180. The photo stylist. Objects from Reves’s personal collection: in the family room and on the dining-room table, 1960s handblown glass vases by Tom Connally for Greenwich Flint-Craft; on the living-room coffee table, a 1960s Viking glass platter; in the kitchen, a 1950s handblown glass pitcher designed by Winslow Anderson for the Blenko Glass Company; in the master bedroom, a 1950s Raymor ceramic box; in the master bathroom, a 1950s hand-thrown ceramic ikebana vase.
Ann Sacks Tile & Stone, 100-B Merchandise Mart; 312-923-0919, annsacks.com. The gray tile in the master bathroom.
Sound Living, 1400 North Milwaukee Avenue; by appointment at 773-276-3100, www.soundliving.com. The Lutron Sivoia window shades. The audio-visual system and lighting controls.
Studio Dwell Architects (Mark R. Peters, founder and principal), 1732 West Hubbard Street, Suite 1B; 312-666-4601, studiodwell.com. The architect.
Tile Outlet Company, 2434 West Fullerton Avenue; 773-276-2662. The white mosaic tile in the master bathroom.
Christy Webber Landscapes, 2900 West Ferdinand Street; 773-533-0477, christywebber. com. The landscaping.