|A built-in audience:in the sitting area on the first floor,paintings by Ruprechtvon Kaufmann (left) and Eric White over-look furnishings by B&B Italia and Eames from Luminaire.
They had it all. Well, almost all. In 1999, two years after Mike McVickar and Brian Westphal met through a personals ad in the Chicago Reader, they bought an 1886 brick cottage in Roscoe Village and renovated the interior. “It was completely new, from the water and the electric to the walls,” Westphal says. “It was a great house. We loved it.”
McVickar, 42, is a lawyer with General Growth Properties, a company that owns, operates, and develops shopping centers, and Westphal, 40, is a vice president in the technology department of the Northern Trust Company. They collect contemporary representational art, mostly from Chicago galleries-the figures and scenes here are recognizable, although they rarely seem to have literal meanings. The paintings, photographs, and drawings that McVickar and Westphal own are often provocative, sometimes amusing, and always finely rendered.
But within five years, their house began to seem a little crowded, and several paintings that they were interested in buying were simply too large for the rooms. Then one day McVickar spotted an ad in the real-estate section of the Reader for a 4,000-square-foot loft in Ravenswood with new windows, floors, and mechanicals, as well as radiant heating. A sheet-metal barn anchored the opposite end of the property. In between, there was space for a large garden.
|The linear kitchen design is by Bulthaup.
Stuart Grannen, the owner of Architectural Artifacts, a salvage and antiques business, had bought the early 20th-century brick industrial building from the estate of the developer of STP oil treatment products and had completed an extensive but spare makeover before deciding to sell the place and retire. A real-estate investor and his wife bought the property but moved to Florida and later sold it. Changing his mind about retirement, Grannen expanded his business and still lives in the city half the year.
“I just wanted a box at the time, and that’s what I built,” Grannen explains, adding that he left the new owners with a shell and open interiors that they could reinvent to suit their needs. “It was really two rooms-upstairs and downstairs,” McVickar recalls. “But Brian is visionary and creative about design. When we walked in, he just knew it had a lot of potential.” Grannen had used the first floor as a gallery space; a small kitchen and a bathroom sans door with walls that did not reach the ceiling were on the second floor-the ultimate bohemian abode.
Now the eyes have it here. Visitors are met by the gaze of the many subjects displayed on the walls and windowsills. A number of the works are portraits of one individual or two: Gregory Jacobsen’s naughty, grotesque little girls; Beth Foley’s electric Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz; Christian Vincent’s weary, earthbound and yet dignified Cuban prostitutes. Other works feature groups of figures, among them Eric White’s mesmerizing meeting of women entitled Orgonomic Functionalism Conference; basing the painting on an old photograph, he transformed a sorority alumnae event into a gathering of devotees of the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.
McVickar is avid about researching art and artists; with his innate design sense, Westphal took the lead in transforming the loft. The couple closed on the property in March 2005 and lived there for a few months before moving out for the renovation to begin. Being there was an advantage, Westphal says, in deciding how they would proceed. They worked with the architect Brian Maite, now also the general manager of M. J. Electrical Supply, a lighting business owned by his father-in-law; Maite’s wife attended law school with McVickar.
|In the second floor gallery space, still lifes hang above a credenza from Modern Times (top). The two photographs beside the new stairway are from Jen DeNike’s vampire series.
“Typically people look at this kind of building and want to go in and create open loft space,” Maite says. “Brian and Mike wanted to make more of a dwelling out of it.” To accommodate their art and large gatherings of friends and family, McVickar and Westphal chose to maintain openness on the ground level and domesticate the second floor with four bedrooms, another two baths, and a laundry room.
For privacy, they fenced in the yard and bricked up the street-side doorway; the entrance is now down a walk and through the glass doors that open onto the garden. A sunken patio, formerly a loading dock in the STP days, was eliminated and the recess was filled in, raising the area to ground level for a seamless transition indoors and out.
Because people always congregate in the kitchen, its position was crucial. Placing it in the back on the first floor, McVickar decided, was the only way to go. If it were situated near the front, most guests would never venture far beyond that point. McVickar and Westphal chose a kitchen design by Bulthaup that extends across the width of the loft-a full-service installation sleek in stainless steel, walnut veneer, and gray laminate. The island, with a countertop of durable quartz-based synthetic stone, is long enough to provide seating for eight in leather-and-chrome barstools from CB2. Nearby is a thick steel fire door, an industrial-strength masterpiece with a beautifully textured surface, that now opens to a pantry.
The living room seating area was situated beside the glass doors for a view of the garden, and the dining table and chairs were placed in the center. Blacks and grays predominate in the modern furnishings, most from Luminaire and Knoll. Westphal and McVickar are regulars at the annual sale at Luminaire, where buyers camp out overnight to be at the front of the line when the store opens. Their Rasta ottomans by Avec are among the many rewards of their nightlong waits.
To soften the industrial feeling of the ground floor, much of the exposed brick was covered with drywall and painted a luminous color called silver mink. “With the concrete ceilings and these wonderful concrete posts, we thought there were enough hard surfaces,” Westphal says. “And I think the artwork looks better on a painted wall because the brick is interesting in itself, and it detracts from the art.”
Their latest purchase-a painting by Ruprecht von Kaufmann from the Ann Nathan Gallery-now hangs beside the glass doorways. On the right side of the work, the silhouette of a man is reflected in the glass that confines a tightly packed assemblage of nude men and women-a captive group that Westphal interprets as the inmates in a human zoo.
|Above a credenza by Florence Knoll is Christian Vincent’s portrait of two Cuban prostitutes.
At 80 by 116 inches, the painting was so large that it required rearranging art,
and while they were at it, McVickar and Westphal re-hung much of their collection. One object that stayed in place was the hot pink sculpture of a puma’s head made of wooden matchsticks by David Mach. In an odd juxtaposition, William Fisk’s photorealistic painting of a gleaming and curvaceous lighter is displayed nearby.
The corner that held the original staircase has been outfitted with Knoll office chairs and a desk and shelves made of component parts from The Container Store. McVickar and Westphal wanted a wider, more architectural staircase, but placing it was somewhat of a puzzle. “At one point it was going to be the centerpiece,” Maite says, “but that really would have chopped up the space.”
Instead, the stairs were positioned against the street-side wall and they turn to rise in the center of the second floor. Making room for the stairway, explains Tony Aiello of DNA General Contracting, involved cutting out a 12-by-15-foot section of concrete about six inches thick-a job that required strategic planning and execution not only because of the structural concerns but also because of the in-floor radiant heating. The mission was accomplished, and now only the railing for the stairs is still to come; Westphal’s plans are for an undulating design in stainless steel.
A skylight was installed to provide illumination for the area at the top of the stairs-a gallery space of its own. Above a credenza from Modern Times is a grouping of still lifes by Frank McVeigh, Chris Cosnowski, Eric Wert, and Risa Sekiguchi. The elegantly shaped vintage chair nearby came from Westphal’s sister; the chest across from it originally belonged to McVickar’s grandmother.
The four new bedrooms fan out around the gallery, with the master bedroom on the east side. “It had to be there,” Westphal says, “so I could look at the garden when I got up in the morning.” Nick Conner, the carpenter on the project, designed and built a platform bed in walnut veneer to accommodate McVickar’s and Westphal’s California king-size mattress, which is six inches narrower and four inches longer than a regular king (McVickar is six feet three). Above the headboard is a moody Wisconsin landscape by Ahzad Bogosian.
|Suite memories: the master bedroom
In the master bath, as a salute to Grannen and his earlier renovation, the drain that he had installed remains. But a shower almost large enough for the group in von Kaufmann’s painting is now en- closed in glass. McVickar and Westphal added a tub against a wall of Indonesian river rocks. The remaining walls and floors are covered in porcelain tile. “It has a clean look to it,” McVickar says, “and it’s maintenance free.” A tall glass-fronted metal cabinet from Scout on Clark Street holds toiletries and towels. “It’s a little rustic, but I like mixing the rustic with the new,” Westphal explains. He designed the layout for the sinks, counters, and mirrors, and Conner built the cabinets to his specifications in a hardwood used for decks. “I’m kind of particular about things,” Westphal says, “and Nick and his guys really understood what I was trying to get at.”
Tony Aiello, the contractor, believes the project is a great success because the loft is now so adaptable. “It’s a nice space for them as a couple,” he says, “but it would also be good for a family.” At this point, however, resale value isn’t foremost in the minds of Westphal and McVickar.
They moved back in last November, after the renovation was complete-a week before their annual French harvest party and, coincidentally, Westphal’s 40th birthday. The following week, they entertained 27 guests for Thanksgiving. “Having those parties and having family stay was all the justification we needed for making a move,” Westphal says. “You never felt crowded. It was roomy; it was just wonderful.”
photo styling: Brittney Blair
photography: Nathan Kirkman
American International Tile,
134 Merchandise Mart; 312-379-1700.
Porcelain tile and river rocks for the kitchen and bathrooms.
Ann Nathan Gallery,
212 West Superior Street; 312-664-6622.
Artists’ Frame Service,
1867 North Clybourn Avenue; 773-248-7713.
Bulthaup (Alexander Adducci),
165 West Chicago Avenue, Suite 200; 312-787-9982.
3757 North Lincoln Avenue; 773-755-3900.
Conner Carpentry (Nick Conner),
2529 North Francisco Avenue; 773-269-1624.
The Container Store,
908 West North Avenue; 312-654-8450.
The shelving for the office.
DNA General Contracting (Tony Aiello),
1010 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park; 708-386-4191.
The general contractor.
745 Fifth Avenue, 4th and 5th floors, New York; 212-355-4545.
118 North Peoria Street, 4th floor; 312-226-3500.
321 Merchandise Mart; 312-822-0140.
The Eames dining chairs.
1111 Merchandise Mart; 312-454-6920.
The dining table, credenza, and office chairs by Knoll.
301 West Superior Street; 312-664-9582.
The living room furniture by B&B Italia, Avec, and Eames.
M. J. Electrical Supply (Brian Maite, architect and general manager),
31W377 Schoger, Naperville; 630-851-1925.
The architect; track lighting.
2100 West Grand Avenue; 773-772-8871.
The credenza on the second floor.
Nex Flooring (Mike Necs),
320 Pleasant Street, Hoffman Estates; 847-843-7124.
New floors and old floor refinishing.
5221 North Clark Street; 773-275-5700.
The metal cabinet in the master bath.
Source of Light,
229 North Damen Avenue; 312-421-5841.
The lighting fixtures for the entryway and the kitchen.
300 West Superior Street; 312-654-9900.
325 West Huron Street; 312-944-1990.